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Toys, Strategies, Therapies,
Support, and Advice for Parents
An infant's developing brain is dependent upon sensory stimulation for its normal growth, development, and functional
and structural organization, most especially from birth to age seven.  

As the mom of two curious, rambunctious, strong willed, and intelligent children, I am always eagerly exploring their
growth and what is best for them in order to grow to their fullest.  One child was diagnosed at the age of 6 with Sensory
Integration Dysfunction and at the age of 8 after 2 years of therapy, many meetings, strategy sessions, and family
adjustments, was pronounced "integrated". He is now 11, going into 6th grade and excelling in numerous ways that
make me so proud.

In my quest to explore everything I can offer to my children, I have come across wonderful ways of teaching and
educating; I have learned about parenting in a more loving and natural way, and I've found many other kindred
parents.  There are great challenges to raising children, but there is also great joy,
spirituality, and personal growth.  It
is my belief that everybody experiences sensory processing "issues" and we can all benefit from the activities listed in
this site.  We as humans were made for moving, working, talking, listening, and connecting with each other.  Introduce
a sedentary world where we drive instead of walk, call instead of visit, and watch instead of do, and there are bound to
be some problems.  But with the help of
nature, activity, and each other, we can be healthier and happier.

As you browse through each page here, you'll find lots of developmentally appropriate toys and activities for your
baby, toddler, child, and/or student.  
Play is essential for learning in children and toys are the tools of play.   It is
through play that children learn how to do the academic things that allow them to be successful.  
Good toys have
staying power; they engage. They help build attention spans, not fragment them.  A good toy does not offer answers; it
stimulates questions and presents problems for solving.  It can be played with in many ways and challenges a child to
do, think, or feel.  Which toys combine fun with opportunities to explore, experiment, and learn?  Read the
Parent's
Choice article for answers.  See our  Developmental Toy Page of sensory stimulating toys for ages 0-3, our Natural
Toy Store for quality toys meant to last a lifetime, and our Quiet Kit for a ready to go, pre-made, traveling, sensory
experience.

Besides playing with toys, children need to be in nature.  Our
Nature Page explores the growing evidence that children
will develop more compassion and imagination when they have plenty of unstructured, open-ended play in nature.  
Exposure to natural environments improves children's cognitive development by improving their awareness, reasoning
and observational skills.  Nature helps children develop powers of  creativity and instills a sense of peace and being at
one with the world.  Early experiences with the natural world have been positively linked with the development of
imagination and the sense of wonder.  The list of benefits goes on and on.  Many states have actually started
campaigns called "No Child Left Inside" and suggest outdoor play for at least 1 hour every day.  It's that important to
get your kids
outside!

Sensory integration is a normal, neurological, developmental process which begins in the womb and continues
throughout one’s life. Babies are born virtually programmed to learn.  Before birth, genetics determine how the brain is
"wired." Neurons travel to different parts of the brain, forming connections, called synapses, that await stimulation.
Once a baby is born, every experience-sight, sound, touch, taste and smell-helps stimulate those synapses and create
trillions more. Sensory processing is the process by which our brain takes in sensory input and interprets this
information for use.  All of us depend on adequate sensory integrative functioning in order to carry out daily tasks in
work, play and self-maintenance. Disorders in this domain can greatly influence our ability to function, but also can be
so subtle that they easily go unrecognized. Particularly in the young child, it is easy to attribute behaviors and
reactions to other causes ("He's stubborn, lazy, or doesn't want to do it," or "She's spoiled, shy, or headstrong.") or to
consider it within the norms of the wide range of personality and developmental characteristics of young children.
However, it is important to identify and address sensory integrative dysfunction to enable the child to function at his or
her optimum level and to minimize disruption in family life.

Sensory Integration disorder or dysfunction (SID/DSI) results from inability of the brain to correctly process information
brought in by the senses.  When an individual has sensory integration dysfunction, he or she may have difficulty
responding to certain sensory information.  Children with sensory processing problems can be either under or over
sensitive to outside stimuli. For example a child who is hyposensitive to touch will constantly be crashing into things
seeking extra stimulation while the hypersensitive child will avoid being touched or touching things when at all possible.
SID can also include children who have processing deficits in one or more areas.  When a child has a visual
processing deficit, it does not mean that they cannot see. It means that they have a hard time finding the words for
objects they are viewing or, if asked to go get an object, they might look right at it and then say they can't find it. This
is because they are seeing it but their brains are not processing that they are seeing it. Auditory processing deficits
are the same, the child hears what you say but the brain does not process it so the child understands or it takes
several minutes for what you have said to "click" with the child.

Sensory integration dysfunction can result in delays in motor skills and problems with self-regulation, attention, and
behavior that can affect performance in school, at home, with peers, and during leisure and work activities.  Sensory
integration dysfunction can be a disorder on its own, but it can also be a characteristic of other neurological
conditions, including autism spectrum disorders, dyslexia, dyspraxia, pervasive developmental disorder (PDD),
Tourette's Syndrome, and speech delays, among many others.  A growing number of experts, including Stanley
Greenspan, M.D., Ph.D., and autism specialist Ricki Robinson, M.D., believe that sensory related disorders are
frequently misdiagnosed as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, (ADD and
ADHD) as well as emotional problems,
aggressiveness and speech-related disorders such as Apraxia. Sensory processing, they argue, is foundational, like
the roots of a tree, and gives rise to a myriad of behaviors and symptoms such as hyperactivity and speech delay.  
Unlike many other neurological problems that require validation by a licensed psychiatrist or physician, this condition
can only be properly
diagnosed by an occupational therapist.

See our
Checklist page of signs if you've seen some of these behaviors in your own child or student.  Our What Is SI
page will give a more in-depth definition plus treatments and strategies.  You can read about my introduction to
Sensory Integration Dysfunction at our
About Us page.  If you have suggestions, please email me so I can post them
and possibly help make somebody else's life easier and more enjoyable.  I'm interested in products, toys, and activities
that your children enjoy.  And articles or books you've found that might interest visitors of this website and myself are
always welcome as well.  You are not alone in your journey to support your child and help them to achieve their true
potential.

The information found in these pages is what I've learned from the books I've read, the websites I've visited, the moms,
teachers, and therapists I've talked with, and the day to day life with my own two children, but I am not a qualified
professional.  
Please seek the advice of a medical professional in regards to all types of
diagnoses or treatments.

Here are two great articles to get started with:

The Disorder is Sensory, New York Times, 6/05/07

In Praise of Mud
Published in S.I. Focus magazine (Winter 2004), and adapted from a 1990 article originally published in Carol
Kranowitz's column, "Gentle Reminders," in Parent and Child magazine.

A child comes to school on a soggy day. Tentatively approaching a puddle, she sticks in one spotless boot, watching
with interest as her foot sinks into the mud. She puts in the other boot. She is entranced. Looking up, she says to her
teacher, "Is this mud? It's fun! Is it okay?"

A child comes to school in his caregivers' immaculate car. Tearfully, he announces, "My babysitter said not to get
dirty." He cannot be persuaded to paint at the easel, jump in the mulch, or wriggle on the floor like a caterpillar,
although he itches to get into the play.

A child comes to school on a wintry Monday. He says, "Daddy and I watched football all weekend. We're couch
potatoes!" Good news: Big Potato and Potato Chip spent time together. Bad news: they limited their sensory
stimulation to watching television. They missed the chance at half time to engage in active, physical contact with each
other, a leathery football, scrubby turf, and frosty air.

What's wrong here? Have our children lost the freedom to get down and get dirty? Growing up to be tidy is
commendable, but many children seem to be maturing without a strong sensitivity to touch.

The touch (or tactile) sense is essential to children's development. Like vision and hearing, touch opens the main
avenues of learning. Much of our knowledge about the importance of touch comes from the field of sensory integration
(or sensory processing), pioneered by A. Jean Ayres, PhD, OTR. Her research revealed that the ability to interpret
tactile information not only promotes optimum development of the young child's nervous system, but also helps the
child learn about his world.

Learning about the environment is a child's primary occupation. His brain needs to process and organize all kinds of
sensory information, just as his body needs all kinds of food to function best. His tactile sense provides information
about texture, shape, density, pressure, temperature, and other attributes of the world.

Nature's plan is simple: let the senses, working in sync, do the teaching. For children whose sensory processing
develops typically, learning through messy play is pleasant and interesting. They know how to get the just-right amount
to satisfy their neurological system. Some children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), however, may seem never
to get enough tactile experiences; they crave more, more, more. Others may have tactile overresponsivity (or
defensiveness), causing them to avoid touching and being touched. Whether seekers or avoiders, kids with SPD need
tactile activities just as much as typical kids do.

When we encourage tactile experiences, we do more than provide vital nourishment for children's maturing brains. We
do more than offer the unadulterated fun of molding mud pies. We also open the way that may become their preferred
route to learning. Just as the photographer Ansel Adams took the visual route, the composer Mozart the aural, and the
sculptor Rodin the tactile, so each of us chooses one favorite mode.

What if Rodin's babysitter didn't let him get his hands dirty because he'd soil the upholstery? What if Julia Child's
mother kept her out of the kitchen because she'd spill flour? Or Jacques Cousteau's father told him to read instead of
lingering in the bathtub? Or the pope advised Gregor Mendel to pray more and spend less time messing with sweet
peas? How deprived we all would be!

Rather than deprive our children, let's broaden their sensory input with activities that are S.A.F.E. (Sensory-motor,
Appropriate, Fun and Easy). Let's provide tactile sensations of dough, water, clay, glue, rock, mud, sap, earth, paint,
feathers and fur. Children thrive when their bodies ingest and digest all kinds of sensory stimuli. They may develop to
their greatest potential if they have opportunities to feel rain on their faces, leaves in their hair, goo on their fingers,
and mud between their toes.

See the Value of Play flyer (pdf) and The Vital Role of Play in Childhood.

SOME S.A.F.E. TACTILE EXPERIENCES FOR PRESCHOOLERS

• Finger-painting on a tray with chocolate pudding. This open-ended, hands-on activity feels as good as it tastes. Next
time, offer shaving cream and enjoy the smell and easy clean-up.

• Digging for worms. Handling worms is about as tactile as you can get.

• Going barefoot, lakeside. The differences between firm and squishy, warm and cold, dry and wet are worth
investigating.

• Forming rice balls or meatballs.

• Kneading play-doh or real dough. Make shapes, people, pretzels, or blobs.

• Ripping paper. Strips of newspaper are useful to line the hamster cage. Strips of construction paper or tissue paper
make beautiful collages. Remember that the process, not the product, is the goal.

• Discovering treasures in a Feely Box. (Cut a hand-sized hole in a shoebox lid. Fill the box with lentils, cotton balls,
packing peanuts, or sand. Add buttons, shells, uncooked macaroni, or small toys.) The idea is to thrust a hand
through the hole and let the fingers do the seeing. No peeking!

• Collecting seeds, pebbles, or shells in an egg carton. Loading up the receptacles and dumping them out is great fun
for a very young child. The ability to sort and classify the items comes later.

• Petting the pet. Drying a wet dog, stroking a kitten, providing a finger perch for a parakeet, or hugging a baby are
tactile experiences that make a child feel good, inside and out.