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How Sensory Input Can Increase Your Child’s Window of Learning

First, what is sensory input?

Sensory input is a stimuli that requires the organs of your eight senses (yes, eight!) to react/process the stimuli. The eight sensory systems are visual (eyesight), gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), tactile (touch), auditory (hearing), vestibular (movement/balance), proprioceptive (body in space) and interoception (internal senses like hunger, thrusts, bowel/bladder function). 

Second, what is the window of learning?

The window of learning is a level of overall regulation which allows a person to fully attend, engage and learn. Everyone has varying durations of their window and it fluctuates daily depending on your state of regulation. In children who have difficulty with sensory regulation, this window is often very short and may even be only a minute. Your occupational therapist’s goal is to use sensory input to increase that window of learning resulting in greater lengths of regulation.  Often the use of the vestibular and proprioceptive systems together will increase processing of the sensory stimuli to result in increased regulation.  When you are in those bouts of true regulation the ability to learn skill is greatly enhanced. This is super important as learning skills (sitting at tabletop, handwriting, dressing, etc.) is going to be a much bigger challenge if the child’s window of learning is very limited. Attention and engagement is key to learning skills and in turn, occurs most when in a regulated state.

Lastly, what can I do to increase my child’s window of learning?

While in therapy you will be working with your occupational therapist who likely will be giving your child sensory input to grow this window throughout the sessions.  However, that is often only one time a week for no more than an hour. We need your help at home too! Each kiddo is different and has different sensory needs so work with your OT for specific tools to use at home.

Here are some general ideas:

  • Obstacle courses: These can be as simple or elaborate as you please! Think: jumping and crashing, pushing/pulling heavy things,  pillows, stepping stones, etc. 
  • Heavy work: active movements that push/pull the muscle joints. See our heavy work blog post for ideas!
  • Vestibular: Swinging-linear is calming to the nervous system, rotary/spinning is alerting
  • Tactile: Messy play- interaction with paint, shaving cream, slime, putty, sand, etc.
  • Visual input: low lighting, less stimuli for calming and bright colors/light for alerting
  • Auditory input: slow, soft music close to 60 beat per minute is calming, where faster paced, louder input is alerting

– Savannah Maxwell M.S. OTR/L