Childhood Mental Health and Sensory Issues

Many of the problematic behaviors parents, teachers, and mental health providers typically associate with depression, anxiety, ADHD, or ODD diagnoses can also be caused or aggravated by sensory processing and integration problems.

People who have problems with processing and integrating sensory experiences are experiencing what A. Jean Ayres, Ph.D. calls a “neurological traffic jam” that blocks parts of the brain from receiving the information it needs to interpret sensory information correctly. This can cause a person impacted by this to experience hyposensitivity or hypersensitivity to specific sensory experiences. Also, it is not uncommon for people to experience both hyposensitivity and hypersensitivity, rather than strictly one or the other.

Fun family and individual interventions for children with sensory issues

(source Theraplay®

Drum Copy: For this you need a drum or a plastic bowl will work. The provider or parent taps a tune or rhythm on the drum/bowl, then the child copies them. The child then takes a turn tapping a turn or rhythm on the bowl or drum and then the adult copies them. It gets participants in-sync with one another.

Pillow Tower: The provider or parent puts a pillow down on the ground and has the child stand on it. They cheer for the child to keep their balance and physically help them to do so if needed. Next, the child is asked to step off so the provider or parent can add another pillow and the child is invited to stand and keep their balance on top of both pillows. Keep repeating this until you get about four or five pillows deep.

Belly Balance: The provider or parent puts a stack of four or five pillows on the group and then invites the the child lay on top of the stack of pillows, put their arms out, and pretend they are flying like a bird, airplane, etc. The provider or parent physically helps the child maintain their balance by holding their hands if needed.

Tower of Hands: Participants put lotion (or slime) on their hands. Participants then make a hand stack together, alternating slippery hands. They then move hands from the bottom to top of the tower and vice versa.

Cotton Ball Toe Race: Participants take as many cotton balls as possible, place them under their toes, and then race across the room. The person who has the most cotton balls still in their toes at the end wins the race.

Back Writing: The provider or parent takes a capped pen and then writes letters/numbers or draws shapes on the child’s back and invites the child to guess what was drawn/written. The child can then switch roles with the provider/parent and repeat the exercise.

Invisible Face (or Body) Painting: The provider or parent uses clean/new paint or make-up brushes to “paint” the child’s face, head, neck, and limbs using different brushes and varying pressure to create different sensations. The child can then switch roles with the provider/parent and repeat the exercise.

Balloons Stomp: Participants tie three balloons around both ankles with string and try to pop other people’s balloons by stomping on them. Remember: No hurts!

Who’s Hugging Me?: The provider or parent covers child with a blanket. Once the child is under the blanket the parent, provider, or another child hug the child under the blanket. The child under the blanket has to guess who is hugging them.

Katey GaroutteWritten by Katey Garoutte on October 15, 2020.

Katey has nearly 15 years of experience working with pre-school and grade school aged children, adolescents, and adults in a variety of social service settings. She graduated from University of Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in social work and went on to earn her master’s degree in social work from University of Northern Iowa.