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Buzzword: Sensory

The new “it” word in toddler behavior

Sensory issues, sensory gyms and sensory integration are all terms that most of us had never heard, even just a few years ago. Now the diagnosis and treatment of Sensory Integration Dysfunction is spreading throughout the City in much the same way that ADHD and Ritalin swept New York in the 1990s.

So what is it, exactly? Sensory integration is a child’s ability to process stimuli in his environment. Children with sensory issues might have simply been labeled “clumsy” or “spastic” or “distracted” a decade ago; now they’re in therapy working on body awareness and motor skills. It’s a hot topic, to be sure: while many parents are finding answers and relief in the diagnosis, others are pro-actively employing sensory therapies in an effort to help their kids become more “focused” prior to pre-school; still others feel it’s a product of NYC parents over-diagnosing kids who simply misbehave.

An occupational therapist can help guide parents in better understanding the difference between difficult behavior and true sensory processing disorders. “The whole goal of sensory integration is to teach the child’s body and sensory system what it should feel like to be at optimum level of functioning,” says pediatric occupational therapist Jill Sherman. “Any kid can benefit. We can work with anybody with a disability, or without.”

Sherman is the co-founder of Metropolitan Kids Movement, one of several “sensory gyms” that have opened in New York over the past few years specializing in physical and occupational therapy for kids with sensory issues. “What we work on in the gym environment is using specialized equipment including swings, balance beams, a ball pit, and a variety of big therapy yoga balls and combining it with structured and functional games that work on a child’s area of need,” explains Jill Sherman.

Other sensory gyms in the city include Making Milestones, Coopers Kids, and Support by Design. Chelsea Piers also has a new sensory-driven program called CP Building Blocks, which targets language development, cognition, motor development and socialization.

For more information on Sensory Integration Dysfunction, Sherman suggests the following books: Raising a Sensory Smart Child by Lindsey Biel, Sensational Kids by Lucy Jane Miller, and Sensory Integration and the Child by Jean Ay.