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Sensational Development Occupational Therapy of Massapequa, NY provides skilled, child-centered individual and group intervention for children ages birth through 21 who may be experiencing difficulty with daily activities such as self-care, academics, play, social skills, organization, coordination, and behavior. We have teamed up with some of the most dynamic and passionate instructors and we are thrilled to now be offering Yoga! Please call for scheduling and reservations.


Blog posts by the staff at sensational development. We post information and topics of interest for our clients.


Filtering by Tag: sensory integration

Back to School Tips

Sara Rutledge

Photo by RomoloTavani/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by RomoloTavani/iStock / Getty Images

It’s hard to believe that Summer is already coming to an end! The transition from summer back to school can be challenging for any child and even parents! Transitions in general can be anxiety provoking, especially a child who has difficulty processing sensory information. Let’s make sure your child is ready for that first day by following some of these back to school tips!

  • Get your child back on a routine! Summer can be a fun time to go with the flow; staying up late, sleeping in, more activities or maybe less activities than typical. It is important to be sure your child is prepared and well rested for school by making sure they get enough sleep! According to the American Academy of Pediatrics it is recommended a school-aged child gets between 10-12 hours of sleep each night. Get that bed time routine back, so it is not a shock when school starts again.

  • Prepare your child for their new grade or new school by talking with them. New environments and new people can be very scary for children. Make a social story that helps your child understand the changes that will be happening when school starts again. If possible, bring your child to their new school. Validate their feelings and explain to them that it is okay to be scared or nervous, because many of their peers probably feel the same way. Point out the positives of school and help get them excited!

  • Backpack safety! According to the American Academy of Pediatrics your child’s backpack should never weigh more than 10-20% of your child’s body weight. Pack heavy items closest to the center of the back and adjust the pack so the bottom sits on your child’s waist. Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back and remind your child to use BOTH shoulder straps!

  • Diet and nutrition! According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who eat a nutritious breakfast function better. They do better in school, have improved concentration and more energy. Be conscious of the foods, drinks and snacks you are packing for your child. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that each 12-ounce soft drink contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar and 150 calories. Drinking just one can of soda a day increases a child's risk of obesity by 60%. Choose healthier options (such as water and appropriately sized juice and low-fat dairy products) to send in your child's lunch.

  • Continue to move and play outside! Take advantage of the beautiful weather and get your kids outside to play! Climbing playground equipment, side walk chalk and digging in the sand are all great activities for strengthening and ways to activate your child’s sensory systems! If your child has a sensory diet given to them by their occupational therapist, be sure to continue with those activities. Understand that when school starts, these activities might have to be done before school to help organize their central nervous systems and prepare them for the day. Also understand that with a new routine your sensory diet activities may not be working for your family or child anymore. Ask your occupational therapist for new ways to help prepare your child for school so they are ready to listen and learn! We are here to help!

Kerry Gilroy, MS OTR/L

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics


   You’re on a diet? NO, I’m on a “Sensory Diet”

Sara Rutledge

When hearing the word “diet”, as a society, we immediately associate the word with eating healthier or limiting our intake of certain foods and beverages. For parents, when the term “sensory diet” is first introduced, a variety of questions of confusion and curiosity may come into play. Have no fear- this type of diet has no effect on what your child can/cannot eat but what in fact your child can do throughout his/her day to help and assist with attention, arousal, and adaptive responses. A sensory diet is a carefully planned program of specific sensory-based activities that are scheduled according to each child’s needs, consisting of specific components and “nutrition” for the central nervous system (CNS).

Children with a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) may have a difficult time adjusting to everyday stimuli that may not appear as a problem to a person without sensory-processing difficulties. As a child who may have a difficult time adjusting everyday stimuli it may illustrate an under-responsive behavior (low arousal) or an over-responsive behavior (high arousal) (Wilbarger & Wilbarger, 2002). With these children who have a hard time adjusting or modulating his/her behaviors, this may effect a child’s participation in everyday childhood “occupations”, or behaviors and roles that are important to the child’s growth and development. Examples of “occupations” that are important throughout childhood are play, self-care, school, and sleep.  

With all of this information the next step is asking; how is a sensory diet created? As an occupational therapist it is our role to help assist in creating the sensory diet, with the help of parents/guardians, teachers etc. that are with the child on a daily basis. The key to creating a successful sensory diet is by gathering information on the child's day, routines and schedules in addition to observations of the child and how they respond to sensory experiences.  In terms of writing down your child’s daily activities, it is important to note/comment on your child’s performance or activity level during these times or activities. The more detailed you are the more helpful your information will be in determining sensory diet activities and/or tasks that will benefit your child in his/her environment.

For parents and children with a Sensory Processing Disorder, incorporating a sensory diet into his/her daily routine may be helpful in allowing the child to perform as optimally as possible in his/her environment. With this being said, there may be trial and error process, and this is not something to get discouraged about. With the help of your child’s occupational therapist, teachers, and supporters, your child will find a variation of different activities/tasks to helpful maintain an optimal arousal level, in order to find success in each activity throughout the day. Every child with Sensory Processing Disorder is unique and this will reflect each sensory diet differently. Some activities may work for your child and some may not; it is important to stay positive and work through this process- it will be worth the wait!


- Marisa DiRienzo, OTS


Importance of Recess in School

Sara Rutledge

It is becoming more and more common to withhold recess as a punishment for bad behavior in the school setting. However, recess provides a plethora of benefits to a child that may be unrecognized by teachers and staff. To take away recess would be a disservice to both the student and the teacher. Recess provides a time for each child to take a break from the high demands of their academic school day and ‘let loose’. “Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize.” “In addition, recess helps young children to develop social skills that are otherwise not acquired in the more structured classroom environment.” Recess is the one portion of the day that belongs to the child. While it is supervised, recess is an unstructured time for children to do what they want, when they want (so long as it is safe). They can be as creative and imaginative as they choose, thus expanding the development of fundamental play skills. Along with this, it provides a time for movement, social acquisition, and visual development. In addition, recess is a perfect opportunity for children to learn playground politics- working on a team, being a leader, and turn-taking.

‘How does this have a direct impact on the teachers?’ you may ask. Well according to studies, “After recess, for children or after a corresponding break time for adolescents, students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively.” By giving their students a break from their academic duties, they can return rejuvenated and ready to work. It provides the children the time they need to regain their focus before returning to the classroom to finish their day. In fact, the children who struggle with attention or other behavioral issues that may result in recess being taken away are actually the ones that need it the most.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines recess as “regularly scheduled periods within the elementary school day for unstructured physical activity and play.” It has been put in place for a reason, and nowhere does it say to reduce or reallocate this determined time.  Movement is critical to development and should not be used as punishment for something that is supposed to be naturally occurring!

Rachel Durante, MS OTR/L


Murray, R. & Ramstetter (2013). The Crucial Role of Recess in School, 131(1). American Academy of Pediatrics.

Centers for Disease Control Policy Strategy for Supporting Recess in Schools

Centers for Disease Control: The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance


Welcome Spring!

Sara Rutledge

Although it has been a relatively mild winter, I am so excited Spring is here! Longer days, open windows, being outdoors, and gardening are just a few of the things I am looking forward to.  Spring is such a great time to get the kids outside and in nature. For our sensory seekers we have such great opportunities to get proprioception, tactile, auditory, visual and vestibular inputs. There are so many benefits to being in nature, getting dirty and spending time playing outside.

Here are just a few ideas to get you going:

Get some proprioceptive input by playing tug-o-war, digging in the dirt, pulling weeds, pulling a wagon, climbing a tree or pushing a wheelbarrow.

Get out on the swings at the park or in the yard, ride a bike or scooter, roll in the grass, run, have a relay race, build an obstacle course or fort, or play ring around the rosy to get some vestibular input and work on motor planning skills.

If you like to garden, sorting and planting seeds are great for fine motor control and tactile discrimination while digging is great for hand and upper body strength.

Flying a kite is a great activity for bilateral coordination and motor planning as well as hand-eye coordination. Take off your shoes, get dirty, play in a mud puddle and feel the grass on your feet!

Go on a scavenger hunt or a hike, go for a walk or bike ride in the preserve or bike path. See how many colors or shapes you can find. Notice the blooming flowers and stop to smell them. Spend some time working on mindfulness and notice as many things about your environment as you can; sounds, smells, sights. Just listening to the birds chirp can help us learn about spatial orientation and auditory localization. Shift your focus inward and note how our bodies feel after riding or walking along a trail. Close your eyes, put your hand on your heart and see what you notice about your own body. Enjoy taking time to be mindful and attentive to ourselves, those around us and our environment.

Further reading:

Take a look at this handout regarding the benefits of being in nature.

Another great article written by an OT. This discusses the benefits of getting out in nature and playing outdoors.  

This article talks more about why getting kids into nature matters.




Sara Rutledge

Many aspects of development are strongly influenced by oral functions and respiration, including sensory integration.  When children do not have adequate respiration they may fatigue quickly as their muscles are not getting enough oxygen. They may also have difficulty with self regulation and encouraging deep breathing can help to calm a child. As a result, including respiratory activities into your child’s routine may have a positive impact on his or her participation in daily activities.

·         Human Drum: Have child lie on back with neck flexed. Make jungle sounds while gently drumming on belly, under ribcage, or on chest and listen to sound changes.

·         Boat Ride: Have child lie on back on inner tube or pillows and pretend to make the sounds of a motor boat by vibrating lips together.

·         Animal Noises: Either seated or crawling, you can facilitate diaphragmatic action with animal noises (grunting pig, sniffing dog, purring cat, donkey he-haw, owl hoot)

·         Rescue Game: Pretending to be a firefighter, policeman or EMT provides a creative way to help children feel good about saving someone (toy or stuffed animals). This activity provides the opportunity to make loud vibratory noises and the child can change the pitch of the sound while working on coordinating musculature of abdomen and chest.

·         Belly Dancing: Have child lie on back with neck propped up. Place lightweight stuffed animal on belly and see if they can move their belly and make the animal dance until it falls off.

·         “I Smell A…”: Encourage child to do sniffing activities to encourage diaphragm contractions while pretending to smell silly things.

·         Laughing and Play: Gets respiratory muscles working, especially when child is reduced to snorting

·         The Laugh Game: A game for 2-4 players.  The first person says “Ha”.  The 2nd person says “Ha-Ha”, the 3rd person says “Ha-Ha-Ha”, and it goes on , adding a Ha on each turn until everyone is laughing.

·         Silly Songs: Incorporate singing into play whenever possible. Songs with exclamations in them (pop goes the Weasel!, No more monkeys!), facilitate stronger exhalations. Songs with repeated words encourage sound sequencing and longer inspiratory checking.

·         Ghost Tag: You can’t be tagged if you are making ghost noises (“Ooo”). Encourages sustained exhalation.

·         Whistles, Puffamils and Bubbles: Great tools to facilitate respiration

·         Playing in the Band: pretending to be in a marching band using different household items (paper towel rolls, paper cups, water bottles).

·         Bubble Mountain: Fill a container with lukewarm water and dishwashing soap. Using a straw, blow bubbles in the water/soap mixture to make a mountain of bubbles.  

·         Bubble Paper Printing: Set up Bubble Mountain and have liquid food coloring and paper available.  Once you blow a mountain of bubbles, drop several drops of food coloring and press white paper into bubbles.

·         Balloons: once a child has good respiratory strength for force exhalation and adequate jaw and lip closure, they can work on blowing up balloons.

·         Blowing Relay Races: While on scooter or crawling, use straws to blow cotton balls, ping pong balls, or other lightweight objects down the hall or across a table.

·         Straw Pick-up games: Using short straw and lightweight objects, try to inhale to pick up objects and place at another location.

·         Jump and Count: Create rhythmical jumping activities where child can jump and count out loud to increase respiratory volume and endurance.