Future Reflections Fall 1991

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SENSORY SYSTEMS

Editor's Note: I recently found the following item in at least three different publications. However, none of them listed an author or an original publication source. I decided to print a mildly edited-I deleted the somewhat confusing and misleading brief introduction-version of it for I think readers will find the information sensible and useful.

AUDITORY SYSTEMS. The popular myth that auditory skills automatically improve with blindness is just that a myth. Auditory awareness must be taught so that sounds have a specific meaning. Care must be given to ensure that children do not habituate to a sound and then tune it out. For example, when children listen to a tape they may not have the ability to concentrate on what is being said for a lengthy period of time. To help teach auditory skills, listen to the tape with the children, ask questions and talk about the information heard on the tape.

VESTIBULAR SYSTEMS. Vestibular is the sensory system that responds to the position of the head in relation to gravity and quick head movements. Vestibular input occurs on swings, skateboards, vibrating objects or spinning equipment. Vestibular input helps improve balance and coordination of head and eye movements, language output, and attention span.

Unless visually impaired children experience movement early in life, they do not learn that moving is enjoyable. They also tend to remain "earth bound," which means they may become very upset when they do not have contact with the floor or something stable. To provide and improve vestibular input, encourage children to play on swings, merry-go-rounds or tire swings. Waterbed mattresses filled with air to jump on and crawl onto are also great. Remain patient with children. The fear of being off the ground is a real fear, and if change is to occur, it must happen slowly and in an environment where children are able to feel secure.

PROPRIOCEPTION SYSTEMS. Proprioception refers to the sensations from the receptors in the muscles and joints. This information enables the brain to know where each part of the body is and how it is moving. In order to increase proprioceptive input, ask children to bear weight on their hands and arms, by wheelbarrow walking, bouncing or sitting on a rubber ball with handles. Many times you will see children hanging from swings or trapeze bars. This provides great proprioception in the shoulders, elbows, wrists, finger joints and muscles.

TACTILE SYSTEMS. Blind children may also experience tactile hypersensitivity or defensiveness. This is not a direct result of the blindness but may be due in part to the limited exposure to a variety of tactile stimuli. The tactile system is even more vital to visually impaired children since Braille may become their mode of learning. These children will also use tactile stimuli to gain a vast majority of information about their environment; therefore, the tactile system needs to be as sophisticated as possible.

To achieve this, set up a large washtub filled with dried beans, peas, lentils, popcorn, and rice. Allow your child to crawl into the tub, play with the beans and corn, scoop the items into containers. This will enable children to adjust to and recognize a variety of textures. Water tables, bathtubs, sand and putty would also provide good tactile stimuli. If children become defensive and frightened, try rolling them up in a large blanket and rubbing their backs with firm pressure. This can be very calming to children.

The most important thing to remember when doing any type of sensorimotor program is to respect the children's comfort level. Try these activities with your children, but if they react with a great deal of discomfort and irritability, stop and try it again at a later time.

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