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Therapist shares teaching ‘tools’
By Cathy Willoughby
Advertiser-Tribune Staff Writer
Tiffin, Ohio
Wednesday, November 14, 2001

They can be seen in every classroom, jiggling in their chair or tuning out their classmates and teachers.

Rather than being bad, these children are simply more sensory sensitive than others.

Occupational therapist Diana Henry, founder and president of Henry Occupational Therapy Services Inc. of Arizona, shared “tools” for sensory integration in the classroom with more than 200 teachers and therapists Tuesday morning.

They were taking part in the first part of a two-day conference at Camden Falls titled “Sensory Integration Tool Kit,” sponsored by the Northwest Ohio Special Education Regional Resource Center, the National Machinery Foundation and the Ohio Regional Center for Low Incident Services for the Handicapped.

Henry posed a rhetorical question: Why is it so difficult in today’s classroom? She responded that she is finding that schools are eliminating recess time.

She then asked her audience what their automatic response would be if someone were walking behind them on a dark street.

“It’s fight or flight,” Henry said. “It’s an automatic response, a survival mechanism.

When ‘Donna’ comes in the classroom, and I tell her she’s late again, and where is your pencil, what’s going to happen to Donna? She’s going to fly off the handle.” By studying neural biology, neural physiology and behavior, a person can gain an understanding of how to work with students like Donna, she said.

“You can learn to bring her back in a state of calm,” Henry said. “By using distinctive tools for that in the classroom. Or on the bus, with lap vests, headphones, to get to school in a calm state.”

Another problem is the use of drugs when sensory integration could either replace or help support what medication is doing.

“For some teachers, medication is the only tool to use,” Henry said. “But there are other tools, such as designing the classroom structure and schedules.”

Kids are different these days, she added, suggesting some reasons for this. “There are fewer natural foods, and more drugs,” Henry said. “There are more restrictions on us, like seatbelts.”

Because of studies done on the causes of sudden infant death syndrome, Henry said, parents have been told to never lay their babies on their tummies to sleep.

“Now we have children with low muscle tone,” she said. “They have difficulties sitting in a chair and other activities. When weighing safety issues, we need to also look at what helps development.”
Because of the lack of “tummy time”, Henry said that she has incorporated activities in the tool kit such as “tummy on the ball.”

With more video games, computers and television, kids get less motor stimulation than they did in the past. “That’s why schools need more playgrounds with equipment that children can share,” Henry said.

“We need see-saws and merry-go-rounds,” she said. “We need to spend time designing the spaces for children to play.”

“The problem with taking away playground and recess is the interaction, where you and I learned how to socialize and share with friends,” she said. “And we are eliminating that time.”

Although recess is often used as a reward, Henry said it should not be used that way. Recess is an important part of everyday life, as needed as vitamins in the child’s sensory diet.

“Motor and muscle input is vital for good development,” she said.

Physical education classes are also being reduced or eliminated because of increased national testing.

“Parents face even more pressure,” Henry said. “The pressure and the extra homework brings behavioral problems by increased anxiety.”

To help children get their ‘wiggles’ out, Henry used the participants to demonstrate one of the activities in the Tool Chest handbook. After shaking and wiggling all of their extremities, they reported feeling “invigorated and ready to deal with something.”

Henry said educators need to understand how the senses affect student learning and behavior.

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