Thursday, February 29, 2024

Episode #69: Unraveling the Sensory Puzzle

Understanding and Addressing Sensory Integration Concerns
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Understanding and Addressing Sensory Integration Concerns

Show Notes:

Welcome to another enlightening episode of Water Prairie Chronicles! In this captivating interview, Tonya is joined by Occupational Therapist Kristen Jaslowich, a specialist in early intervention for children aged zero to three years. Kristen’s expertise in infant mental health and trauma-informed care makes this conversation invaluable for parents and caregivers seeking to better understand their child’s sensory development and integration.

Prepare to dive deep into the fascinating world of sensory integration in young children. Kristen sheds light on the crucial role sensory experiences play in laying the foundation for all subsequent learning and motor coordination. Get ready to explore the eight senses, including enteroception, vestibular, and proprioception, and how they shape a child’s ability to interact effectively with their environment.

Throughout the interview, Tonya and Kristen discuss common red flags that might indicate sensory challenges in children, from sensory avoidance to sensory-seeking behaviors. Kristen offers practical insights on the importance of seeking appropriate support and interventions for children with sensory integration issues.

Join us as we unravel the complexities of sensory development and its impact on a child’s overall well-being. Whether you’re a parent, caregiver, or simply curious about early childhood development, this episode promises to equip you with valuable insights and strategies to support your child’s sensory journey.


This podcast episode provides entertainment and educational content. It is not a replacement for professional medical advice. For specific questions about your child’s sensory integration, development, or health, consult with their pediatrician or a qualified therapist. The host and guest are not liable for actions based on the information discussed. Always seek professional advice for individualized assessments and recommendations.


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Music Used:

“LazyDay” by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.


Meet Today’s Guest:

Kristen M Jaslowich has worked as an occupational therapist for more than 30 years. She currently works in the field with 0-3 year olds and their families. She is a certified infant massage instructor. Kristen holds a strong interest in infant mental health and trauma informed care. She has learned through her life experiences to go with her gut, but has also experienced the wonder if it is truly a gut instinct or a biased memory, thoughts in her head, or something else. With more and more research on the gut being the second brain, she started her journey to learn more about gut instincts, the science behind them, and how to trust them.

Kristen lives in New Mexico, USA with her partner, Kenneth, her dog, Flaca, and cats Jack and Lloyd. In her free time, she enjoys anything and everything outside – especially hiking, camping, and skiing. She loves to travel and immerse herself in other cultures. Kristen also crafts jewelry and sews.

Episode #69: Unraveling the Sensory Puzzle

Understanding and Addressing Sensory Integration Concerns

(Recorded June 7, 2023)

Full Transcript of Interview:

Tonya: So welcome back to Water Prairie. We appreciate you joining us today. I have with me today, Kristen Jaslowich. And Kristen has worked as an occupational therapist for more than 30 years. She’s currently working in the field with zero to three year olds and their families, of course. And she’s a certified infant massage instructor.

Kristen holds a strong interest in infant mental health and trauma informed care. And she’s a member of the New Mexico Infant Mental Health Association. Kristen, welcome to Water Prairie.

Kristen: Thanks so much.

I’m looking forward to our conversation today because this is a topic that we haven’t really dug into a lot yet.

Um, but before we do that, those that have been listening and Kristen, I’ve told you ahead of time, we’ve been playing a game this season called two truths and a lie with each of our guests. And so I’ve asked Kristen to bring in three facts about herself. Two of them being true and one being a lie. And if you’re listening, your job is to either in the comments on YouTube or on social media, on Instagram and on Twitter, to go find the post that matches this, this release and put in your guess of which two are true and which is the lie.

And a week after we post this, we’ll come back and post the answer so you can check your work and see if you’re right or not. So Kristen, do you have your three facts for me?

I do. So,

All right, what do you have?

All right. I almost majored in French in college. My summer job in college was a step aerobics instructor. My first cup of coffee I had at age 35.

Wow. Okay. So if the last one is true, I’m going to be interested in that one. I want to, I want more, more information on that, but we’ll have to wait a week to find out what the answer really is. So finish listening to this podcast and then go and place your guess on these.

So, Kristen, we’re going to be talking today about sensory integration, how it develops to, to, with children and some of the signs and things. But to get us started, can you explain what sensory integration is and how it relates to the development of young children?

Sure. So sensory integration is the ability to take in and register sensory information and then once it’s registered it, you need to process that information. . So by processing I mean figuring out is this a threat? Is this information something that I need to respond to? And then figuring out what that response is going to be, that sensory modulation.

Can I just ignore it? Do I need to go towards it and have a response? Is it a threat? If it is a threat, how am I going to respond? Am I going to withdraw? Am I going to, you know, fight, flight, freeze type response?


So, does that make, does that make sense how I explain that?

Yeah, so it’s taking in the input that’s around us and then how do we respond to that input?



Yeah. So and our senses, so There are not five senses. There are eight.


So along with seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, hearing, we also have Interoception. Interoception is the ability to sense our internal states. So, things like hunger, thirst, elimination needs, emotions. Those are all internal, interoceptive sense.

Um, and then there’s vestibular. And vestibular is the sense of where our body is in movement, our balance, and then there’s proprioception. And proprioception is the feedback that we get from our joints and muscles in different positions, and kind of where my body is in space. How much weight I’m putting on one leg versus the other.

That type of sensation. So there’s eight senses. So when you think of information coming in, it’s, you know, the lights in the room, it’s the feeling of the clothes and jewelry on my body. It’s how my hair is falling on my face. The taste in my mouth, you know, it’s all of that external information coming in and being able to process.

What does all of this sensory input mean, and how do I interact with it?

So as you’re mentioning this I’m thinking right so before before we’re even born we’re feeling some of those inputs already, but then I’m just thinking the shock of the first moments of, after birth even, just you’ve got light for the first time, you’ve got sounds coming in.

I’m, I’m just amazed thinking of how, how much the human body actually takes in, um, right away. And then, um, thinking of, of my children when they were in those early stages. It makes sense knowing, knowing that beyond just the, the five senses. everything else that’s being, that’s developing too, that they’re learning how to, how to take all those things in.

Um, so how. So, even just, just wrapping my head around the eight senses instead of the five senses. Um, so it, it makes sense for some of that as I’m thinking through, but can you clarify how like developing young children, how those senses relate to them?

For sure. So children, they learn through sensory experience.

So having things like textured books, where they have to touch the sandpaper of the cat tongue and things like that. Those experiences are really, are really important for the child to learn what it feels like to take in those different textures. And to interact with all that information in the world,and how to do so. So sensory play, when you introduce a new sensory experience and they receive that information, the child’s then able to interpret and learn how to interact. And when you think of the more experience that child’s able to attend to multiple sensory input then they can learn how to filter out what’s important, what’s not.

So I’m listening to the teacher’s voice and not the humming of the air conditioner or the heater in the back of the classroom. And that you can filter that unimportant stuff out so that you can focus on what you, what your nervous system needs to be attending in that moment.

Right, right. So the, um, I like the connection that you made with those sensory books.

Because when, when I was reading them to my children when they were younger, they were just fun books, but I never even thought about the fact that they actually were serving a purpose with exposing them, especially for my daughter who had, um, tactile defensiveness. Um, it was really good for her to be able to touch the softness and in a safe environment with that. But I hadn’t even thought about the fact that that was actually developing skills for her beyond it just being a fun book to touch, you know. So nice.

Yeah, that, that, that sensory reception is, is really important. The sensory system develops, there’s, there’s a Pyramid of Learning visual that I can share with you.

That maybe you can put in the newsletter or the episode notes or something. Um, but in this, in this pyramid of learning, the sensory system is down at the bottom of the pyramid. All of that sensory development happens first before motor coordination. Before, um, any kind of, of postural stability. You know, the child’s being, the child’s being held, and kind of on day one, skin to skin contact with mom, nose, turn my, I feel the sensation, I smell the breast milk, turn my head.

And so, so things like that, like there are some sensory experiences that are already integrated at birth. And then it just kind of snowballs from there with, you’re still maybe supporting your child, their costal stability, but when they hear or see the rattle going by, they’re already like focused in on it and maybe, you know, hearing it and turning their head towards the sound of it.

As you’re still supporting them, all of that, all of that sensory information is the start of development before you, you need that feedback from your muscles and your joints in certain positions before you can make a motor plan to crawl. You, you, all of that, all of that feedback and you need the motivation to want to crawl.

So you need to be able to make sense of some visual information coming in that motivates you to want to crawl towards something, right? Like, so, so it’s, it’s very important to development.

So our, our children who are visually impaired. Would they develop some of those from, from their sense of hearing as far as wanting to know what it’s, that they’re hearing

for sure.


You know, um, a primary caregiver can be off in the distance clapping or ringing a, a bell and they’ll know that echolocation will be coming in for a visually impaired child, um, unless there are also problems with hearing pretty well, where they’re going to be able to locate and be motivated to make a motor plan towards that sound.


So exactly. You’re just changing that. You could do scent as well for visually impaired.

Oh yeah.



So yeah, there’s, there’s other modes of kind of getting in there, but that motivation to want to move towards a sensory experience, our brain is not going to want to move towards a sensory experience that we’re not fully able to register and process.

When that happens, we’re going to go more into an avoidance because our nervous system is protecting us from, if it is coming in as foreign, we’re not motivated.

So what are some of the, um, now we’re talking about really young children at this point. So what are some of the common red flags that might indicate that there’s a challenge or a concern for a child?

So one of the things that I just described like that, what we call sensory avoidance. Where a child may be avoiding certain toys, um, maybe is really, really difficult to keep clothes on. I know a lot of toddlers like to run around in their diaper and stuff, but really full on meltdown with clothes on as if…

The, the clothes are like hurting them. Um, right. They could be if they’re not fully perceiving and, and registering the feeling of the material on their skin. And if it gets registered as kind of muted and not a full connection there, then again, it’s this foreign object on my skin. Get it off of me. And if it’s, if it’s really that very, um, just meltdown response to, to clothing or very, very frightened to touch certain textures, that real hyper withdrawal with it, um, that kind of, that kind of avoidance, that’s going to be really difficult to, um, develop and kind of live in our very sensory rich world, and there are ways to help develop it so that you are able to register more properly.

So that would that would be one I think of high pain threshold. When you have a really high pain threshold these kids that I’m now I’m thinking of older kids that they’re out at recess or something fall off the swing and they don’t cry and everything’s fine and two days later it’s still red and swollen and the parents like yeah, we finally brought him in and they broke their arm. Right, but they seem fine about it. That’s again not quite fully registering pain And, and pain is obviously important. So when I think of my toddlers, you know, I think of the kids that when they’re first learning to walk and they fall and as a witness to that fall, you’re thinking, wow, that must have really hurt and they get up and just wipe it off and keep going and, and they’re not coming for the hug or the hour or the anything.

Right then, yeah, that, that’s something that can be indicative of challenges in this sensory integration area. Very picky eating. Kids that are real picky eaters. So again, avoidance, that sensory avoidance of, um, avoiding certain textures of foods being, being really picky. That’s another example of that. So, then there’s, on the whole other end of the spectrum, the sensory seekers.

So, we know that little ones and even older kids can be really, really active. They’re meant to be active. But, when we see the activity in an impulsive and clumsy manner, where they’re, they’re kind of running…

Before almost before they know that they’re running like they’re, they’re on the run without any kind of motor plan at all. And there may be falling frequently these kids that the parents will tell me they’ll be on even ground with great lighting, like, in the hallway of the house. And be running and it’s like they trip over their own feet.

And I know toddlers can, can do that, but when it happens frequently. And so they’re kind of ahead of themselves. Kids that are in constant motion, that’s unorganized. So they’re just spinning, spinning, spinning, spinning, spinning. And then they’re running around the room chaotically. A little different than the child that might be climbing onto the couch, jumping off the couch, and going around the couch, and doing that over and over and over again.

There’s more organization to that, or being on like a riding toy and knocking blocks over. So, toddlers and kids are meant to be in a lot of motor play, but when it’s that unorganized, all over the place, very chaotic play all the time. That, that can be an indication of sensory seeking motor that an occupational therapist can be helpful in kind of ramping that down and helping them with that impulsivity so that they’re more safe with their motor actions and helping with some play activities that don’t have them so over stimulating themselves with the motor activities that they’re doing.

But structuring them in such a way where they’re getting that proprioceptive feedback, that heavy feedback from the muscles and the joints, so that it gives more information to the sensory system that makes sense to them, to kind of slow down and do that heavy, Impact activity and that can keep them active, but in a calm, calmer state as far as their nervous system alertness goes.

So you’re talking about the sensory seekers. So I always thought that, um, especially with kids that may be autistic, um, whenever I think of someone that’s sensory seeking, they’re, they’re running, they’re, they’re spinning. But sometimes there is rhythm to it. There is repetition to it. So that’s not what you’re talking about in this one.

You’re talking about more of the uncontrolled or unplanned.

In this example, I’m talking about the, the more, um, uncontrolled, but also if they are repeatedly spinning over and over and over again, especially there are kids that will spin and spin and spin, and they don’t seem to get dizzy, that’s, that’s an indication as well.

So that, that very, that very. Rigid. Yes. That’s a, that’s a different sensory seeking kind of activity of my, my, I need control over my sensory environment to self regulate.

Oh, okay. Okay. So they’re, so they’re getting the benefit of can sometimes

Which can sometimes be a challenge and, and certainly with people with autism or neurodivergency can often have sensory challenges as well, and I would say occupational therapy evaluation could be helpful with that, with that. Um, the, the other ones that I was thinking of, oh, with the sensory seeking is also like kids that are always having to chew and bite and suck on something, like the sleeve of their shirt is sopping wet, or things, things like that that are overly seeking. When they play with Play Doh, it’s from head to toe.

Whereas, when we think of a child that would be sensory avoiding, they don’t want to play the, they don’t want to touch the Play Doh. They’re the ones that are… And both ends of that spectrum can be indicative of some sensory challenges.

Right. So I’m, I’m picturing everyone’s first birthday pictures of their children with the first time that they have cake or frosting or ice cream, whatever it is that they may have given them.

Um, my daughter at the, at the time, I can remember her being two and going to an older child’s birthday. And, uh, I think the child having the birthday was maybe seven or eight and they had met at the mall food court and they had the cake out there and so all of the seven, eight year olds had these messy plates and my two year old had the cleanest plate. Nothing was on her face. She had consumed it, but it was very dainty the way that she did it. But she was, um, one that would avoid things. And so, um, so she didn’t want to have that mess on her. She didn’t want to, to touch it and all.

But at the time, we didn’t recognize that that’s what was happening. It was just an interesting sight to see this clean little one that should have been the messy one out of the group with it. But then I think of my son with his, his first birthday picture. We do have the pictures of frosting all over him.

But it’s, uh, but I don’t think that’s necessarily what you’re talking about. That’s, that’s early eaters learning how to control eating and getting it all over themselves.

Right. And we want them, we want them to be really exploratory at that age. You know, you want the, you want the Play Doh and the finger paints and all of that.

And you want that, that messy play is really important. Um, it’s, I’m just saying, you know, the child that can sometimes that there were a couple others that I wanted to mention. 1 was when sleeping. And obviously, I know that that infant and toddler sleep is can definitely be a very, a nightmare with very typical sensory integration going well.

But, when they really have that crash and burn where they go kind of from that over arousal and the way they’re, they’re getting themselves to sleep is they get that fussy irritability, they’re fighting it and fighting it. And then they’re just screaming and crying themselves to sleep. And if that’s, if that becomes more often than, than not with naps and with overnights, and not just more of an, an anomaly, that sleep regulation, that’s something that also comes in to play here, like that interoception of emotions.

And, and there’s ways of assisting children through the states of arousal so that they don’t go from that crash burn. Where it’s, I’m, I am, I’m overstimulated from a lot of chaotic, unpredictable play that I’ve been doing. And now I’m tired, but I, my nervous system is telling me, stay awake, stay alert. You know, um, it’s too, it’s too difficult to kind of shut down all this stimulation now.

So now I’m going to amp up and start spinning. And, you know, running. So, when you see a child that’s doing that kind of chaotic play and parents say, wow, I wish I could bottle their energy. I’m thinking, no, your child’s exhausted right now.


But their nervous system is saying, stay alert. So, they’re just trying to amp themselves up and then they get into that fussy and their nervous system is still saying, stay alert.

And there’s ways of assisting with going through active play, to quiet play, to drowsiness, to light sleep, to deep sleep. So there’s, there’s states of arousal through different activities that can be introduced and sensory experiences that can be introduced. To help with that state of arousal and get more sleep readiness and better quality sleep.

How can, how can parents and caregivers differentiate between sensory challenges and a nervous system memory resulting from trauma in young children?

That’s a great question. And the answer really is, is that trauma can often produce sensory integration challenges where the person’s sensory processing is off.

Because the nervous system is receiving this information as a threat and you’re having this response. So, the reality is, you know, we’re, occupational therapists can, can help with the trauma therapy as well by, by coaching caregivers on introducing really calming sensory experiences that the child’s able to take in and when, again, when we understand it, so you can have a background scent of peppermint when you want your child more stimulated and stay awake and and it’s just something that they’re smelling, they’re able to process it, it’s there, their body likes that.

We, we don’t like chaos, and having very predictable things, like spinning a, a top, right, that you can just spin and spin and spin, and it’s predictable. So it’s stim, it’s visually stimulating, but at the same time, once, once you realize it’s going around and you process that. You have that, and that calms you down when you can kind of have that prediction.

It’s that homogenous. And that can keep you calm, so you’re introducing a lot of calming sensory experiences. Enveloping in a blanket can sometimes feel really calming because you’re getting that propriocep that tactile and that proprioception around you of just that tightness in your organs being protected and getting that information.

So, figuring out what sensory experiences can help a child’s nervous system. And then when you have that calm one, then that’s when you can introduce something that is producing a defensive response. So when I think of that, I think of the vacuum cleaner. Okay, so with the, with the vacuum cleaner, I get that one a lot from parents.

So with the vacuum cleaner, I’ll say, try introducing some very homogenous background noise like ocean waves, waterfall, you know, put that on your phone. Um, play that before you bring the vacuum out. You’re playing that music, and the ears have to tune into that music, and then they’re getting something calming that’s the same predictable, monotonous noise over and over and over again.

And then the vacuum is introduced, and then the vacuum becomes background noise. The brain’s really tuning into that more calming input with the vacuum in the background. So it has to compete. So that can be helpful and sometimes it’s like you want me to introduce more noise, but that’s the problem. But when you’re introducing it ahead of time and in that very predictable way, do you, do you see how that could help?

Yeah. Yeah.

And so it’s the same thing, you know, when we think of people having a, um, a trauma response, like I think of, of fireworks, it’s like, can you suck and taste something in your mouth that has a really strong flavor in it? You know, can you rock your body kind of back and forth in a rhythmic motion that’s very predictable.

Yeah. Yeah.

Can you give yourself a hug? You know, different things. Can you sip on something that you have to have that coordination and, and get in a flavor that you have to process? Will you also maybe wear, block out headphones for the, for the noise that helps diminish that? Um, with maybe also a background noise trying to compete with the fireworks.

So when you, when you create that multi sensory experience, but most of that, that sensory input is one that your brain can process and make sense of. And you kind of overload it that way, that’s helpful with the trauma.

So would that be a situation where, like with the vacuum cleaner, we’re having maybe some music or something on the phone or background noise on the phone before the fireworks display starts? Would that be something that would, that would help in that situation?

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.

So talking about this, um, and I know there are different types of trauma, um, and our brains normally go to extremes with this, but, um, but I wanted to share a story about my daughter when she was three or, well, she was almost three, she was still two. Her first day of preschool transitioning from the home visits with the OT and, um, vision teacher to the local preschool that should be assigned to they had her transition and to start the school year. So before she turned three in October In August, she started going in. So the um, the first day the parents went with the children. And it was more of just a meet the teacher, just a little general thing. And we had all come into the preschool classroom and um, the fire alarm went off.

And um, so we’re. You know, we’re all getting up, we’re getting in the line, and it was, it was good because the kids got to see how you do this. Um, we went down the hall, left the building, and um, went back in, finished out the time. And by the time we got home, it was probably about dinner time that night. I realized that, Emily had not spoken since we had gone into to the class and, um, she was just kind of withdrawn into herself.

She, she ate her dinner. We went through the normal routine of night. She didn’t speak a word. Um, the next day she still wasn’t talking. And, um, so I got out some crayons and some paper and thought, you know, we’ll just kind of draw because if she’s not going to talk to me, I couldn’t tell what was bothering her.

And what she drew was a perfect image of the hallway with the lights flashing. And, um, at this point in her life and for several years after that, she was afraid of closed doors. And, um, hadn’t even clicked to me that, not the noise as much, I think the noise and the light scared her, but the fact that the fire doors closed.

And now she was behind a heavy door that we had to open to go through. That’s where the trauma was for her. Um, that she was, she was in that trapped setting with it. And, um, and, and, and I, I kept the picture because I wanted to always remember how that was such a time, like a breakthrough moment for her to be able to draw the picture for me.

Um, it’s just like two rectangles with these starbursts at the top. But had I not been there with her, I would have had no idea what she was drawing for me, but it was the doors. That was it. It wasn’t the chaos. It wasn’t the people. It was the doors. And, um, and so we were able to talk through things and we went into the school when it was closed and could kind of walk through the doors a few times and only kind of help her, um, desensitize to that environment.

So she could go to school the next day when it came in. But that type of trauma for her, it didn’t seem like anything to anyone else, but for her. that door closing was, was a traumatic time. And, um, and it was because she was dealing with sensory challenges at the time too. Um, and we were still uncovering what they were.

Like I said, she wasn’t even three yet. We were still trying to figure all these things out. So parents, if you’re listening, sometimes it could be something mild that didn’t really trigger anything for you, but. The child may be having a different response to it, and I’m not talking as a professional here at all.

This is just as a mom who’s experienced it, but, um, but in a case like that, you know, it was that the way to go? Was there something else I could have done differently that would have helped her kind of process through all of that?

No, I, I, I think you did a great job and I mean, just the fact that you, you figured that out and then had her draw it.

That was great. Um, no, but when I, when I think about the door closing experience, so I think of the alarm going off and the initial sound is frightening and alarming, right? As it’s meant to be, and the lights is as well. So, but, but kind of once it’s on. It’s the same, uh, uh, right. It’s the same noise over and over. The lights are flashing in the same, it’s obnoxious, but

it is very obnoxious.

But again, it’s at a predictable repetition versus then you walk out and boom, the door, the fire door just slams behind you in a very unpredictable way and probably louder for her than someone without a visual impairment, right?

So, so for her, it and it was really loud and it just came out of nowhere. So I can see how that would have been the, the stimuli, the stimulus that, that did that versus we think it’s the alarm and it, and it wasn’t.

The alarm, the panic of the people around you. Any of those things could have done it, but that was what was surprising. It wasn’t any of those things. And it was, and, and that, that fear of closed doors continued for several years for her.

Once our nervous system gets imprinted with an experience like that, then it is very much, when we’re put back in that experience, when there’s a closed door. It brings you right back to that, it’s meant for protection, but we know the door is not always going to do that when it’s closed, you know, that it is okay. Um, but yeah, so, so there’s things like, I’ll have, I’ll have my kiddos, this, this door thing came up with, um, with one of my kiddos and I just told the, the mom, you know, just start playing with like, you know, With the door open, this is a child that was having trouble with closed doors.

Um, with the door open, just knocking back and forth and seeing each other, knocking and waving, playing a little peek a boo, you know, at the door and then closing the door and playing, you know, peek a boo like that way where you close it briefly and immediately you’re opening it again. And you’re showing him or her, you know, how quickly that can kind of happen that open close it as before the child almost has time to respond to it being closed.

It’s open right again, and you’re just kind of playing a game with it. And then you can kind of keep going from there, but the, you know, the way you, the way you reintroduced it back to your daughter with going to school and everything. It sounds like, yeah, but I’m, I’m not surprised that that was an experience for her for years. That’s how quickly our nervous system is there to protect us of, okay, you know, memory made now we know what to do the next time we, you know, see this object in this position. Um.

Right. When it’s, you know, and, and this was my first child and a lot of our parents listening are in the same situation.

You know, you’re still learning, you know, is this a, a child who’s struggling with some sensory integration issues or is this typical and you know, we’re all going to figure this out on her own. And this is why I think this is an important conversation. Um, not that I want everyone who’s listening that has a two year old who’s having a tantrum or whatever, to just jump to the conclusion that, oh, they, they must be having sensory integration issues, because they’re all learning their environment.

They’re all learning how to establish these, right. These skills that they all have to learn.

Yeah, exactly. And, and tantrums. You know, uh, yeah. They all, they all have their meltdowns. It’s developmentally appropriate, you know, we’re not getting it down to 0%. Um, but when the meltdowns, when you think it’s like my child hates the straps of the car seat and it’s a battle every time, or my child seems to get car sick and hates the, hates the car.

And when the meltdowns are around, Things like, like that versus he took my toy, you know, or yeah, or you said no, no more, no more phone, no more climbing on that. Now I’m going to have a tantrum meltdown or, you know, that they’re hungry or tired and they’re just not having it. But when it’s those other ones that I mentioned, like the, the getting dressed or the, yeah. And.

The socks.

And those, those are the ones, yeah. Yeah. Those are the ones that are more kind of sensory related. Another one I wanted to mention is if your child is, seems to have a, a very fearful response to a swing. There’s a lot of kids that they’re just holding on for dear life. And, and they really immediately want to get down and that tells us a lot about what they might be missing with their vestibular system when their feet are off the ground and they’re against gravity like that and they’re suspended in the air and in motion.

Is that vestibular balance sensory input coming in? And how is that being registered and processed to formulate a response to it? Um, so when your child avoids that, um, and then again on the other end of the spectrum, if they’re just swinging, swinging, swinging, swinging, swinging, and not interacting with anything else and constantly need to have their body in that motion, again, it’s just those opposite ends of the spectrum that both have their challenges with this sensory integration.

We’ve talked about some of the, the indicators that might be that there’s, um, sensory integration. Um, delays or stages that they need to come through.

What are some of the warning signs or indicators that might suggest that the parent needs to seek out professional intervention or therapy for their child? Yeah. And is, and what do they do with that information if they do feel that way? Right.

So, so the things that I, I talked about, like the, you know, After the mouthing phase at infancy, but when everything’s going in their mouth when they’re not Teething and they’re cheering and sucking on everything they can All of those things that that I mentioned when those things are happening more often than not, you know Parents have their struggle with toddlers with getting them dressed at times, but when the majority of the time is, I cannot get close on this child, then, and they’re wriggling around and really, yeah, just not having it, that’s, you know, that’s, that’s an indication.

So all of, all of those things that I had already mentioned, I would say, you could at least look into an occupational therapy evaluation for more information where that therapist could give you a sensory profile questionnaire. There’s a few different versions and get a profile of your child’s sensory skills and get an idea of if there are outliers there, because we do all have our, our things, not just toddlers, but there are clothes that I won’t wear.

There are, you know, I get the shirt and I have to rip the tag off. And there are things that… Irritate my nervous system that I get defensive to that others don’t, but it’s how much is that impacting, you know, how much is this going to impact their development, their learning experiences, their academics, that type of thing.

Um, so with those either ends of the spectrum, yeah, I would definitely say that. So for birth to 3 in all 50 states, there’s early intervention. And, and that’s by federal law, so, and that is free regardless of income. So, you can ask for your pediatrician for a referral to an early intervention agency in your area.

You can, I know for the agency that I work for, I don’t know if it’s this way in all 50 states. We take just parent generated referrals where they say, I just like my child’s development kind of checked and these are where I have concerns. And then they can get the evaluation done and then based on those evaluation results, you know, they can see whether occupational therapy further evaluation is indicated or not.

And also, if ongoing services are recommended or not. For older children, you could, again, ask your pediatrician for a referral and why you’re having concerns, what you’re seeing. You can Google just “Pediatric Occupational Therapy Clinics” near you. You can also check in with your child’s school. There’s, each, each school district kind of takes clinical observations and the sensory challenges in the classroom and addresses them differently.

But you can certainly call the special education department in your district or ask your child’s teacher about getting an occupational therapy screening for your child and kind of going from there and seeing if, um, therapy services might be helpful during their school day for that.

So this is, this is good. And we’ll put, um, we’ll put some of those notes in the show notes too so that If you’re a parent listening and you’re trying to remember all of this, you can, you can look in there to see, to see some of these, um, and we’ll also put a copy of the, the flyer that you had talked about with the stages, um, and there as well.

Um, so if parents have any questions, what should, what should they do? Who should they go to?

Yeah. Like I said, I think they’re, you know, their first stop could be the pediatrician or looking up an early intervention agency near them, um, or like I said, looking into a clinic or, um, or the, the school district. Yeah. Yeah. That’s, that’s what I would recommend. Right.

Excellent. So Kristen has been sharing a lot of this information with us, but, um, I wanted to give her a chance to tell you a little bit about a podcast that she also is hosting. Um, she’s the host of the Gut Instinct podcast. So Kristen, can you tell us what you’re doing with that and, um, what you see coming up up down, down, down the road with the podcast?

Sure. Thank you. So, yeah, I started a podcast, Gut Instinct, and it is about my kind of gut instinct story of, um, journey of trying to tune into, listen to, and trust my gut and just my intuition more. I’ve noticed with age, just kind of that the times that I have done that, it’s really kind of worked out and there are so many times where I’d say, oh, I wish I went with my gut, and just figuring out what that really means. Um, things like that. So, I have a whole bunch of different guests that talk about the subject. Some with their own just kind of gut instinct story and how they went with it and what unfolded from all of that. And some that went against it, um, a gut health nutrition expert that just talks about the, the gut as the second brain and all of those concepts.

And it really does feed into the sensory integration of the interoception of our emotions do come from the gut and our emotion, our emotional regulation. And being able to support our emotions, that’s all at the gut level. So, it really does make a lot of sense to me as an occupational therapist. That, that works in sensory integration, that I’m, the gut instinct just makes sense to me on that level as well.

So it’s, it’s been really exciting to just have lots of different people on to talk about gut instincts. I think we all have them and children especially have it very strong, stronger than adults and making sure that we’re honoring that. So, yeah, and. I am on Instagram at Kristen k r i s t e n, gut Instinct Pod, and I have a Facebook group, gut Instinct hyphen the podcast, and you can find the podcast pretty much anywhere you listen to podcasts.

It’s on Spotify, apple. Google podcasts, Amazon, Audible, you can, you can just kind of Google gut instinct and I’m sure you’ll find a way to it.

Well, Kristen, thank you for spending some time here and, um, helping us understand a little bit about sensory integration and, um, and even just the typical milestones that our kids are gonna be reaching, um, for our parents that have these younger kids.

Um, I think it’s always fun to, to hear what. What’s coming and sometimes what, um, what is normal behavior as well as we’re talking about some of the, the areas of concern for other parents, um, and parents that are listening. Um, I think you’ve got some great information that Kristen shared with us. So thank you, Kristen. I appreciate you being with us today.

Oh, thanks so much for having me. This was great.

Tonya Wollum


Tonya Wollum is a disability advocate and host of the Water Prairie Chronicles podcast which connects special needs parents with resources to help them navigate parenting a child with a disability. She is the mother of 2 college-age children who have each grown up with a disability. That experience, along with a background in education, led her to create the Water Prairie Chronicles to help share what she has learned with parents of younger children to help them know how to advocate for their children.

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