Therapy Street for Kids
                           Smell / Olfactory

Have you ever wondered why your child refuses to go into a
hair salon, 7-Eleven, public bathroom or even a perfume store?
It's probably not because of what is going on in there, but
because it smells bad or the smells are too overwhelming!
The sensory challenged child presents in two ways:  

Use scents that cover up the undesired odors
  • Aroma-therapy: lotions, candles, oils, diffusers, wall dispensers,
  • Apply a lotion or cream that the child likes under the nostrils
    prior to entering an undesirable environment
  • Provide pocket-sized lotion, cream or perfume that the child
    can pull out to mask a smell when needed
Verbally prepare the child for smells he/she may encounter before
Teach a strategy that can be used in intolerable situations (such as to
use the pocket lotion)
Look for unscented products if perfumes are intolerable

Sensitize the child with poor odor awareness with smelling games:
  • Put a few drops of a scent (vanilla, lemon, banana, peppermint,
    vinegar, etc) onto 2 cotton balls for each scent; mix up the
    cotton balls and have child match the scents.
  • Place familiar items under the nose of the child while blind-
    folded and have them guess what they are.
  • Invite them into the kitchen while you are cooking; talk about
    the different ingredients and smells
  • Take a "smelly walk" outside and talk about the odors of the
    flowers, grass, mulch, etc.
Food Play:
  • Add extracts or herbs (vanilla, lemon, cinnamon, banana,
    peppermint) to pretzel dough.  
  • Talk about the odors while finger "painting" with whipped
    cream, pudding, peanut butter, apple sauce, etc.

he use of scented markers and scented play doh is
NOT recommended as these products may encourage
a child to ingest them)

Strategies to reduce sensitivity to light or help with
visual distractions
  • change the lighting in the home environment: lamp lighting
    is less visually stressful than overhead lighting, keep
    lights dimmed
  • at school or in other buildings, wear lightly tinted
    sunglasses or dark if necessary
  • wear sunglasses or a baseball cap outdoors
  • to reduce visual distractions, create a barrier such as a
    cardboard study carrel when reading and writing
  • reduce clutter and a "busy" room appearance
  • certain wall paint colors help in reducing visual stress
  • school worksheets should include as much white space as
    possible; if necessary have information printed on more
    pages to increase white space
  • reduce the amount of color used on written materials or
    run through a copier for a black and white version

Strategies to increase visual attentiveness (eye-
contact, tracking, attention to detail)
  • play "flashlight tag"-- in a darkened room while on your
    back, chase each others' flashlight beams
  • play catch with slow moving objects: balloons, Gertie
    balls, scarves
  • pencil/paper mazes, hidden pictures, find the difference
    picture puzzles
  • fill a shoe box with lots a small items: locate specific
    items within this busy box
  • play "guess what I see" games:  describe an item in the
    room by its color, size, shape, what it's used for, etc.
  • school writing paper: use dark lines (run through copier to
    make darker if needed) for writing on
  • high light writing lines in yellow
  • worksheets should be of high contrast, lots of white
    space and clear of spots, smudges, etc.
  • when coloring, teach child to trace around the lines of the
    design first and then color it in
    Vestibular / Balance

  • Playground: swings, hanging bars, ladder, floating bridge, etc.
  • Animal and bug walks
  • Playing volleyball with a light ball or balloon
  • Rocking in a rocking chair
  • Swinging in a hammock
  • Jumping on a trampoline or with a jump rope
  • Walking through an uneven terrain obstacle course (stepping
    over step stools, boxes, bubble wrap, pillows, cushions)
  • Follow the leader animal walks
  • Scooter board sitting or lying on belly
  • Rolling down a grassy hill
  • Sitting and bouncing on a large exercise ball
  • Balancing on a 1-legged stool
  • Standing on balance boards
  • Walking or running up and down ramps
  • Going up and down stairways or curbs

Strategies to reduce tactile defensiveness or over-sensitivity to touch
  • In general, begin by encouraging play in dry, non-messy media rather then in gooey or sticky textures.  If the child
    still won't touch anything, have him/her use containers to scoop and pour the materials.
  • when touching the tactile-defensive child, always approach from the front (no surprises) and use a firm touch, never a
    light touch.
  • for the least offensive sensory play, try dry, clean media: use both hands to locate small toys hidden in a bucket filled
    with bird seed, sand, beans, pasta, rice, etc.  Practice pouring from one container to another.
  • progress to water play and later add soap for sudsy water: use lots of containers for pouring
  • progress to handling play-doh (see play doh recipes) and other non-gooey media such as Crayola Model Magic, Sculpey
    clay, Play Foam or Moon Sand
  • gradually explore different messy media: start with finger paint bath bubbles in the bath tub
  • progress to real finger paints (see finger paint recipes), smear shaving cream on a mirror or smooth surface, finger
    paint with pudding, whipped cream and other mushy foods
  • child can brush his/her own arms and legs with a soft hair brush, surgical brush or corn silk brush, then progress to
    letting you brush him or her.
  • child, or you, can rub lotion onto arms, legs, hands, feet, etc.
  • food play is great for increasing a child's interest in touching different textures.  Make pretzels together and spend
    a lot of time kneading the dough (see pretzel dough recipes ) and forming it into different shapes.
  • more food play: make jewelry by stringing pop-corn, Cheerios, Fruit Loops, etc.
  • deep pressure
  • weighted garments, blanket or weighted lap toys
  • in school, define personal space with carpet squares or tape on the floor
  • in school, allow child to sit in the periphery of a group so that others are not behind him/her
  • in the cafeteria, arrange for the child to sit close to a wall or pillar to feel safe

Strategies to increase tactile awareness
  • Interestingly, most of the same sensory activities that help a child tolerate touching or being touched, also help the
    child who is a "sensory-seeker" (has to touch everything).  To diminish this behavior, try the activities in the list above.
  • play games like "What's in the Bag": hide familiar objects that the child has to identify by feel.
  • by feel only, identify objects hidden in a bucket filled with bird seed, sand, beans, pasta, rice, etc.
  • encourage discriminating among various textures and states: feel and describe objects that are soft vs hard, smooth
    vs rough, wet vs dry vs slimy, cold vs warm, small vs large, round vs cornered vs curvy, degrees of vibration, etc.
                Taste & Oral Sensitivity

Sensitivities involving the mouth go beyond just the sense of
taste; Food texture is an important influence.  In general,
there are two types of oral sensitivities:  Hypersensitive
(overly reactive) and hypo sensitive (under reactive).   

Food play is a good way to introduce new food tastes and textures:
  • Finger "paint" on a cookie sheet with puddings of different
    flavors, whipped cream, apple sauce, oatmeal, cream of wheat
  • String fruit loops, Cheerios or pretzels to make jewelry; push a
    blunt needle through other cereals to string them
  • Knead bread or pretzel dough, add raisins or chocolate bits to
    give it a lumpy texture
Prepare the face and mouth for eating before a meal:
  • Stroke child's face firmly with your fingers (or have child do
    this to himself initially): Massage firmly from the jaws to the
    corners of the mouth, from the ears along the cheeks to the
    mouth and around the mouth.
  • Use a soft cloth or the back of a vibrating tooth brush in a
    similar manner
  • Hold a vibrating toy or toothbrush around, or in, the mouth
  • Chew on rubber tubing, fish tank or refrigerator tubing for
    several minutes before eating
  • Play mouth games: whistles, harmonica, toy horn, blow bubbles
    or blow on windmills
  • Blow through a straw to race cotton balls, ping pong balls, corks,
In general, introduce new tastes and textures gradually-- only one
new experience within a given time period.  

Activities that make the mouth and surrounding structures work hard
is helpful for the orally seeking child:
  • Blow bubbles in milk/juice with a straw
  • Suck drinks through a thin straw or squiggly straws
  • Drink thick shakes, slurpies, applesauce, pudding, etc. through a
  • Sip liquids through a sports bottle
  • Eat chewy foods (gummy bears, gum, bagels, calamari) and
    crunchy foods (Dutch pretzels, carrots, celery, crackers
Substitute inappropriate mouthing with one of the following:
  • Gum
  • Chew on surgical tubing, fish tank or refrigerator tubing
  • Wear "Chewelry" or rubber tubing as a necklace
Wake up the mouth by using some of the "Prepare the face and
mouth" techniques listed above
                        Hearing / Auditory

Strategies to reduce sensitivity to sound
or help with auditory distractions
  • offer noise reducing headphones or earplugs: For school, use
    for assemblies, gym, cafeteria.  In the community use at
    shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants, Birthday
    parties, etc.
  • in the classroom, place child away from sources of noise and
    commotion such as the door, air conditioner, sink, bathroom,
  • play a relaxation cd or a cd of nature sounds, "white" noise or
    soothing music
  • prepare child for noisy situations ahead of time.  Often
    times, knowing when something is going to happen (e.g., fire
    drill) helps the child to mentally get ready for it.

Strategies to increase attentiveness to sound
(listening to the speaker, teacher, etc.)
  • get the child's attention before speaking
  • speak slowly and clearly
  • give one instruction at a time in simple language
  • pair instructions with gestures or visual demonstrations
    whenever possible
  • allow extra time for the child to process the information and
  • place child away from sources of noise such as the doorway,
    air conditioner, sink, bathroom, etc.
                   Proprioception / Movement  

  • Playground: monkey bars, ladder, fireman pole, etc.
  • Animal and bug walks
  • Playing catch with a heavy ball
  • Pulling a wagon filled with toys or other items
  • Carrying a trash can, box or laundry basket
  • Biking, hiking, running
  • Walking, especially up hill
  • Jumping on a trampoline or jump rope
  • Sweeping the floor, raking leaves
  • Kneading bread or pretzel dough
  • mixing cookie dough
  • Washing the car
  • Heavy Work Activities for school
  • Tug of War
  • Deep "bear" hugs or massages
  • Squeezing clay, play doh or therapy putty
  • Relaxing in a squishy bean bag chair
  • Cocooning: wrap child up tightly in a blanket or large towel
Sensory Strategies
by Sensory System
You may have heard terms such as "sensory defensive" and "sensory seeking."  When
someone is defensive, it means that a particular sensation is noxious or uncomfortable to them.
They resort to avoidance behavior.  A child may refuse to touch something gooey or may
become upset when entering a place that is too noisy or where the lights are too bright.

An individual who is seeking sensory stimulation may be under-sensitive to stimuli to a degree
or may, for some reason, crave more of a particular sensation.   An example is the child who
sucks and chews on his shirt color.  There are some who need to touch everything.

Listed below, are some strategies that help get to that "just right" level of sensory
processing organized by sensory system.
The skin is the largest organ of the human body.  Among its
many functions, the skin contains sensory receptors for
touch, temperature, pressure and vibration.  
Small receptors within our muscles and tendons detect
the amount of stretch that occurs in muscle fibers and
tendons.  This allows us to sense the movements of our
body parts without having to look at where they are.
To give us our sense of balance, within the inner ear are
small structures called the semicircular canals.  These act
as a Carpenter's Level in a way.  The semicircular canals
tell us when we are upright or tilted.
follow the link:

Ouch! Sensory Integration and Haircuts
Activities that provide feedback into the muscles and joints of the
body promote coordinated movement.  Repetitive movement enables us
to know where our arms and legs are in space.   In addition, there is
much literature written about the benefits of using proprioceptive
activities to organize all of the senses in the treatment of sensory
processing disorders (SPD).   This is especially noted when the
muscles are used in “heavy work” patterns.
 "Heavy work" is any gross
motor activity that involves moving against resistance to provide
deep pressure into the muscles and joints of the body.  Pushing,
pulling, carrying, lifting or jumping are examples.  Interestingly,
many of the same heavy work activities that help
hyperactivity in children also help to engage children who appear
listless, tired or floppy.  Below are some examples:
The vestibular sense serves as a gravitational guide.  It lets you know
where your body is in space in relation to gravity.  Observe how your child
reacts to playground equipment.  Some children may fear climbing a ladder
or walking on an unsteady surface.  Others may crave certain movements
such as jumping, rocking or twirling.  Children who over react or under
react to movement often benefit from activities that provide input into
the vestibular system.  Some ideas are listed below:
The hypersensitive or "orally defensive" child dislikes experiencing
various taste and texture sensations in the mouth. The orally defensive child
often has a limited repertoire of foods he/she will eat, perhaps only mushy
foods, only crunchy foods or only bland foods, etc.  They may avoid chewy
foods and foods with mixed textures or lumps.  Some avoid foods of a certain
color.  These children gag easily, may avoid using their lips (use teeth only)
when eating off of a fork or spoon.  Some may be overly sensitive to brushing
their teeth or being touched around the face and lips.
The hyposensitive or "orally seeking" child often craves certain mouth
sensations and may even explore the environment by licking inedible objects.   
He/she may have a strong desire for a particular taste sensation (sweet,
salty, bitter, sour), flavor (spicy, minty, cinnamon, banana, vanilla, etc.) or
texture (crunchy, mushy, icy, slushy).   He/she may have difficulty controlling
bite size and may overstuff his/her mouth.   Reminders to chew completely
before swallowing may be needed.  When not eating, the orally seeking child
may often have something in their mouth or are chewing on their clothing,
pencil erasers, toys, etc.
The child who is hypersensitive to smells is over-responsive and tends to
avoid people, objects, food or places associated with smells that are
offensive to him/her.  Consider that a particular odor may be the reason why
a child refuses to enter a public restroom, gymnasium, a certain friend or
relative's home, a store or restaurant.  The kitchen generates many odors as
do certain foods.  The over-responsive child may dislike perfumes, the smell
of metals and other substances and may be reluctant to touch things for fear
of getting the smell on their hands.
The under-responsive child may seek out odors or be unaware of them.  Some
may have a compulsion to smell objects in the environment, even those seeming
to be odorless.  Some may have difficulty discriminating good odors from bad
odors, creating safety issues with poisonous substances.  Some hyposensitive
children need to use their sense of smell in inappropriate ways as they
interact with people or objects.  
Click here to learn about sensory
Calming and Alerting Strategies