Why is every other child in O.T.?
So many moms list Occupational Therapy (O.T.) as one of their child’s many stops along the way to
the Weekend. Every other kid these days seems to suffer from some sort of sensory disturbance, which
comes with a range of physical and behavioural challenges and emotional backlash. I’ve often wondered
about that emotional component? Did something traumatic happen to trigger something physical in the
body, or is it the other way round? In this ‘chicken-or-the-egg’ scenario, so much focus is put onto the
physical. And while I absolutely trust O.T. treatment (it’s essential for kids who suffer in this way) I
also wonder how Sensory Integration links with silent emotional trauma. Is it possible that something
scary sits in the body when there is no other place for it to go?
Bodies are amazing. I remember in Grade 8, my Biology teacher talked about how incredible our skin
is: How it protects our organs and how resilient it is when wounded. Skin is strong but vulnerable. It
wraps around you like a hug and holds everything in place. It’s waterproof but also porous- meaning
it’s open to the elements. Which got me thinking about how the skin is also the thing between inside and
outside: The way we meet the world and get to know it, is through the skin. If that outside place is
threatening in some way, our skin might have a reaction too. So if a child experiences Sensory
Integration issues and finds their skin uncomfortable, what could this be saying about how they feel on
an emotional level? For example, if your daughter finds sock-seams itchy and is battling to get into her
school uniform in the morning, is she also saying that something about the day ahead is hard to ‘get
into’? Sometimes the body is able to talk when words fail.
How is Sensory Integration and Trauma linked?
While people often speak of the five senses, there are actually seven: Sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch,
balance and position. These seven senses organize how a person feels in space and time. It provides a
feeling of physical safety in the world. But if there has been some sort of distress, that safety is
threatened. Ever noticed how you shout at people you love when you’re exhausted? Or how you can’t
think straight because of loud noise? Or maybe you are put out by certain smells or sounds. These are
the daily reminders of how the body, brain, and feelings work together. If there is an overload in one
area, the other two bare the brunt. This is especially true for young kids who lack the maturity or
emotional vocab to manage stress. So where does it go? Sometimes it goes straight back into the body.
This can be seen in physical ways like issues with balance or delayed milestones, for example.
So what else can I do if my child has sensory difficulties?
Think about all the sensory stuff as a useful red flag that something is ‘up’. If your kid is having a
sensory meltdown, try and understand what the emotional trigger might be. Try and name it for them or
at least acknowledge their overwhelm. And while seeing see an O.T. is a good idea, also consider
taking them to a Play Therapist. One who understands the relationship between the body and the mind.
It can’t hurt to also give your child the tools to name what that experience feels like. Plus, it is very
likely that the creative therapeutic process will identify unknown trauma. And finally, move it out of
the body and into words, where it belongs.