Q: My son comes home from kindergarten covered in chalk, paint, oats, etc. When I complain to the teacher she says that messy play is really important for sensory development. What is sensory development? How come my mother never heard of it? How come we never had messy play when I was in kindergarten? Why does it seem that nowadays many children have sensory issues and other problems, when in the past all kids were fine?
Children used to manage without all these therapies — we, the adults of today, talk, we walk, we don’t have to have perfect handwriting to get along in this world. I live in England, but my relatives in N.Y. are very into these therapies. Why is this?
A: Your child’s teacher wants the children in her class to experience various textures. She has learned that this is important for brain development. But a child can experience the textures, and also experience cleaning them off with a wet rag! Being aware of the expectations of the society around us is also an important skill to acquire.
To answer your concerns about new diagnoses and therapies: As funding increases for research studies (and therapy), new information comes to light that wasn’t available 25 years ago. It can be argued that this abundance of data is often overwhelming, and can make life more complicated, to say the least, yet it can often be liberating to suffering children.
One of the things we have learned is that some children are either under- or over-stimulated by their senses in response to their environment, and need help to learn to “self-regulate.” This is why sensory development is in the curriculum for pre-schoolers — to help them “fit in” better as they mature. This is surely a worthy goal.
Although some children manage even without therapy to compensate, adapt and catch up in development, no one has a guarantee that her child will be one of the fortunate ones who will do so. This is where therapy enters the picture.
So we have learned about the need to address deficits in a child’s fine- and gross-motor skills, speech and sensory processing, because the child’s deficits can affect his/her everyday life and happiness. But there are many other things to be gained from therapy besides overcoming deficits. Some additional advantages of therapy are that a child’s tolerance for frustration often improves as he or she achieves mastery, and one-on-one attention in itself has therapeutic benefits.
On the down side, occupational, physical, speech, etc. therapy sessions can be very time-consuming, and scheduling and transportation issues can be difficult; but some therapy is school-based, which makes it perhaps a little easier to access.
Readers are asked to note that it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between a child with severe sensory issues as compared to a child with ADHD, or one who is impulsive; or to determine whether a problem is due to the home environment, and must be alleviated at the source; or whether the child is undergoing a time-limited crisis. The behavior patterns presented are quite similar, and an expert should make any diagnosis.
Whatever assistance we can give to our children should be considered and hopefully undertaken, since fostering our children’s healthy growth is surely one of our goals in life.