April celebrates Occupational Therapy (OT) Month! Occupational Therapy is a fairly new profession, compared to doctoring or nursing, as we approach our 100 year anniversary of the profession in 2017. Begun in 1980, OT Month offers recognition to Occupational Therapists, or “OTs” who help people of all ages do the things they want to do in their lives. OTs in behavioral health provide holistic and person-centered therapeutic support for body and emotional regulation for clients struggling with mental health and developmental challenges. OT supports challenges in social participation, fine motor, gross motor, and visual perceptual skills, all areas that influence an individual’s ability to participate in occupations. “Occupation” is used in the broadest possible sense and can refer to anything a person may want or need to do.
Playing. An earlier Spurwink OT blog described how playing is an important occupation throughout childhood. Another important occupation of childhood is learning, whether it is through play, or in the classroom. In order to participate successfully on the playground or in the classroom, many of the children who come to Spurwink need help developing their ability to manage their bodies, emotions, and actions (self-regulation). Effective self-regulation strategies help them calm and focus, or wake up and energize their bodies and minds so that they can play and learn.
Sensory Modulation. During our everyday activities (called activities of daily living or ADLs) our bodies are able to use the information we get from our surroundings to create reactions that get us through our days successfully. This is called sensory modulation. Sensory Modulation is, “the neurological process that organizes sensation from one’s own body and from the environment and makes it possible to use the body effectively within the environment.” (Ayres, 1989).
Sensory Rooms. Dr. Tina Champagne, OTD, OTR/L, an expert OT clinician and consultant with Spurwink, authored Sensory Modulation & Environment. In this book, she describes creating and using specifically designed spaces called Sensory Rooms in behavioral health treatment programs for youth, and cites her research showing dramatic decreases in restraints when Sensory Rooms were used.
Dr. Champagne, along with the University of New England (UNE), and the help of a grant from the Davis Family Foundation, is working with Spurwink to examine the effects of sensory-based strategies on children’s self-regulation in Spurwink’s day treatment (special education) programs. Dr. Champagne provides the technical OT expertise, the Davis support supplies the equipment for the agency’s Sensory Rooms, and UNE professors and students are leading research that targets children’s sensory systems to help with regulation.
Spurwink’s Sensory Rooms are carefully designed with attention to their location, accessibility, wall colors, name, and therapeutic equipment. These rooms are located in a place where children can learn and practice their own self-regulation skills with supportive guidance, so that they can focus more energy on the occupations of childhood – learning and playing!
Get OT if You Need It! It is important to remember we all regulate our bodies throughout the day and we all use strategies to help our bodies feel calm and focused. Whether you drink coffee to help wake up, or take a long walk after a stressful day, these are strategies that likely work well for you. Sensory Rooms provide a space and tools for individuals to use, whether they need to become more alert, or calm down.
If you have difficulties being in busy environments, staying on task because you are distracted by sensory input, or think you would benefit from a longer list of strategies to use throughout your day, OT can help!
by Anna Brown, MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapy Coordinator
by Linda S. Butler, Ph.D., LCSW
Director of Research & Outcomes