What’s In an Activity? Unlocking a Client’s Power Through Precise Sensory Motor Activation

We need to work together to find the activity that unlocks the most power

“We need to unlock the magic code to find the power in your body. I have some ideas, but we need to work together to find the activity that unlocks the most power. Can you help me?”

These are the words I spoke to my new client, Aiden a 9 year-old young man, at his very first session.

Intrigued by the unexpected challenge, Aiden looked at me for a moment and replied, “Sure.”

In that early interaction, a therapeutic connection was formed.

As therapists, we rely not only on therapeutic activities, but our clinical reasoning. We are responsible for identifying our clients’ unique functional participation difficulties and their underlying sensory-motor and developmental challenges. It is our obligation to then develop a treatment plan to address and support these functional challenges. During each treatment session, our therapeutic activities should be selected to meet the unique clinical picture of each child.

Sometimes we miss the magic

Yet, in all of our clinical reasoning and planning sometimes we miss the magic. We become so focused on filling the time with a laundry list of activities that we forget to watch, listen, and be in the moment with that child. While there is inherent value in each therapeutic activity, the real magic occurs when you understand the sensory systems, development, and how to precisely match an activity to a client’s underlying sensory processing and sensory motor challenges. It is then that we unlock our clients’ true potential. (To learn the role of the vestibular and proprioceptive systems in everyday life, join us for our Vestibular Treatment Perspectives course).

I recently worked with Aiden, whose family was seeking occupational therapy services primarily for difficulties with arousal, affect, social engagement, and attention. These challenges primarily presented as struggles resolving conflicts with his peers and siblings or recovering from what his parents describe as an “an over-the-top meltdown”. In school, Aiden struggled to pay attention sometimes appearing distant and unfocused.

Our first session yielded playful moments while climbing in the suspended lycra and participating in Therapeutic Listening®. However, it was not until we joined together as a team in one specific activity that I saw Aiden’s true powers emerge.

From a therapeutic standpoint I selected ball explosions (see pictures of ball blasts below) to strengthen anti-gravity flexion, support sustained head and neck control, and enhance the coordination of his respiration in synchrony with movement. Yet for Aiden, this activity afforded him an opportunity to feel strength in his body. Each time he kicked the ball, the ball would go flying, and we laughed in delight at how far he could kick it. We elaborated by adding ‘power sounds’ to the game with mighty “Ha!” sounds. Each time he kicked the ball his face would get brighter and the joy he was experiencing was evident to the whole room. By joining and being a part of Aiden’s experience, I could recognize the transformation that was happening right before my eyes. When he stood to leave that day, Aiden appeared taller, his voice sounded deeper and richer, and he couldn’t wait to come back. We had found Aiden’s power!

For Aiden, this activity was the embodiment of his power

When he returned to OT two weeks later, Aiden immediately began to ask when he could play that game, remembering the details of using self-generated sound and whistles to give him more strength. “Remember the power sounds…” he whispered to me as we started the game.

From a therapeutic standpoint, ball explosions supported Aiden’s development of dynamic anti-gravity postures, breath regulation, and core activation, bringing ease and fluidity to his body- a necessary foundation for higher level skills. For Aiden, this activity was the embodiment of his power, not just in therapy but in life. Aiden’s strength, competency, and playfulness were now evident to everyone—none more important than Aiden himself.

The next time you enter the clinic, ask yourself, “Whose power am I going to unlock today?”

~Tracy Bjorling, MS, OTR/L

Ball Blasts

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Above is an example of ball blasts taken from Core Concepts in Action by Sheila Frick, OTR/L and Mary Kawar, MS, OT/L

Looking for fresh new activity ideas? Join us for our course on Vestibular Treatment Perspectives.

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2 Comments on: “What’s In an Activity? Unlocking a Client’s Power Through Precise Sensory Motor Activation

  1. What a great way to capture clinical assessment woven into building a relationship and a child’s joy of self.

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