“It is important to note that we all have sensory problems, it only becomes a disorder when the impact is chronic and/or disrupts our everyday life (Miller, 2006).”

Learning to communicate needs and wants in an appropriate way is one of the many challenges that children face. What is an ‘appropriate way’ varies between individuals, families, cultures and environments.   Behaviour is often described as challenging when it interferes with the rights of others, causes harm or risk to the child, other children, adults or living things. There is always a reason for the behaviour that we might be seeing in children. Children need support from the adults in their lives to interpret and express their needs in ways that are appropriate to the situation and environment.

Our skilled team can provide information and strategies to assist you and your child to identify and work toward changing developmental, sensory, social and self-esteem behavioural concerns.


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Sensory Integration

Sensory integration is the ability to organise and interpret the information that we receive through the senses from our bodies and environment. This process allows us to produce an appropriate response to situations, tasks or environments. Our sensory system is the foundation of our skill development. Whilst some skills may be developed without the support of this foundation, they may not be effective or promote generalisation of skills across all areas of interaction.

When talking about senses we think about our hearing, sight, sense of touch, taste and smell. Occupational Therapists also talk about our bodies senses of where it is (proprioception) and how it is moving (vestibular), so we know how to get our arms and legs into position to catch a ball or write with a pencil. Children and adults all have different strengths or preferences for how they take in, use and respond to their different senses. Often genetics and experience play a part in this, however it can vary depending on each person’s stress level; environment; fatigue; fear or enjoyment; motivation and success. As adults we are aware that managing a busy, noisy day is harder when we haven’t had any sleep.

It is important to remember that everyone has sensory preferences, but they can seem much more obvious in children because they are required to sit and listen or do according to other’s rules and needs, both at school and home. As adults, we can change our environment to suit our needs or have learned ways to manage in these situations. For example, some people need background noise to help them concentrate on a task, whilst others require absolute quiet to be able to concentrate. What happens for the child who can’t focus with all the noise going on in the classroom but must still try to learn in this situation?

Often the ‘behaviour’ children exhibit occurs when seeking or avoiding sensory information; due to taking longer to process this information or have developed alternative responses to tasks and situations that are over or underwhelming for them. Children often know what they need but can’t communicate this to the adults in their lives.


Some examples of sensory issues may include:

  • Dislike of sound, touch or movement
  • Not aware that they are being spoken to
  • Busy, active bodies
  • Appearing to mostly be in own world
  • Easily distracted, poor attention and concentration
  • Appears clumsy, has reduced coordination or balance
  • Difficulty getting organised or learning new things
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Picky eaters
  • Dislike showering, brushing hair or teeth
  • Slow to talk
  • Limited awareness of others
  • Difficulty playing or socializing with others
  • Difficulty accepting changes in routine or transitioning between tasks

With help from your Occupational Therapist, you can learn to identify signs that your child is struggling to take in, process or develop appropriate responses to the sensory information around them. An Occupational Therapist can help your child to manage sensory behaviour whilst your child develops ways to regulate their behaviour and the way they interact with their world. Contact our skilled team for further information, assessment and therapy.


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Social skills

Children and young adults learn how to positively communicate with others in verbal and nonverbal ways, including gestures, words, speech tone and facial expressions. As babies we learn to smile at those interacting with us to get further attention, smiles and happy noises. As teenagers we learn to negotiate with and understand others when they make decisions on unwritten rules or implicit social understandings. Social skills involve the ability to learn from a situation; communicate with others; ask for help; get our needs met in appropriate ways; get along with others; make friends; protect ourselves; hold down employment; work with colleagues; develop healthy relationships and be able to interact within society harmoniously.

As parents we often worry about our children and their friendships; their ability to be mature when in social situations, their manners and their understanding of the way the world works. Children with developmental delays and specifically Autism Spectrum Disorders have difficulties with social skills. Concerns such as not being able to maintain eye contact; follow a conversation or instructions; being unaware of the other person or types of emotions being displayed; being self-absorbed; being unable to initiate and sustain a conversation or follow the play of others may also present difficulties. Every child and adult have a distinct personality and sometimes anxiety or trauma related to the world in which they live impacts on the development of social skills and participation in social situations.

Like other areas of development, social and emotional milestones, including self-awareness and self-regulation occur at different ages. If you have concerns about your child’s social skills our skilled team can provide information and strategies to assist you and your child.


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Play is what every child does, all day, every day as they grow. Play allows children to learn and practice the skills that they need for school and everyday life. It is through play that children learn about their bodies and how to use them, explore and learn about the world around them and develop a sense of themselves and their abilities. Play is enjoyable, allows experimentation without risk or failure, is initiated by the child, is carried out for its own sake and does not need to have an end product.

There are many types and stages of play and just as many ways to give your child more opportunities to learn along the way.

Sensory Motor Play (0 – 2 yrs) – Sensory motor play is the basis of a child’s understanding about objects and their functions. Children mouth, hold, touch, shake, squish, bang, jump on, climb, kick, throw and pull apart everything including their family, as they explore and experiment in their world. It is through this type of exploration that they learn to make sense of their world and how it works for them.

Imaginative Play (2 – 5 yrs) – Play themes develop and are the stories within a child’s play. They are an indication of the child’s awareness of their world and require the combination of many skills. Play may include going shopping, cooking tea, driving a cardboard box or jumping off the couch being superman! Children expand their physical, hand skills, cognitive skills, social and language skills through this type of play.

Games with Rules (6 – 12 yrs) – All areas of skill develop and strengthen, becoming more complex and adult. Play usually involves several components, is quite detailed and complex, being very cognitive based. Hobbies, sports and individual interests take a leading role. Play is very social, cooperative and involves group play.

As parents we need to remember that play is not a separate thing that needs to be scheduled in – make it a natural part of daily family activities that you do, give time to your child, get involved with their play and their interests, relax and have fun. Let your child explore for themselves – allow them to reason things out and learn from their mistakes. Provide some guidance to assist learning and mastery, remembering that play is repetitive and that you are often your child’s best play toy.

For some children with developmental concerns play skills may need more support or specific strategies to encourage development. Our skilled team can provide information and strategies to assist you and your child to foster play and social skills.


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Resilience and Mindfulness

Resilience is a term used to encompass a child’s ability to maintain positive self-esteem; problem solve; learn healthy thinking habits; find ways to solve their own problems when they arise and develop coping skills for what may happen in their life. It often refers to a mind set about life and learning how to balance all aspects of life successfully. Resilient children are often described as optimistic; have insight into themselves and their abilities; are actively involved in social and physical life; are flexible and adapt well to change in their life. These skills then allow children to manage stressors in adolescence and later life better.

Health thinking teaches children to know how their thoughts (both helpful and unhelpful) affect problems or feelings in everyday life. With practice, children can learn to use accurate thoughts that encourage them instead of negative thoughts that discourage them. Like all skills resiliency is developed and takes a combination of individual skills, parental, family and community support to develop. Children require positive experiences which allow for health risk taking and meaningful relationships with family and within their community.

Children with developmental conditions may see their world in a different light and find it hard to remain positive when they are unable to keep up with their peers. Our skilled team can support children to learn new skills, foster positive experiences and build self-esteem based on the child’s strengths. Contact us to discuss your child’s needs further.


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