“Occupational Therapy for Sensory Needs”
Heather M. Hulse, JD, MA, MS
Pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”), school districts are responsible for providing Occupational Therapy “(OT)” services to students who qualify for such related services. Students often receive OT services for handwriting issues and fine motor concerns. However, school districts often fail to provide much needed OT services for sensory needs.
Sensory needs include how one’s body perceives information. Sensory needs include: visual, auditory (hearing), proprioceptive (muscle and joint), tactile (touch), and vestibular (movement and positioning). These sensory needs can be either heightened or dulled. Either way, overactive or underactive sensory needs can cause significant difficulties in daily functioning. For example, a student with a heightened sensitivity to sound will have difficulty concentrating in a classroom with the sound of a lawnmower outside the classroom’s window. Likewise, a student with a dulled tactile sensory need will not recognize how hard they “tag” another student during a typical game of “tag” during recess.
Many students with Autism, Asperger’s Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Emotional Disorders often have deficits in Sensory-areas. Students with Sensory needs can learn strategies to compensate for their over or under stimulation. This can occur using appropriate, research-based techniques of OT. School districts are required to provide appropriate research-based programming in Sensory areas to students that needs in these areas. Parents with concerns regarding their child’s Sensory needs should request an OT evaluation to specifically assess areas of Sensory Integration. If an assessment yields concerns with Sensory needs, parents should request OT services that include appropriate research-based programming in Sensory Integration. School Districts are obligated to provide these services when they are needed.