#272 - Developing a Sensory-Based Treatment Session

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC September 06, 2023 1 Comment

#272 - Developing a Sensory-Based Treatment Session

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Developing a Sensory-Based Treatment Session

In this episode, we dive into the fascinating world of sensory-based treatment sessions. Join us as we explore the concept of sensory integration and how it can be incorporated into various therapeutic interventions. Whether you're a therapist, educator, or simply curious about the power of sensory experiences, this episode will provide valuable insights and practical tips for developing effective sensory-based treatment sessions.

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Episode 187: What it Means to Meet the Sensory Threshold

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Developing A Sensory-Based Treatment Session

Recognizing the significance of sensory integration research highlights the essentiality of addressing a child's sensory needs to establish the groundwork for skill acquisition. As occupational therapists, it can be overwhelming to determine the most effective approach for providing sensory-based sessions due to the multitude of learning options available.

We will guide you on further educating yourself about sensory integration practices. Additionally, we will discuss factors to consider when developing a sensory-based treatment session and share tips on how to keep your sessions engaging.


Sensory Integration Continuing Education Courses

Continuing education courses focusing on sensory integration can have significant benefits. These courses provide valuable knowledge on identifying clients' sensory needs and designing treatment sessions that effectively incorporate sensory processing methods.

By enrolling in these courses, you can enrich your knowledge and expertise in this field, enhancing the level of care you offer your clients. There are several exceptional options to choose from:

  • Harkla's Sensory Diet Digital Course
  • Gwen Wild, the previous owner of Sensational Brain.
  • Pesi Courses

If you've completed courses and are eager to expand your knowledge, many books on sensory integration are waiting for you. To kickstart your learning journey, we have curated a selection of recommendations just for you:

  • Sensory Integration And The Child: Jean Ayres
  • The Out-of-Sync Child: Carol Stock Kranowitz
  • The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun: Carol Stock Kranowitz
  • Raising a Sensory Smart Child: Lindsay Biel and Nancy Peske
  • Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: Sharon Heller


Factors to Consider When Developing a Sensory-Based Treatment Session

Identifying the client's sensory needs and preferences.

Record the child's likes and assess their interest in different activities. Encourage the caregiver and teacher to complete a sensory checklist to provide tailored support for their unique needs.

Allowing for the client's strengths and interests

Children often learn best through activities that appeal to them. Incorporate the child's strengths and interests into the treatment plan for a more engaging session.

Incorporating a multisensory approach to learning new skills.

Research has found that a multisensory approach to learning new skills is essential for successful outcomes. Utilize equipment, toys, and activities that appeal to different senses to provide meaningful engagement during sessions.

Designing sensory activities that are meaningful and engaging for the client.

Ensure that the activities are tailored to the individual's needs and preferences. Consider incorporating games, stories, music, and art into your sessions for an effective sensory experience.

Ensuring that sessions address all areas of occupation (physical, social, emotional, cognitive)

Regardless of your activity with your client, all areas of specialization (physical, social, emotional, mental) must be addressed. This will help to ensure successful outcomes and meaningful experiences for the client.

Incorporating sensory activities that are safe and meaningful for the client

Sensory activities should be designed with safety in mind. While it is important to challenge the client, it is equally essential to ensure that activities are appropriate for their age and skill level.


Preparing Your Body For Learning

Start by engaging the child's sensory systems and adjusting their arousal level through a preparatory activity. Here are a few fantastic activities to begin with:

  • Lying in a prone position on their stomach, they retrieve puzzle pieces from the ground while in a compression swing.
  • Place the child on their stomach and gently roll them forward, backward, and side to side on a therapy ball.
  • Movement activities such as marching, jumping, and jogging.

After shaking up the child's nervous system, it's essential to incorporate proprioception-based activities to provide the necessary stimulation to restore balance and coordination. Examples include:

  • Static weight-bearing exercises such as planks, wall pushups, and bear hugs.
  • Moving heavy objects like weighted balls or dumbbells.
  • Participating in games involving crawling, rolling, and jumping on the bed.

A Multi-Sensory Approach: Learning New Skills

By incorporating sensory-based activities, you can help them absorb and retain new information, creating a tailored care plan that supports their goals. Here are a few ideas for implementing a multi-sensory approach to learning new skills:

  • 3-D puzzles, tactile boards, letters made from various materials, and counting blocks.
  • Integration of music, storytelling, and art to your lesson.
  • Fill a kiddie pool with beans or rice and hide letters or treasures for children to find. Alternatively, they can lie in the pool and make "snow angels".
  • Use a ball pit to hide items and encourage the child to search through it.
  • Challenge the child to identify a letter or treasure by touch, blindfolded. Alternatively, have them navigate an obstacle course relying on their other senses.
  • Enhance a child's arousal level by adding essential oil to a rice bin.
  • Playing Simon Says can enhance auditory processing skills.

It is equally crucial to integrate movement into your activities. When planning your next session, contemplate incorporating a selection of these options:

  • Trace an infinity loop while seated on a therapy ball or lying down.
  • Promote auditory stimulation by engaging in activities like blowing and popping bubbles and clapping, stomping, or jumping on them.
  • Engage in a container play activity by lying prone over a therapy ball.
  • Perform clapping exercises, either in a prone or supine position, synchronized with the beat of a metronome.
  • Create a suspended obstacle course and challenge the child to collect a clip from one swing and attach it to another.
  • Place the child on a scooter board, facing downward, while holding onto a rope or sheet. They can glide effortlessly back and forth on the board by using their arms to push and pull.


Supporting Emotional Regulation With Sensory Techniques

Often, children come to occupational therapy lacking crucial emotional regulation skills, leading to meltdowns and difficulty understanding their emotions. Incorporating emotional intelligence and regulation abilities into sensory activities is essential, fostering a holistic approach to their development.

The Zones of Regulation program incorporates sensory activities and encourages conversations about their impact on a child's emotions. This enhances the child's awareness of their interoceptive system.

Here are a few activities that can be used to promote emotional regulation and self-regulation:

  • Use light therapy to create a calming or alerting environment.
  • Utilize aromatherapy to create an atmosphere of relaxation or alertness.
  • Place the child in a deep-pressure massage device like a hug machine to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Allow the child to play with therapy dough or kinetic sand to express feelings and self-soothe.
  • Provide different textured objects, like a bean bag chair or Koosh ball, for grounding and calming down.
  • Practice deep breathing while reclining on a therapy ball or in a compression swing.
  • Yoga poses enhance body control and self-regulation.
  • Tactile input using weighted blankets and other sensory items.


Tips on Keeping Your Sessions Engaging

One of the most important aspects to consider when developing a sensory-based treatment session is to ensure that it remains engaging for your client. Here are some tips on how to do this:

  • Incorporate a variety of activities and resources into each session
  • Let your clients have control over what activities they want to do and how long they will do them
  • Use sensory activities that are developmentally appropriate and tailored to the individual
  • Provide opportunities for self-expression through art, music, and play
  • Allow for a stimulating environment in which clients can explore their interests and passions
  • Incorporate stories, songs, and games into the session to keep it enjoyable for the client.

Sensory-based treatment sessions are an effective way to support children's growth and development. Occupational therapists have the unique opportunity to create a specialized plan of care that will help their clients reach their goals while providing a stimulating environment in which they can explore and express themselves.






While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.

1 Response

Karen ireland
Karen ireland

September 26, 2023

Excellent resource !!

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