#273 - Helping an SLP Implement Sensory Strategies into Speech Sessions

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC September 13, 2023

#273 - Helping an SLP Implement Sensory Strategies into Speech Sessions

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Helping an SLP Implement Sensory Strategies into Speech Sessions

This episode is perfect for any therapist working with children, not just SLPs! Adding sensory into a treatment session does not have to be difficult. In fact, it can be fairly simple and so effective! Sensory activities help a child meet their sensory needs and feel more regulated, which in turn helps with cognitive development!

We dive into HOW to identify a child’s sensory preferences, different sensory circuits to include into the treatment plan, and a variety of free resources to learn more!

Try some of the sensory activities we talk about and let us know the changes you notice!

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Episode 139 Incorporate Speech into Play

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What is the Sensory Threshold?

5 Ways to Use a Sensory Bins


Helping an SLP Implement Sensory Strategies into Speech Sessions

A speech therapist (SLP) working with children, some diagnosed and some undiagnosed with autism, reached out with a question. The SLP incorporates sensory strategies into their sessions and has found them incredibly beneficial in helping children regulate themselves. 

However, the SLPs are facing a challenge in determining the optimal amount of sensory input. How can they accurately gauge when children have reached their sensory threshold and are ready to transition to the next activity?


Understanding A Child's Sensory Needs

To begin, families are asked to complete a sensory symptom checklist, allowing for the identification of their child's sensory preferences. This invaluable tool helps determine the specific types of input the child seeks or avoids throughout the day.

Based on that assessment, you can gauge whether the child needs more or less sensory input. You can offer additional sensory input or reduce auditory input if they are hypersensitive in that area.

Once you complete a checklist, you can easily refer to it to determine what children require more or less. This streamlined approach allows for efficient identification and fulfillment of their needs.


Circuits And Obstacle Courses 

Though commonly used by OTs and COTAs, SLPs can also employ this approach to offer extra sensory input for children in need. Creating an obstacle course involves various activities, including trampoline jumping, tunnel crawling, and targeted speech or language exercises.

In addition, you can incorporate articulation activities and seamlessly integrate speech and language elements throughout the entire circuit. To add an extra level of excitement, you can even include activities like hopping back to the starting point or engaging in a fun-filled wheelbarrow walk or animal walk.

The primary objective is to provide the desired input or the input that is beneficial to them in a repeated and structured manner. Instead of simply instructing someone to jump on a trampoline for a minute, you can utilize a circuit that provides more targeted and synchronized input.


Movement Breaks And Adaptive Seating

To enhance engagement during therapy sessions, encourage the child to experiment with various positions for better focus. They can stand at the desk, lie on the floor, go under the table, sit on a therapy ball, or utilize a wiggle seat or tea stool.

Incorporate these positional changes into goal-oriented activities with clear start and stop points. Instead of simply telling them to jump on the trampoline for a minute, repeat a sequence of ten trampoline jumps followed by ten medicine ball slams. This keeps them engaged and promotes physical and cognitive development.


Learning By Trial And Error

To accurately assess the impact of new methods and closely track changes in behavior, mood, or attention, exploring and evaluating the results is imperative. This process enables the identification of the most effective interventions for each child and provides insights on how to adapt them accordingly. 

Furthermore, don't be afraid to experiment. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to sensory strategies, so keeping an open mind and embracing the trial-and-error process is essential.


Speak To An Occupational Therapist 

If the child is not receiving occupational therapy, consider a referral. If the child is already in therapy, talk to their therapist about incorporating these movement activities.

Collaborating with the child's team is crucial to ensure everyone is on the same page and working towards shared goals. Additionally, OTs can provide invaluable insight into best accommodating a child's sensory needs and help you identify the most effective interventions.


OT Suggestions For SLP Sessions

Occupational therapy sessions are enriched with a wide variety of engaging activities. Moreover, these recommendations can also be seamlessly integrated into speech sessions by incorporating a blend of vestibular, proprioception, and tactile stimuli.

Vestibular stimulation has the potential to enhance verbal communication. Here are a few suggested activities to promote this skill:

  • Spinning and swinging.
  • Over-Unders: Instruct your clients to face away from you while holding a ball, then bend down and pass the ball between their legs to you. Once you have the ball, raise it above their head and have them look up, reach up, and grab the ball.
  • Robot Zapping. While standing against a wall, they will activate the robot zappers by extending their pointer fingers outward. Then, they twist their bodies, bringing their right arm behind them, before reversing the direction.

After engaging in vestibular activities, it is crucial to incorporate proprioceptive exercises, such as heavy work. These exercises encompass pushing and pulling hefty objects, crawling, imitating animal movements, and even utilizing a therapy ball as a steamroller to apply deep pressure on the child's legs and back.

Finally, the inclusion of tactile input through vibration can offer significant benefits. For instance:

  • Utilizing a HoMedics vibration ball to roll along their arms, legs, or back.
  • Gently brushing the child's skin with a soft washcloth or a dry brush can be beneficial.
  • Instruct the child to randomly select a card or item from a sensory bin and verbalize the corresponding word.

The most important thing is to find out what works best for your clients and then create a structured plan incorporating speech and language elements and sensory strategies. With a solid plan, you can be sure your clients get the best therapy possible.




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.

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