Trauma + Sensory Processing Challenges: Tools That Help

Therapeutic Listening

We recently brought Sheila Frick, OTR/L (Occupational Therapist, Registered, Licensed) to SaintA for two presentations on July 18 in the Franciscan Center. One session was tailored to staff and the other was directed to SaintA foster parents.

I’m proud that we hosted such a notable trainer; Sheila has become an international expert in pediatrics utilizing sensory techniques. She is founder of Vital Links and the innovator of Therapeutic Listening. Both audiences were highly engaged in the topics of trauma, attachment and sensory processing challenges.

There were many takeaways from her presentations. She explained how sensory is affected by trauma, how it integrates and builds attachment, and how a combination of sensory, trauma, and attachment can lead to sensory processing challenges. She pointed out that a child needs to learn how to manage and regulate the system that they have.

During break-out sessions, groups got to experience how to use sensory items to manage and regulate systems.

Embodied Sensations + Essential Movement

“Sensory systems are not only our means for perceiving the external world, but are also essential to maintaining arousal, forming our body image, and regulating movement,” says a quote she used from J. Martin.

Sheila emphasized essential movement by using another quote, this time from Dr. A. Jean Ayres, who is considered the founder of Sensory Integration. “What is rocking and being cuddled other than tactile and vestibular stimulation plus an interpersonal relationship?”

Sheila encouraged the audience to work toward intrinsic motivation, always following a child’s lead in play as an activity that has meaning for the individual results in change. She taught an activity called “melt” utilizing a squishy ball that demonstrated observable changes within audience participants.

The Just Right Zone

There were questions about how to “know” when the activity was meaningful and Sheila identified the observable qualities of Just Right. These include a visible positive change in the body tone, balance, and postural patterns, enhanced deeper belly breathing, a relaxed expressive face, an increased ability to adapt energy levels to meet the demand of a task, and an increased ability to express how one is feeling in words.

To help children stay in the Just Right zone, Sheila recommended breathing, movement/play, and sound strategies, as well as relationships (one of our Seven Essential Ingredients for the implementation of Trauma Informed Care).

Therapeutic Listening

Sheila emphasized Therapeutic Listening, which uses sound as a powerful way to access the nervous system and affect changes in children with sensory processing disorders.

Developed by Sheila and her Vital Links colleagues, Therapeutic Listening has grown to a well-respected, widely used program for both practitioners and families. There are many examples of how the electronically altered music sends precisely controlled sensory information to the brain to trigger attention and activate the body.

Therapeutic Listening has been used successfully to help children improve attention span, mood and energy levels; interact better with peers; communicate better (both verbal and non-verbal); and respond more normally to sensory stimuli (sound, touch, taste, etc.).

Claudia Meyer
Claudia Meyer

Therapeutic Listening requires an assessment by an OT (Occupational Therapist) who has been trained and certified in this technique. Sheila offered families the opportunity to listen to a one-hour presentation on her Vital Links website on Quickshifts. She indicated there is a free app for the phone for Quickshifts (Therapeutic Listening App for iPhone or Android) and she encouraged families to utilize the Regulation titles as supports for daily routines.

If you attended the presentations and still have questions, or if you were not able to attend Sheila’s presentation, SaintA staff can contact me directly at cmeyer@sainta.org.

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