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Ask The Expert – Sydney Bruess, RLMC Occupational Therapist

Q: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is possible my child will have to transition to distance learning in the future; however, my child demonstrates difficulty sitting still and focusing during tasks at school and home. How could I help my child increase focus, sustain attention to tasks, and increase listening skills to be a successful distance learner?

A: When there is a challenge processing sensory information from the environment, children/adults can either avoid engaging in running, jumping, climbing, and crashing or they can seek these motions. It is important to understand everyone’s sensory systems operate differently; however, it is more complex for a child to navigate their sensory system when a disruption is occurring. This may be linked to increased/altered behaviors (i.e. difficulty listening, following directions, not being able to sit still, or even anger/frustration/aggression that you may be seeing at home, school, or in the community.

“Heavy Work” is a term often used to describe the input we feel when pressure is placed upon our muscles, joints, and ligaments. Our body organizes this input from the environment to determine its position in space. It is essential for our body to process this information in order to be able to function optimally in our environments as well to help organize and regulate our entire sensory systems. Allowing your child to engage in heavy work activities (see list below) prior to completion of a more challenging task that requires increased focus and attention should assist in the regulation of his/her sensory system. Allowing your child to complete heavy work throughout the day, as well as integrating the activities in their daily routine, can facilitate increased self-regulation as well as improve their body awareness/control, transitions, sleep patterns, social interaction, and overall sensory processing skills.

Examples include:

*Assign chores around the house that require increased pressure to muscles/joints

*Vacuuming, carrying out the garbage, pushing the full garbage can to the end of the driveway, sweeping, moving furniture.

*Carry/push heavy items (laundry basket carry/push followed by loading the clothing into washing machine OR transferring to the dryer OR pulling a sibling/friend in a wagon)

*Involve your child in cooking/meal preparation tasks

Knead/roll dough or stir a thick batter

Sandwich Games

Between beanbag chair, mattresses, and cushions

Roll/unroll child in blanket

*Use heavy quilt or weighted blanket to set across lap during meals or tabletop school activities

*After bath time, squeeze child with towel to dry off

*Oral proprioceptive input

Kazoo, bubble blowing, blowing up balloons


Animal walks, obstacle courses, wall pushups, jumping jacks

If your child faces challenges when regulating their sensory system, talk with your physician or pediatrician. A pediatric occupational therapist can provide activities to assist your child to improve his/her sensory processing, self-regulation, and body awareness to ultimately assist in functioning optimally at home, school, or in the community.

For more information on how our Therapy & Wellness team can assist your family please call: 218.283.5420


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