Sensory Gyms

A new gym has opened up in New York which has the google-verse buzzing. The gym, WeeZee, has been started in Chappaqua, New York by Louise Weadock-Rowe. Louise is a Child Psychiatric Nurse. Her biography on the WeeZee website states she was part of the team at John’s Hopkins which first identified signs and symptoms of the most severe form of Sensory Integration Disorder – Autism. Her daughter being diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder for “Autistic-like behaviors” opened her eyes to the needs of children with sensory issues. Once she began going to therapy appointments with her daughter, she began to realize the benefit of sensory desensitization and turned her home into a sensory “fun zone”. What Louise began in her home for her own daughter, has now become a place for all children. And her daughter is on the team as an intern!

What Is All This “Sensory” Talk?

Sensory Processing Disorder (formerly Sensory Integration Disorder) is estimated to affect anywhere between 1 in 20  or 1 in 6 children. This disorder impacts the way an individual’s nervous system translates sensations into motor and behavioral responses. This results in a “traffic jam” of sensory processing, resulting in ‘clumsiness’, academic difficulties, behavioral problems, depression, anxiety and more. Occupational therapists often work directly with creating a “sensory diet” for children with SPD, to stimulate them appropriately for their integration difficulties.ᵃ  Often an OT will co-treat with an SLP to desensitize a student to prepare them for a better learning situation through increased focus and attention. The theory is that by decreasing their sensory “overload” (through exposure to sensory based activities), individuals can instead focus on the academic and/or therapeutic lessons. Research into the area of Sensory Integration and the therapy is still growing. According to the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association‘s publications, it’s ability to impact speech, language and academics continues to need further clinical research.ᵇ A great checklist for parents and educators can be found on the Sensory Smarts website, along with the following list of common signs (with additional details and examples):

  1. Out-of-proportion reactions to touch, sounds, sights, movement, tastes or smells
  2. Motor-skills and body awareness difficulties
  3. Oral motor and feeding problems
  4. Poor attention and focus: often “tunes out” or “acts up”
  5. Uncomfortable/easily over stimulated in group settings
  6. Difficulty with self-confidence and independence

 

What’s So Great About A Gym?

WeeZee (or similar facilities) isn’t a gym in the “normal” terms. The goal isn’t to exercise muscles, instead the goal is to exercise senses. By “exercising” all five senses plus proprioception, the theory is that you can help children increase awareness of their surrounding, respond to their environment and desensitize them to stimuli. WeeZee provides a variety of sensory stimulating environments including large swings, fiber optic rooms, headphones, a rainforest room and more. And they provide a “Zen” room for parents to relax in while observing their child via video cameras set up throughout the facilities. Every child is given a “Personal Sensory Profile” and can be in the center with others wither in a 1:6 ratio or down to a 1:1 “buddy” when they enter the gym. The professions there encourages social interaction and accompany them throughout the sensory environment. WeeZee also believes “it take a village” – having OTs, PTs, SLPs, and more as a resource for parents and leasing space to professionals to work from their location!  Here’s a sneak peak of their facility … 

 

I’m hoping great places like this crop up all over – it is such a needed resource for families. Until then, hopefully this will give you some ideas how to work with your child/client who needs sensory support. Some resources for more information include:

 

– SpeechyKeenSLP

_____________________________________

References:

[a] http://www.sinetwork.org
 
[b] Griffer, Mona R. Is Sensory Integration Effective for Children With Language-Learning Disorders?: A Critical Review of the Evidence Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch 1999 30: 393-400 [http://lshss.asha.org/cgi/reprint/30/4/393]
 
WeeZee Logo: from weezeeworld.com
 
“Sensing” photo by: Snowpea&Bokchoi via Flickr
 
“Gym” photo by: Kapungo via Flickr

Leave a Reply