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...surfing and ocean oriented therapy for all

Understanding Sensory Function/Dysfunction:

The Central Nervous System (CNS)

The CNS is made up of the brain, the spinal cord and nerve endings or receptors throughout the body. The CNS organizes and integrates sensory stimulation from the environment in order to produce an adaptive response. In other words, it is the system that our bodies use to interpret or make sense of information from the world around us. This system typically develops into maturity by about 10 years of age; however it can continue to be refined throughout life. Its development is an unconscious learning process that is acquired through our sensory experiences. Movement and sensation produce chemical changes or reactions in our body.

Function vs. Dysfunction:

Many children (and adults) have a hard time sorting through and interpreting environmental input and this automatic sensory process can be a struggle. Activities that can help the learning process are those activities that give the most feedback and information about where the body is and what it is doing. This feedback can be input or information to any of the sensory systems, (often a combination of systems works best). Some people respond better to one system than another. For example, for someone who is said to be a ˝visualţ learner it helps to have an image to accompany verbal instructions. The body is most receptive to learning when it is in an alert but calm state. Adding the sensory stimulus of water and the movement and rhythms of the ocean tides and waves can lend itself to a successful multi-sensory learning environment. The water provides tactile input to the skin, weight-bearing on board provides proprioceptive input to the joints and the ocean movement and waves provide input to the vestibular system.

Areas of assessment in the sensory motor frame of reference look at muscle tone, gross motor skills, postural control and balance, level of arousal, praxis, sensory registration, sensory sensitivity (hyper-responsiveness or hypo-responsiveness), concentration and communication skills. When using the sensory motor frame of reference, the goal of treatment is to stimulate the senses, produce purposeful movement, promote cognition, and affect the central nervous system in a systematic way.

Systems affected:

(any or all of the following may be affected)


Under-reactive: can hear, but does not respond to noises or seems not to hear things such as telephones, doorbells or name being called. Adapted: Enjoys a variety of noises such as other people═s voices, music clapping and singing

Defensive: Covers ears when there is music, loud noise or steady background noise such as the humming of an air conditioner or fan.


Under-reactive: Does not discriminate between different tastes or textures in mouth.

Adapted: Has likes/dislikes, but will try different food groups and textures (sweet, salty, chewy, crunchy, smooth, etc)

Defensive: Overly sensitive to texture or touch to the face. Eats only certain types or textures of food. May bite on objects such as their arm or clothes; may spit.


Under-reactive: Cannot distinguish between various smells or unaffected by smell.

Adapted: Recognizes and distinguishes between various smells such as cookies baking versus play dough.

Defensive: Is not allergic, but reacts very strongly to smells such as perfumes or lotions.


Under-reactive: Can see, but does not blink or respond to sudden flashes/light or when objects brought in front of face; May prefer the room always light or dark.

Adapted: Adjusts and accepts changes to lighting. Blinks or responds to objects brought close to eyes; can track moving object in front of face.

Defensive: Unable to navigate safely, especially in crowded places such as a playground or shopping area. Difficulty releasing their focus on an object.


Under-reactive: Handles objects in a way most people would consider too rough. Does not seem to react to pain; may get hurt and not realize it. May drop object and not realize it. May be unable to identify object by touch alone.

Adapted: Accepts/Welcomes various types of touch, (feel of clothing, hugs from loved ones). Does not mind wearing new clothes and can distinguish between different textures. Enjoys messy activities such as finger painting or making sand castles.

Defensive: Avoids/dislikes being touched by others; may avoid social situations or crowds. May only wear certain types of clothing or may cut labels from clothing. May want arms/legs covered or may remove all clothing as soon as possible. Dislikes bathing, or messy play.


(Nerve receptors in the muscles and joints give the body information to the brain about where the body is in space and what movements are being performed; i.e. the ability to know that your arm is raised with your eyes closed.)

Under-reactive: Appears clumsy or awkward; does not seem to know where body is. Difficulty dressing/undressing, ascending/descending stairs. May overshoot or sit down on seat too hard. Grips pencil so tightly that the lead often breaks.

Adapted: Knows where arms are with eyes closed. Can bring fork to mouth or tissue to nose without looking.

Defensive: Gets lost easily. Has difficulty doing self-care tasks


(This is the body═s ability to maintain a position against the force of gravity. Nerve receptors are found in the inner ear and stimulated by the movement of the head as well as input from all other senses. Interprets directionality of body movements.)

Under-reactive: Poor balance, slow movements. Likes to keep both feet on the floor; avoids inverted head movements. Susceptible to car sickness. Dislikes playground equipment.

Adapted: Enjoys various types of playground equipment and movements such as dancing, skipping and jumping. Displays appropriate response to body position.

Defensive: Constantly swings or spins to the point that it would make most people dizzy. Unable to sit still and attend for even short periods. Constant unproductive movement.

What is occupational therapy? Theraputic Benefits of the Ocean Understanding Sensory Function/Dysfunction. Motor Skills needed for surfing.

URL: http://sheldonbrown.com/org/ocean

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