Play becomes a balanced partnership when sensory integration and integrated playgroups are combined!
At Developmental Pathways for Kids, a pediatric clinic in Redwood City, California, we have a unique program model that offers children the opportunity to play and develop skills. The “DPK Model” combines Sensory Integration (SI) and Integrated Playgroups (IPG) to facilitate peer play for children with sensory processing difficulties.
Sensory integration is the organizing and processing of sensory information from different sensory channels and the ability to make an adaptive response. Sensory Integration therapy was initially developed through the pioneering work of Jean Ayres, PhD., OTR. She believed that sensory integration occurred primarily in early play experiences. She described sensory integration developmentally and said that children organize behavior through successful adaptive responses.
Many children with sensory processing disorders in our pediatric therapy clinic are treated with an OT or PT program conducted in a sensory-rich environment. Sensory Integration-based therapy helps these children to manage their responses to sensations and to behave in a more functional manner. Therapy enables them to take part in the normal activities of childhood, such as playing with friends, enjoying school, eating, dressing, and sleeping.
The IPG model was created by Pamela Wolfberg, Ph.D., out of deep concern for the many children who are missing out on peer play experiences as a vital part of childhood. Drawing on current theory, research, and practice, the IPG model is designed to support children of diverse ages and abilities on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (novice players) in play with typical peers/siblings (expert players) at home, school, and community settings.
Children in our multidisciplinary pediatric therapy clinic meet regularly in small groups led by a qualified adult facilitator (play guide). Each group is customized as a part of a child’s individual education or therapy program. Through a carefully tailored system of support, emphasis is placed on maximizing children’s development potential as well as intrinsic desire to play, socialize, and form meaningful relationships with peers. An equally important focus is on teaching the peer group to be responsive, accepting, and inclusive of children who relate and play in different ways.
At DPK, we have successfully used this combined model in our pediatric therapy services during regularly scheduled therapy sessions. Our treatment approach utilizes methods of sensory integration therapy (vestibular, tactile, proprioceptive, visual, auditory, gustatory, and olfactory input) and provides building blocks for functional skills. The therapist then designs play sessions to incorporate sensory strategies that will best support the self-regulation and modulation of the novice player.
The supportive, structured external environment allows the novice to begin to organize internally and move to an optimal learning state. Skills are not taught but are allowed to emerge spontaneously as skills develop. Therefore, play is an adaptive response to the “just right” challenge!
Core Elements of Sensory Integration
- Provide a “just right” challenge
- Play context
- Support optimal arousal
- Provide an engaging environment
- Allow for child-directed activities
- Create opportunities for a variety of sensory experiences
- Maximize a child’s success
Core Elements of Integrated Playgroups
- Mutually enjoyed play experience
- Experts and novices
- Highly motivating activities
- Small groups
- Trained adult facilitator
- Guided participation