Motor Planning and Sports

Sports can be a great outlet for kids with sensory integration problems. Running, jumping, hitting, tackling, wrestling, and throwing can all give good input to the proprioceptive and vestibular senses and bring about euphoric feelings of power and control. If only sports play were just about those things.

Unfortunately, the coordination, organization, physical control, and motor planning required to play those games well and compete as part of a team may elude your child with sensory integration disorder. Even when the individual components of the game aren't a problem — and quite often, they are — putting them all together without reliable sensory information can be impossible.

Adapted physical education is individualized to the needs of children with delayed gross motor skills. It is worth asking about if motor problems are making gym a dangerous and depressing place for your child. You can find more information on adapted physical education online.

Consider, for example, the motor-planning challenges of kickball. Your child has to organize her body sufficiently to complete the involved task of getting her body and foot to where the ball is going to be and kicking it with sufficient force to move it out into the field. This involves almost all of the sensory systems in a unified effort, and the movement can be quite complicated and require an enormous amount of attention.

But then, when that task is complete, your child can't stand and enjoy the feeling of success. She has to turn toward a base and run to it, again involving most sensory systems in an effort to run in the right direction at the appropriate speed without bumping into anybody and without running too far.

Children with motor planning and other sensory problems may be able to complete one half of the job and not the other, but both are needed to participate in games and avoid social stigma. These problems, together with other sensory challenges that make your child look weird to his peers, can turn recess and gym class into times of real despair.

Don't make the mistake of assuming that your child could play better if he tried harder or wanted it more or feared humiliation or practiced harder. Indeed, practice will help your child, but only if you can break down the activity into its smallest components and allow him to practice in a way that will be meaningful to him.

That can be hard to do when the games are being played at school. The gym teacher may not be able to give your child the kind of attention and special instruction she needs, and in fact may not want to. If the teacher is at all sympathetic, ask to be kept informed of what sports are being done at school so you can work with your child at home.

You may also be able to get the school occupational or physical therapist involved, either attending classes with your child and fine-tuning the instruction, or coordinating with the teacher so that the skills can be worked on in therapy, or you may be able to hire a high school student to practice some of the skills with your child.

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