973741 tn?1342342773

Sensory integration disorder and participating in group sports

It is well known that exercise and what the occupational therapy world call "heavy work" are a great way to regulate an out of sync nervous system.  Whether your child is 3, 6, 9 or older, you will be inundated with opportunities for group sports.  We had some rocky times with this in the begining at 3 but have gotten our son to the point that he functions well on a team.  So much good comes out of this.  I'll be back to post some tips but am also interested if anyone else who has a child with a nervous system issue of any sort or a difficult temperment has had any success in group sports.  
18 Responses
973741 tn?1342342773
So, sports is something that many kids get put into or want to try and is an excellent choice for kids with sensory integration disorder, depending on the child.

We tried an organized sport, soccer, at three with my son.  It was before he was diagnosed and it didn't go well.  He was the outlyer, the one not with the program or connecting to the group at all.  I remember it vividly as it was painful for me.  You want your child to fit in and when they plainly don't, it is hard on a mother's heart.  We ended up leaving that program before it was over and I think that was a good choice.

Some kids aren't ready OR they hate it.  Then you don't push them in my opinion when they are very young because you don't want them to say "I hate soccer."  Like that one experience defines how they feel about it for life.  My son has a friend with adhd that says he hates ALL sports as he was put in things when he was in the toddler years through kindergarten and it made him feel bad about himself, like he couldn't do it and hence, now protects himself by saying he hates all sports.  It is unfortunate because boys on our block play sporty games and he will not participate.  granted, some kids don't like sports but pushing when they are little or struggling with the idea of it can leave a bad taste in their mouth.

BUT, my boy is a sporty guy, we are a family that is interested in athletics, we just let him choose what he wanted to try and put no pressure on it.  

If you have a child with a developmental issue, keeping your expectations in line helps a good deal.  I look at all team experiences first as a chance for positive social interaction.  Then I look at it as an opportunity for my son to learn to follow directions and show respect to a coach.  And overall, I want my boy to view it as fun.  Some parents even at my son's age of 8 can get pretty intense about the whole thing and this can backfire for a sensory kid.  

When he was younger, we would practice/play the sport in our backyard.  It helped make him comfortable.  Consequently, I watched the kids' practices very closely to see what kinds of games we could do as a family related to what the coach was doing.  I would sit behind my son when he was with the other kids sitting as a team ----  not right in there, but behind him.  If he was too touchy with someone next to him --  I'd gently say "hands to self".  If he was having trouble sitting, I'd redirect, give him a fidget to hold, etc.  As he's gotten older, I sit nearby with my eye on the situation and do give occasional reminders but do so quietly so that I don't embarress him with his teammates.

Working on good sportsmaship is important.  Kids have to know how to be good winners and losers.  Practice this at home and have high expectations for your child when at a practice or game.  The phrase "good game" is essential to say to the other team if they win.  Many sensory kids have trouble with this or they tear up over a loss of any sort.  Help drive home appropriate behavior.  

Staying focused is a toughie for a sensory kid and those with other developmental issues.  A strategy that we use is a piece of chewing gum.  It really helps keep a child centered and watching what is going on.  

Anyway, these are some thoughts on the subject.  In our culture, it helps to be involved in things that other kids are doing for socialability of our kids.  So sports can be a very good thing.
Avatar universal
In reading ur posts u seem amazing!  

I have a 6 yr old that i have always described as very active or full of spirit.  I have suspected for the last year he is spd and find myself sometimes reading tips and tricks type material (so i love your sensory diet...is there a full list somewhere).

I enrolled him in soccer at 4.  I thought he would love the physical  play, the interaction, and having to take direction from a coach...how perfect!  It was 3 on 3with 5 players...unfortunately neither of the coaches children would step on the field during a game so there were no breaks for the other kids.  My son, who loved the running, the chasing the ball, the bumping with 6 kids on the field began to tackle every child there.  The coaches had no one to substitute, so they continued to play him.  3 more games we can get thru this.  I pulled him from each game to rest for a while, when he was getting too physical.

He does still play soccer and has stopped tackling but it has been a rough road.  He still says he can't wait to be 7 to play football.

I find it funny when people worry about their children plalying video games because their child is sedentary.  When mine does play it is a work out he is standing, jumping,running whatever the game is doing.  I usually stop him because he is soaked.

He is almost always right with me.  I was cleaning the kitchen today and he was leaning on me to the point of putting me off balance.  He just kind of leans a shoulder into me.  Same thing when reading books.  

He speaks loudly...at 3 i had his hearing evaluated because he talked so loud.ifind i now just remind him to turn the volume down.

I've learned to provide him countdown to leave the park or somewhere fun.  10 min, 5 min, 3 min, 2 min, 1 min...times up.  Has almost eliminated those meltdown.

This may be my issue but i still lay down with him at bedtime.  He asks me to make him warm.  This really means put ur arm across me and a leg .  Basically a bear hug and he's snoring in 2 min

He started k last yr and i spoke to his teach biweekly by email or phone.  She indicated he was the ONE child she had to keep an eye on.  Give an inch take a mile type thing.  He often had comments on his schoolwork for not listening, not following directions.  He almost refuses to color.  She did state one time he is definitely not add, which i did not think, but he is certainly more physical (but not trying to be harmful) than others in his class or activities.

I'm torn with the idea of having him evaluated for fear of putting a label on him, but i also realize thru evaluation and therapy he would maybe be able to endure or have a sleepover in the future.
973741 tn?1342342773
Welcome to the community!!  Glad you found us!  

I'm pretty sure your boy and my boy would be friends.  :>)  You mention many things that really are similar to my son for sure.  And I also want to comment that you sound like a terrific mom that has worked hard to manage any quirks your son has and provide him opportunities to grow and overcome.  That is really excellent.  Not all  kids are the same and when a parent realizes that, they have the best chance for success.  So, good job!

I do have MANY things that we do for our sensory diet and am compiling a list.  I'll get the list to you!!  What is good to have is a few lists that include---  heavy work activities for overall sensory regulation (some things you can do have an after calming effect such as swimming that can last for a long while), activities that you do right before going somewhere that requires focus and good behavior, emergency things to do when one gets to hyped up for the occasion and needs to calm down, and things to do in small spaces like a classroom.  I'm breaking it down that way.  

I tell you, getting my son evaluated was the best thing that we could have done.  I did go private and it was prior to entering our public school system.  We've worked so hard on things, that my son does not have an IEP or 504 plan at this point.  His teachers do know about his sensory because I tell them about it.  It isn't so much of a label to me as a way to help others understand my child better.  When they seem him standing when everyone else is sitting, they know why.  And they can guide him accordingly.  If his voice is too loud (we've got that problem too)---  again, they know why.  So, to me, his school being aware of the challenges he works on has been helpful.  If you do end up choosing to have him evaluated through the school system, any conclusions they come to are confidential.   I always feel like kids who have this or that going on get a 'label' of some sort one way or another.  Either a label of their disorder/diagnosis or a label of a 'difficult child'.  I'd rather have a label that helps my son get the resources he needs.  Just my opinion on that though.  I'm proactive though, as I said, and let our teachers in on the full scope of my son's challenges.  

I always remember that with SPD, he is working twice as hard as other kids to maintain himself to do the same thing.  They deserve a lot of kudos, these kids.

I have lots of questions for you.  Does he resist writing and any other fine motor activities (since you mentioned he doesn't like coloring)?  Does he have better times of the day?  Does he seem calmer after an activity like swimming?  

He may crave deep pressure, hence the tackling.  There is a list of things to do for that that I will put in a post.  Ditto for that regarding my son.  My son does play full tackle football and started last year at 7!  The need for pressure may be part of the reason he likes that hug before bed to fall asleep.  Lots of SP kids use weighted items for sleep.  

First thing I will do is a list of activities for deep pressure that may help decrease the need for tackling.  I'll put it in a post later today.  

I'm so glad you found us as I said and  hope you stick around.  Oh, and great job instituting transitional warnings.  That is great.  Sounds like it worked out for you and a good way for the rest of us to handle it.  
184674 tn?1360860493
My son has visual function issues mainly, and some degree of vestibular (balance) issues and minor proprioceptive issues. I have him in two different sports, although they're not team oriented, but they do help his cravings for impact and excessive movement.
I have him in taekwondo, which is great for his self control and impulse control, and also a way for him to wind down if they do sparring and/or cardio punching bag drills.
He also rides horses, for which he has an amazing talent--almost prodigy-like. He rides English saddleseat and has for about a year. His balance and posture on a horse is superb. And the funny thing? He's 7½ years old and still can't ride a bicycle because his balance is just not yet developed enough. Go figure, lol. :-)
973741 tn?1342342773
I'm telling you ----  these kids are awesome in their uniqueness!  I love it AHP.  Yes, they can be such mixed bags.  My son has motor planning issues but can wiz a ball into the catchers glove amazingly well.  He can be super far in the outfield and throw it into home plate with accuracy.  His throwing arm is amazing.  But he wouldn't hold a pencil for the longest time.  LOL

It is really fascinating, isn't it?
Avatar universal

  I just found your message and am going through the same thing.  Is the list you were writing about something that I could see somewhere, I would love any advise or activities that work.
973741 tn?1342342773
Hi, and welcome!  I can put the list together . . . ha ha.  I never did do it.  But I do have lots of ideas to offer.  My son is now 10 and doing really well--  I'm a firm believer in the sensory diet for kids.  

Tell me about your child and what types of symptoms you are seeing and I'll see if I can offer experience from my son or things I've read!
Avatar universal
Just wondering how it went with your child as he got a little older and if you decided to have him evaluated? Your comments remind me so much of my daughter now who is about to graduate Kinder.  I am waiting for an appointment to have her evaluated. I've been holding off for a year now because I didn't want the label either. It's been a few years since your comment so any advice you could give would be appreciated.
973741 tn?1342342773
I am not sure if 3ofus will return.  
I can tell you though that my son is now 10 and his diagnosis of sensory was so important to his current success.  It allowed for us to target what needed to be done specifically so he could either overcome challenges or learn to effectively cope with them.  At 10, he is a straight A student, has friends, is on different sports team and good at the sports, has hobbies, is happy, etc.  His teachers love him and he NEVER gets in trouble at school.  In preschool?  He was a disaster.  He did occupational therapy for 6 years.  yes, 6 years.  But worth every second of it.  If I couldn't get my child to occupational therapy and I suspected he had sensory ---  I'd be all over creating an activity chart at home to help with regulation and to work on behavior modifications used by OT's.

My son went to 'real' school or public school without an IEP.  But each year, I would tell my son's teacher about his sensory integration disorder.  This year, in 4th grade, I finally took the route of adding an IEP.  Not because my son wasn't successful but he deserved to have his sensory recognized so he would have an easier time at school.  He had great teachers this year that understood sensory but they asked me about 'what if he has a teacher that isn't good with it?"  So, they worked with me, our principal and our school system to write an IEP.  My son can now stand in class if he needs to, can have a hand fidget, can do some movement activities, can have extra time on a test (he does his best work when he is not hurried), etc.  I proactively 'labeled' him.  Because I want my son to have the best and easiest time of it at school and for his teacher to have ALL the information about him.  

So, don't be afraid of labels.  It has helped my son be the student that teachers LOVE to have in their class.  good luck
Avatar universal
It is very interesting to read about your experiences. My son (now 8) was diagnosed with a sensory integration disorder affecting mostly equilibrium, coordination and of course behavior with others, he did not get a clear diagnosis why is this so or where it comes from. They tell me all the time to set clear rules and keep them.  Still I worry about the social mishaps and his effect in difficulties with friend making (like hugging others, difficulties with game rules, poor concentration, difficulties to involve in games proposed by others). He is a very warm, good and interested in every thing boy.
Here (here is northern Spain) we go with him to some sensory integration gym in the Ayres style, he loves it.
Still I would be very grateful for any list of suggestions, food, how to set boundaries and how to keep them, what are meaningful punishments, how to build up self confidence.. anything.
Thanks in advance
973741 tn?1342342773
Hi there.  I'm so glad you found our forum.  We had to work on many things you mention.  Things like flexibility in play with peers was hard.  But we basically made rules for him.  He has to let his friend choose the activity every other activity.  And he has to sit back and allow his friend to dictate the rules and how the game would go.  We worked on this at home by practicing with myself acting as his peer and taking my turn to dictate the game, rules, etc.  and we had sportsmanship rules as well.  You must congratulate the winner if you lose.  If you win, you must say good game.  You can not cry as that makes the winner feel bad and they deserve to feel as good as you do when you win.  So, we role played this or played games with this being the end thing we did.  If my son got teary eyed, I did not baby him and had him remove himself from the room to get it together so he could finish being a good sport and use the appropriate words.

With peers, we practiced how to have a conversation.  You get to say two things and then you must allow the other person to say something, by asking them a question even and letting them have at least two sentences and then you must ask a question about what they just said.  We role played this many times.  And this helped him get better at two way conversation with friends.  I had cue words I'd use when a friend was over because my son like many kids with sensory wanted to dominate all things with his own thoughts and interests.  Friends don't go for this so you have to help them curtail it.  rules help my son because he follows the rules.  

So, we had a system of practicing within our own family and then having a one on one playdate that I stayed involved in and he'd continue to practice the skills we were teaching.  We could work on specific things and the friend was none the wiser as it was in my house and I could pull him aside.

Does your son WANT friendships?  Does he have meltdowns or anything like that?
Avatar universal
Hello there, it took me a long time to answer. I hope you are still looking at this blog.
Yes my son wants friendships very much. Normally- not always- he makes friends at school with children  who are open and willing to play climbing, running, digging. He goes along very well with kids who are some years smaller than him or often with kids with some sensory problem of their own. Sometimes he is over sensitive, gets angry or even aggressive with his peers at role games. He often feels socially inadequate because kids in different contexts (school, sports, summer camps) told him "you are queer, you are clumsy"...

At home it is a good idea to train with him conversations -dialogue in topics he is not directing  but his attention wanders away easily.
I explain to him that to touch others on the face or hair or hug a lot is not what others use to like, he understands it but still he continues doing it. When I remember him he says he has forgotten it. Sometimes he tells to me, what can I do, I am done this way, I can not help it!, have you experienced something of this sort?.

My kid has meltdowns yes, mostly if he can not watch TV or play with the computer (he can not do these things during the week). I have realized he is much more calm and feels better if he reads, plays with lego/other toys or even gets bored rather than watching TV/computer games. He reacts over excited after looking the action cartoons that are most of the time in Spanish TV or playing some game on the screen.

You mention earlier on this blog that you had had your son evaluated, by which specialist did you get the evaluation?.
I also have one but the neurologist just said, retarded motor development without further suggestions or comments (just saying to me- we can do nothing medical to help this sort of kids).
You also mention you would make a list of ideas for "sensory diet", could you share it?.

Avatar universal
Hi. I am from mexico. We could chat en español :)
I had my son right before 4, he is 4 yrs 3 months now...by a psychologist in a autism centre. I wanted to rule out autism as so many signs are similar. Anyway they said is spd and he takes therapy there. I have him on gymnastics and he is doing fine but would love for him to play a group sport...we will see.
I need to do sensory diet as I dont see resukts from therapy...he just flaps his arms and jumps a lot. Glad I fou d this group
973741 tn?1342342773
Hi mexmum, welcome.  So glad you found us.

My son was also diagnosed with spd at 4.  He's now 11!!  Amazing how time flies.  I want to tell you that he did go to occupational therapy for 6 years, however, he is doing absolutely fantastic.  He's a straight A student, teachers love him, he plays all sorts of group sports (basketball, baseball, and flag football as well as he swims competitively).  Overall, he is doing really well.

Now, we found soccer to be too much for our son in the preschool years (age 3 to 5).  He would not participate and kick that ball out away from people and it was difficult.  Plus, he HATED it.  But he DID like t ball.  

We found that if my husband was active or I as a team coach (assistant because then you have more time to help your child)----  this helped tremendously.  To this day, my husband and I are often active with his activities.  He's independent now but when little, he sometimes needed extra support.  Example, when playing t ball, when they would sit in order to go up to bat, he had a hard time.  I would go and sit behind him quietly and redirect if he bothered other kids (I'd help him with proper social interaction as well).  

Now flapping---  and my son also did spinning a lot are called stims.  sensory kids do this.  I for a long time, I must admit, would try to stop him because it just worried me.  But what I learned was that my son was actually trying to self sooth which is what stimming is.  So, I would turn on music at home and let him spin for an hour!  He could flap at home all he wanted.   And I found the more I set it up for him to do it at home, the less he did it other places (and we fear kids making fun of them and things like that, I know).  

let me know if you need help with a sensory diet!!  Happy to help.  
Avatar universal
Hallo Mexmum, so nice to talk to you.

I send you a couple of links in Spanish about that sensory diet (it is not a food diet!!).. y podemos hablar en español claro!.

Hay una pagina
www.web salude.es

donde abajo a la izquierda encuentras estos links:


Dieta sensorial
Mejorar la atención
Guía de integración sensorial

Tengo mucho interes en saber como te va con las terapias por allá, aca no hay muchas terapeutas que trabajen este tipo de problemas y la medicina clasica de dice "retraso madurativo".. y para casa.

Te mando un abrazo y deseo lo mejor a ti y a tu niño, veras que poco a poco ganará todas las batallas!

Avatar universal
Hi again- I was re-reading you post. Four years is a hard time for a child as ours.. or so it was for us. Yes they have similarities with autism..I also checked it.

I am trying to remember what I did as he was 4- now he is 9.

If you do not feel going ahead with a therapy look for another one!-
I was many times thinking... I need to wait.. but when a therapist goes ahead well you see very soon the results- look for the one you can observe some season or part of it and where you feel that it works well with your kid.

Maybe a group therapy with one or two children could be good for him, my boy worked much better in group as alone.

Swimming learning or games-exercises- therapie in water are probably good for him.
Walking/cycling/exploring  with him in the nature, riding ponies, learning bicycling.., finding children he likes and playing with them sometimes, having at home if possible a swing...those things help.

As specialmum says in prior posts- a routine- clear rules at home are important for our children. A group sport could be fine- on the other hand he is very jung still.

I was thinking just now maybe some school specialized in children development could also help him.. something like a Waldorf pre-school?..
Why Waldorf Works - Member School List

They have quite good work in the pre-school level for children with some special need..

cuidate mucho


podemos hablar cuando quieras..

un abrazo

Avatar universal
Hi - My son was recently diagnosed with SPD at the age of 7. We had been taking him to a child therapist as he presented with anxiety (fear of alarms or buzzers, loud confusing places, certain doll faces etc). The therapist finally said that he thinks he has SDP so we got tested and sure enough - he does. He is currently doing OT for sensory, pragmatic speech (for issues communicating) - will be going to a developmental optometrist as well as getting more testing with a behavioral pediatrician. I truthfully, at this point, don't know what is SPD related or perhaps something else. He has a very hard time in some sporting activities (he also has slow processing) - so we stopped hockey and soccer this year and are now starting Tae Kwon Do and swimming and gymnastics - just to get some exercise in. He does a great job one on one with friends but  has a hard time in group situations - such as he cant exert himself to get noticed or involved. He is very jealous if someone else gets the spot light - is a poor loser and goes from 1 to 10 in getting exitable or agitated and has a hard time calming himself down. he unfortunately is the youngest in his class to (july birthday) so most of the boys are physically and emotionally ahead of him anyway. I'm just getting worried now that his issues will become more apparent and start to turn his friends off (his jealousy or being mean to someone if they have something he wants (like a dog!) I will say that he is very good in school and won an award for being a great friend and great person - more than 1/2 the kids in his class voted for him for it) - so hes not always exhibiting the poor behavior. He does tend to get anxious in between classes- he is on an IEP (no timed tests, allowed to go to bathroom for transition times etc) . Any other suggestions would be helpful - I feel like there is so much going on - its hard to figure out. The worst is when trying to explain to people (in our inner circle) what is going on with him as SPD seems to encompass so many things.

Thank you  for your time.
973741 tn?1342342773
Hi there Jennifer and welcome to the forum.  It really CAN feel like sensory integration disorder touches every aspect of a kid's life, can't it?  We've worked through many things with our son over the years and STILL work on things traced back to his disorder.  

I'm thrilled you are in occupational therapy.  They should begin working on some of the problem social behaviors.  Our occupational therapist worked very diligently with our son on sportsmanship, maneuvering social situations, peer relations, how to handle bullying as this began to occur for my son (boo), how to mix in a group verses one on one, etc.  This was very valuable.  

It does sound like your son has one on one friends which is fantastic.  My son struggled with having any good friends early on which lead to his really having low self esteem in terms of making friends so this will be a better situation for your son.  The thing too that I researched and learned was that 'loyalty' doesn't kick in until around age 9 for kids.  Meaning, kids that are your son's age are still all about themselves, float between friends, and don't do as much back up of their buddies. But as your son gets older and he and his friends mature, you will notice that if they ARE his friends, they will be loyal through his quirks.  (or you SHOULD see this).  I have seen this now with my son has two best friends.  They do not bat an eye at any of my son's quirks.  They like him and know he might get a little over the top about something that is stressing him or talk too much about his own personal favorite subject or sit a little too close at times, etc.  They roll with it because these are harmless things my son does.  

But the bigger things like being a poor sport, etc. will be something your OT should guide you on.  We nipped that in the bud.  We made our son lose or fail at home to US to help him deal with the emotions of losing when with friends.  We taught him appropriate behavior.  Our OT guided us in this as they did the same in OT by not 'letting him win' at games, by taking turns who picks what they do so that the sensory kid is not always the boss controlling the situation (as they like to do), etc.  

something else that I will convey to you that I've learned over the years as my son is now 11.5 is that I sometimes have to accept the situation for what it is.  My son is very nervous in a big social gathering.  He probably won't ever be the guy who has huge groups of friends.  I want that for him.  But the reality is that he is comfortable in smaller group and won't ever be as social as someone who  thrives in groups.  I have to accept that.  

You are very wise to seek professional support.  This is tremendously helpful.  Your boy sounds like a sweet child and with that kind of support, he'll go far. Trust that.  

So, is there any area in particular you want to discuss?  Overall, we've come out on the other side with our son.  He still has quirks and we still work on things such as his social skills and peer relationships but he has really come a long way and is very successful.  He is an outstanding student, does sports, has friends and is a great kid (if I do say so myself) when we weren't sure WHAT his future held.  SIX years of OT and lots of activities on our own really helped set his trajectory.  

I think martial arts, swimming and gymnastics are PERFECT.  They give input into the sensory system as well as being great sensory activities.  

I'd love to chat more with you--  come back often!  
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