2021 Sensory Symposium Presentation Details

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The Polyvagal Theory: Implications for Understanding and Supporting Children with Disordered Sensory Processing
Stephen Porges, PhD
Polyvagal Theory emphasizes the important role that autonomic state has in mediating behavior.  The theory updates historical S-R (stimulus-response) models of behavior to a more nuanced S-O-R (stimulus-organism-response) model in which autonomic state serves as a platform upon which different classes of behavior ranging from sociality to defense spontaneously emerge.  The theory identifies three autonomic states that are matched with three stages of vertebrate evolution. Each state provides a “neural” platform that will facilitate or impede the expression of specific classes of behavior. The behaviors can be conceptualized as social engagement, fight-flight, and death-feigning behaviors. In children, we would see this as a child who is: 1) resilient, calm, and socially co-regulating with others; 2) aggressive, oppositional, and having low thresholds to have tantrums; or 3) withdrawn, passively avoidant, shut down, and prone to freeze and dissociate when overwhelmed.
The theory details a process called neuroception that detects risk in the environment without awareness and reflexively shifts autonomic state to adaptively response to the challenge. All vertebrates have a neuroception to detect danger or life threat. However, only humans and other mammals have a unique neuroception that detects safety and reflexively dampens threat reactions. It is this process of detecting cues of safety than enables humans to be social and physiologically calm in the presence of others. This is the process that enable children to sit calmly in a classroom and to reciprocally play with peers without becoming aggressive. Human sensory systems are linked via neural pathways to autonomic state.  For example, when the autonomic nervous system is a state of threat, sensory systems are tuned to detect predator and danger. This is frequently observed as hypervigilance and hypersensitivity to tactile, acoustic, and visual stimuli. The theory proposes that hypersensitivities can be reduced when interventions calm autonomic state.

  • Describe how the Polyvagal Theory can demystify disruptive behaviors and clinical symptoms
  • Recognize the intervening role that the autonomic nervous system has in mediating mental and physical responses to events and individuals, functionally supporting calm and resilient behaviors or impulse and oppositional behaviors
  • Explain shifts in the Social Engagement System as an indicator of changes in autonomic state that could lead to spontaneous disruptive behaviors
  • Discuss a neural process, neuroception, that evaluates risk in the environment and triggers adaptive neural circuits promoting either social interactions or defensive behaviors
  • Explain how neuroception can be incorporated in clinical and educational strategies, as a guide in developing treatment strategies

SAFE PLACE: A Multi-disciplinary Sensory Integration-based Trauma-informed Intervention for Children
Teresa May-Benson ScD, OTR/L, FAOTA and Sarah Sawyer, MA, OTR/L

This presentation will introduce SAFE PLACE, a new collaborative sensory integration-based intervention program for children with trauma and attachment concerns. Theoretical foundations, program components, assessment and intervention processes.

  • Describe a theoretical model which integrates concepts of sensory integration, complex trauma and attachment
  • State the components necessary to implement the SAFE PLACE program in clinical practice
  • Identify appropriate assessment components to comprehensively evaluate children with trauma and attachment concerns
  • Identify key concepts for intervention using the SAFE PLACE program

Relationally-Grounded, Sensory-Informed Foundations of Safety
Tracy Stackhouse, MA, OTR/L

A felt sense of safety provides the foundation for regulation and the launchpad for stretching skills and capacities through engagement in playfulness, risk-taking, and opportunities for adaptive responses that foster development. The session will focus on understanding the sensory modulation and sensory discrimination mechanisms that inform sensory integrative processing and how they contribute to establishing an embodied sense of safety. As safety is conceptualized by our nervous system through co-regulation and sensation, we will explore relationally grounded sensory integration intervention. Information about specific sensory modalities and clinical reasoning regarding sensory modulation and sensory discrimination will be provided.

  • Understand the differences between sensory modulation and sensory discrimination in supporting a felt sense of safety. 
  • Recognize the sensory qualities that create an embodied sense of safety as this relates to treatment implementation.
  • Analyze sensory-based activities as therapeutic or supportive in establishing a felt sense of safety based on the adaptive response function.  
  • Explain the role of relationship within sensory-informed intervention. 

Connection: Integrating Environment, Task, and Interaction Style
Patricia Oetter, MA, OTR/L, FAOTA

From frameworks of typical development, Sensory Integration (A.J. Ayres) and social/emotional development (Joseph Chilton Pearce), we will explore the effects and intervention strategies for children who have been subjected to trauma.
The Environmental Matrix Model looks at Task, Environment & Interaction Style as they relate to the developmental stages of Womb, Mother, Kid Power and Brain Power (Pearce). The interaction between all segments can help in assessment analysis and treatment planning for all ages and developmental stages. It can be used by a variety of professionals and many others to establish connections and partnerships.

  • Define each of the developmental stages (Womb, Mother, Kid Power & Brain Power)
  • Describe the methods used in each of the stages as they relate to task, environment and interaction style

Mind Over Motor: Understanding Sensory Motor Differences in the Autistic Population
Dana Johnson PhD, MS, OTR/L

Current research on autism and movement differences point to neurological “noise” that impacts efficient and purposeful movement in the autistic population (Torres, 2013). These differences result in a disconnect between the brain and the body making everyday tasks challenging. Research in the area of nonspeaking autistic individuals and movement differences is lacking. However, autistic advocates have contributed to a growing body of knowledge to facilitate supportive interventions for motor differences. This webinar will discuss the current research on motor differences in autism, how it applies to the nonspeaking and unreliably speaking autistic population, specific ways to support the brain and body disconnect and how to build purposeful motor skills.

  • Identify the components of praxis
  • Define apraxia as it applies to individuals with sensory and motor differences
  • Name the four types of motor responses
  • Explain the sensory motor feedback loop and the breakdown of this loop as it relates to individuals with sensory and motor differences
  • Identify three ways to build purposeful motor skills