Sensory integration therapy at Winneshiek Medical Center gives a local family a new outlook on the world.

Saigal Slafter, family and therapists.
Tarynne Carlson, COTA/L, (front far right) and Lori Shindelar, OTR/L, worked with Saijal Slafter and her family through sensory integration therapy at WMC. Saijal is pictured in the suspension ball pit and looking on from left are her mother, Jennifer, and her sister Savannah along with WMC therapist Lori Schindelar.

Is she a spirited child, or is there something more?

Children learn and process through their senses and each is unique and different. But when a child’s brain doesn’t process sensory information correctly, their world can become uncomfortable.

According to Lori Shindelar, Winneshiek Medical Center occupational therapist, “Sensory processing refers to the way a person receives messages from the senses and how he/she reacts.” When the signals children receive don’t get organized or matched up with the appropriate response, children may act out and seem spirited. “Many children are diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and these children are just as intelligent as their peers or even gifted,” says Shindelar. “They simply need to be taught ways to adapt.”

The Slafter family described their 5-year old, Saijal, as a quirky girl. She didn’t like tags in her clothes or wearing socks or sandals. She didn’t like sleeping in her room or washing her face, but on the contrary she washed her hands so often she developed a rash. She was a picky eater and avoided chewy foods. “There were so many unrelated, quirky things about her,” says Saijal’s mom, Jennifer.

Recently, the behaviors escalated for Saijal. “Everything got worse,” says Jennifer. “Many people saw her as shy, but she was really acting out at home and she seemed like the most miserably unhappy child in the world.” Jennifer knew she had to find some way to help Saijal and she began researching her daughter’s behaviors to discover that she could be suffering from SPD. “There was a list of symptoms on the internet and it was a like a light bulb went on,” says Jennifer. “I thought oh my gosh – she can’t help it. The world is really uncomfortable for her.”

Jennifer made an appointment for the entire family to meet with Tyler Menke, M.D. at Winneshiek Medical Center. Dr. Menke, a full-time family medicine specialist with Mayo Clinic Health System, met with the Slafters and they came away with a referral to Winneshiek Medical Center’s Rehabilitation Department where they would see local therapists who are trained in sensory integration therapy.

A powerful and rewarding journey began.

Sensory integration therapy is a fun, play-based therapy. WMC occupational therapy assistant, Tarynne Carlson, worked individually with Saijal while Shindelar provided education for Saijal’s parents, Jennifer and Steve, and her sister Savannah. Carlson taught Saijal how to cope and appropriately respond to different stimulation in a fun way. “Many of Saijal’s behaviors ended up interrupting life for the whole family,” says Carlson. “The outbursts weren’t for attention as much as a reaction to her sensory overload.”

Saijal attended therapy with her sister and her mother once a week for ten weeks. The therapy included techniques such as therapeutic brushing, sensory stories, therapeutic exercise, and establishment of a home exercise program. When asked what she liked best about therapy, Saijal says, “The body sock! It’s a big tent you go in on the mat.” Savannah adds, “She looked like a star fish when she was in it!”

“It’s not what we do with our patients one hour each week,” says Carlson. “It’s what they take from that time and incorporate into their life that makes a difference. The Slafters have a strong family and they are important participants in Saijal’s success.”

Jennifer immediately began making their home a place where Saijal could continue to learn to process her senses in a good way. “A lot of people are afraid of labels for their children,” says Jennifer. “Like having a child with a disorder is an embarrassment – but to us it was a relief to finally know what was going on. Once we started therapy, we made that shift in thinking and life has been better.”

Saijal met her therapy goals and continues to improve with her family’s help. Not only is she willing to wear socks and shoes now, she can tie them and enjoys shopping for new styles. She’s even started pre-school. “It’s not like it’s over, we deal with it everyday, but now we have the tools we need,” says Jennifer. “And it’s good to know we don’t have to drive far away, to a bigger city for help, WMC is nearby.” When asked how she feels after her therapy, Saijal says with a smile, “I feel good!”

According to her family, Saijal is no longer miserable. She doesn’t spend her days crying or fighting or being unhappy. “Since therapy, she’s blossomed,” says Jennifer. “She’s more comfortable in her own skin now, and that allows her to do what kids are supposed to do – have fun!”

If you would like to learn more about sensory processing disorder, visit with your provider and ask for a referral to Winneshiek Medical Center occupational therapy – it could change your life.

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