As trainers, we have an amazing opportunity to touch a basically untouched clientele with special needs. As a trainer, I deal with various children, teens, and adults who make me think out of my comfort zone and constantly encourage me to try new things. This is both challenging and rewarding to me. Here is an article about students and clients I have dealt with both as a teacher and a trainer. I hope that this will give you ideas and expand your client base as you reach out to this unique population.
Many children and adults suffer from the oral sensory disorder. Our oral system allows us to communicate with others, and also allows us to chew, swallow, and experience different textures and tastes. Special needs clients are constantly chewing and biting things (oral sensory seeking behaviors), chewing the tops off of pencils, chewing paper like gum, mouthing their fingers, biting their nails, chewing their t-shirt, or making excessive mouth noises. This can initially be unusual to others but can be helped and made to enjoy fitness with just a few simple modifications.
Other sensory disorders and seeking behaviors include biting lips, cheeks, and other areas. These can be a sign of oral sensory disorder. Other signs are spitting and drool, frequent licking of various or random objects, excessive chewing of non-food objects like shirt sleeves, bed sheets, wood, paper, crayons, pencils, and toys when unprovoked or when overly excited. This is called Pica and often special needs clients like to have something in their mouths to concentrate. Giving them something to do can also help with needing oral stimulation.
Special needs children and adults seek oral input to help with elevated stress levels, self-regulation, and attention span. Providing this population with appropriate oral input may also help to calm the body. But when it comes to oral sensory needs and autism, research tends to suggest that sensory seeking behaviors typically occur when a person is feeling anxious and/or overstimulated. Oral stimming can help promote a sense of calm, allowing greater focus and concentration. Some oral motor activities––such as blowing bubbles, chewing gum or hard candy, sucking through a straw, etc.––encourage kids to focus on their breathing such as yoga and quick calisthenics activity. They offer a fabulous way to teach students how to self-soothe and reduce feelings of anxiety and overwhelm.
Chewy toys, bracelets, pencil topper necklaces, and using straws can help with focus and concentration. Drinking water from either straw or sports bottle help with sipping sensory output. Also helping are sensory items such as materials made with various feels such as smooth, bumpy and rough.
As teachers, trainers, and coaches just thinking outside the box and accepting a class or student a bit out of your comfort zone can be a wonderful experience for both client and coach. The trick is to find activities that are appropriate and socially acceptable. Adding a bit to training, having them available, as well as a visual choice schedule of acceptable tools to help with oral sensory diet can be effective in training special needs clients.
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