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Sensory-Friendly Dance Class Deemed a Success, Thanks to OT Students

Sensory friendly 1A unique combination of music and movement stirred not only the bodies, but the minds, of several children with sensory processing disorders, thanks to a dance class designed specifically for them this spring by three occupational therapy students at University of the Sciences.

“As occupational therapy students, we are always looking to provide opportunities for people to have the most meaningful experiences as possible,” said Julie Mathew DrOT’16. “I have been dancing since I was 4, and it is one of my biggest passions; this experience was a great way to merge two huge parts of my life.”

This sensory-friendly class – which was offered twice in April at Philadanco, The Philadelphia Dance Company – was tailored to promote dance skills, while catering to each child’s sensory needs by adapting the environment, teaching styles, and class format to ensure the most rewarding experience possible for each child. The class size was small, with only two to six students ages 5-7 per class; and was arranged to minimize the risk of overstimulation.

“We didn't want our dance class to be completely different from a traditional dance class, but we made certain adjustments that made this class enjoyable for our students,” said Mathew. “Our sensory-friendly approach promoted communication between the brain’s right and left hemispheres, improving behavior, communication, and social skills for children with sensory processing disorders.”

Under the guidance of occupational therapy professor Varleisha Gibbs OTD, OTR/L, Kristina Clark MOT'15 and Alyssa Chico MOT'15 also worked with Mathew to design this sensory-friendly class. The 45-minute class included a warm-up activity, game, dance, and a cool down period. Mats and parachutes were also included into the class, and a visual picture schedule allowed the students to know what move or activity was coming up in class to keep them calm and prepared.

Sensory friendlyStudents in the class enjoyed the sensory input and stimulation they received by performing tumbling moves, bear crawls, and jumps. Parents were also encouraged to participate in the class if their children were more comfortable with them around.

Children with sensory processing disorders have great difficulty figuring out what is going on inside and outside of their bodies, said Dr. Gibbs.

“What may be a simple experience for others, like participating in a traditional dance class, can become sensory overload for a child with special needs, and can result in a day being ruined over something like a loud, unexpected noise in the a room,” she said.

Because of the successful turnout to the two sensory-friendly dance classes, Philadanco is working with the occupational therapy students to continue hosting this class throughout the summer.


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My son was a participant in this class. It was great. He enjoyed it. He truly benefited from it. Thank you so much!

This is pretty cool technology. I have wondered if this is something that my autistic son could participate in. The whole sensory input thing makes me want to investigate these dance classes for him.

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