A school delivering a language-based program for students grades 5-12 with complex profiles.

ACT Program, Occupational Therapy

03 Dec 2021 12:55 PM | Anonymous

At Learning Prep School (LPS), our teachers and staff know that in order for students to access their academic skills and be engaged learners, they need to have their sensory system needs met first. What does this mean?


If we take a look at the pyramid above, we can see that the “red and orange pointy end” are students’ senses that make up their sensory systems: olfactory (smell), auditory (hearing), visual (seeing), gustatory (taste), tactile (touch), introception (ex: ability to recognizing internal sensations like hunger, thirst, and urges to use the bathroom), vestibular (movement and balance), proprioception (pressure or deep touch).

The student’s senses are foundational and impact how they interact with their environment. Sensation has a large impact on how individuals feel in any situation, and supports our abilities to feel balanced in our bodies and in control. This is commonly referred to as sensory modulation which is our ability to regulate sensory information or input and respond appropriately in order to maintain the right level of energy to be a ready learner. This requires self-regulation of our behavior and emotional responses to sensory input from the environment.

If students have sensory difficulties which impacts their ability to self-regulate, it has a ripple effect and it will be hard to access other skills further up the pyramid such as attention, emotional control, memory, social participation, and academic success.

In order to address students’ sensory needs, teachers and staff at LPS build supports into their classrooms to address students’ sensory needs. This may involve auditory modulation (ex: reducing noise levels), reducing visual information, or providing structured movement. One example of a support utilized at LPS are the ACT (Activate-Calm-Think) Program Exercises. The ACT Program exercises are designed to support students’ sensory modulation and self-regulation. The program consists of simple exercises that can be completed in a variety of ways that can be beneficial without requiring any specialized equipment or large classroom space. The ACT Program provides needed and evidence-based “movement breaks” in a structured manner. Each exercise is designed to provide specific sensory input, which are either alerting or calming. For example, activities that provide deep pressure, such as pressure pushes, are considered to be calming activities for most people, due to the release of certain brain chemicals that create a parasympathetic (rest/relax) response in the body. The ACT Program exercises include:

1. Reach up to the sky then touch toes

2. Jumping

3. Arm stretches while sitting or standing

4. Pressure push on head or with hands together

5. Weighted bean bag toss

6. March in place

If someone is feeling tired or has low energy, exercises that involve movement such as jumping, reaching up and down, or marching, can alert or increase energy for most people. This helps address student's sensory needs (bottom of the pyramid) allowing students to better access those further-up-the-pyramid skills and make the desired progress.


Amanda Nardone, MS, OTR/L and Katie Dabdoub, OTD, OTR/L 



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