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Unique Therapy Program Helps Young Baseball Player Overcome Hypotonia and Sensory Challenges

July 21, 2016


From the start, Nathan Small’s mother Becky had an inkling that something was not quite right. She has worked with kids as long as she could remember, specializing in working with children with special needs as a social worker and counselor. Becky had plenty of experience working with children and generally knew what to expect.

“Nathan had a very strong personality,” says Becky. “Newborns are colicky and cry, but Nathan would cry for seven to eight hours a day. It just seemed excessive.”

Symptoms subsided when Nathan was diagnosed with reflux disease and started medication and a new formula. The crying stopped, and Nathan became a happy, smiling baby who even walked and talked ahead of schedule.

Everything seemed fine until Nathan turned three, and the tantrums began – five to six a day lasting for 45 minutes each. Becky sent him to his room, only to have him destroy it. Being out in stores would frequently spark a meltdown, with Nathan covering his ears and telling Becky how loud everything sounded. In preschool, he would hug other children, often pulling them to the ground, and had difficulty getting into line with his classmates.

Concerned when the tantrum phase did not pass, Becky spoke with Nathan’s pediatrician, who assured her that this was normal toddler behavior and to be consistent with discipline. Becky’s gut, however, told her otherwise, and she brought Nathan to an occupational therapist, who suspected that the symptoms might be sensory in nature. After observing Nathan, the therapist noticed that he kept falling off of his chair. She diagnosed him with hypotonia and sensory processing disorder, providing the first real insight into the challenges Nathan had been facing.

Children and infants with hypotonia lack muscle strength and often seem “floppy.” The therapist said that Nathan was very bright, but that the sensory processing disorder compounded the hypotonia and made balance and coordination very difficult for him. For kids like Nathan, things do not feel the same as they do for other kids. He fell off the chair because he was unable to sense that he was close to the edge of the seat.

Nathan had developed a love of sports, and so when Becky brought him to Good Shepherd Pediatrics for therapy, she was thrilled to find a sports-based program. Not only would the therapy help Nathan improve his attention, focus, hand-eye coordination and motor planning, but it also was something she knew he would enjoy.

Nathan’s therapist, Diane Randall, COTA, played specially-designed games with Nathan, using balls, balance boards and bean bags to help improve his visual coordination, spatial awareness, timing and rhythm. After six months of activities like throwing a ball while on a balance beam, the change was nothing short of miraculous.

“The behavior issues Nathan experienced stemmed from the difficulty he had focusing and multi-tasking,” says Diane. “Simple activities like going shopping were overwhelming for him from a sensory perspective, which resulted in the tantrums. In six months of therapy, his coordination scores – and behavior – improved tremendously.”

Now eight, Nathan’s love of sports continues, something Becky feels has been a great opportunity for her son to master skills and receive positive feedback.

Now in is in his third year playing little league baseball, his core strength has improved, and the behavioral issues are resolved. Becky says that more often than not, he is able to do the same things his teammates can do, like catching and hitting. Playing first base, even Nathan notices how far he has come, a huge accomplishment for a little boy who had trouble sitting in a chair just a few years earlier.

In fact, when Nathan started second grade at a new school last year, Becky was apprehensive about attending his teacher conference. Nothing could have prepared her for what she heard.

Nathan’s teacher told Becky that her son is a blessing in the classroom – a compassionate friend to his classmates and someone who loves to learn.

For a mom, it does not get much better than that.