Therapy at Play
Alex Lopiccolo is a certified therapist, but for those who see him in both a clinical setting and in their homes, he’s really an expert in play. Alex specializes in helping kids with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), a condition in which information is sent to the brain but does not get organized well enough to create an appropriate response.
Challenges like rough play, anxiety, mood swings, hyperactivity and poor body control or awareness are some of the signs a child might be battling SPD.
Working with kids and teens for the past 10 years, Alex has found that organized physical activity is one of the best ways to help his patients, and he’s bringing those treatments into living rooms all over the South Sound.
When a patient comes in to see Alex, he introduces them to an obstacle course of pulleys, swings, slides, ropes, monkey bars and other unique features. “What we do in the clinic is so powerful and I thought, ‘Why can’t we do this at home too?’” said Alex. He realized that kids enjoyed it more than other more ‘boring’ forms of therapy at home, so he’s become an expert at creating home sensory gyms for families where kids can benefit from the multiple challenges his gyms present.
“The intense movement helps with balance, confidence and muscle definition,” said Alex. “A lot of children aren’t willing to fight through life challenges, so if you can do it in a play environment then they become more willing to take on more challenges in life.”
Alex works with young children up to teenagers, and each home sensory gym he builds is tailored to meet the challenges the individual is facing. Those with hyperactivity or poor coordination might see a very physically active space where others who might need a place of tranquility will have a hammock or swing in a darkened corner to let their mind and body relax and focus. “When I design a space, I want them to grow into it,” said Alex. “Three years later they might be ready to step up to bigger challenges or different needs might arise.”
Home sensory gyms are typically set up in a living room or sometimes a bedroom. You don’t need a ton of space to get going, and although Alex prefers the gym stay up most of the time, it can be taken down in just a few minutes if you are expecting company. “You can always change it up and make new challenges, make a game out of it like a hot lava obstacle course, timed race or how long you can hold your balance,” said Alex.
He instructs parents to have their children use the course shortly after they wake up in the morning. He’s found that doing so helps kids dealing with SPD be better focused at school and exhibit fewer negative behaviors. After school is another time for physical activity. Before bed, quiet time in the hammocks and swings with slower movements helps shift the brain from an alert state to a more relaxed one, allowing children to fall asleep more easily with less fight when it’s time for bed. An additional benefit from having a home sensory gym is playdates with other children who, once they see the course, can’t wait to come back. “I’ve talked to families that now all the friends want to come over to their house and play. It helps create confidence for the child as now they get to be the leader,” he said.
In March 2020, Alex will be hosting his first Sensory Gym Certification Course, a two-day event with therapists flying in from all across the world. His hope is to share his success with other therapists and see home sensory gyms become a standard in the treatment of SPD. While greatly effective with children, Alex also sees the elderly as a population that can benefit from this type of therapy. “Seniors battling dementia, ALS or Alzheimer’s can benefit from soothing visuals, deep-pressure relaxation and adding in movement exercise as well,” he said.
Alex is one who practices what he preaches, creating a large gym in his own home so he can play and exercise with his kids as well. “I use it all myself too,” he said. “Sensory feedback alters your overall alertness and physical self, and the neurological system’s left brain and right brain interaction.”
Prices for a home sensory gym typically start around $1,500 depending on the scale. Often Alex has families give him a call around birthdays or holidays to buy an additional piece as a gift to add to their gym or that of a family member. The play devices double as exercise equipment for neuro-typical children and adults as the TRX straps can hold up to 300 pounds and be used for strength and conditioning, balance and even aerial yoga.
Alex says his work is especially rewarding knowing that something as simple as fun play can have a dramatic effect on the life of a young child. “Something like this can change a kid’s whole lifestyle and way of living; it’s cool to see them change for the positive.”
If you think your child might be exhibiting signs of SPD, you can reach out to Alex at 720.236.7543 or through his website, SensoryDigest.com.