This week’s blog post is a complement to last year’s post entitled, Motor planning and sequencing challenges in children with developmental differences. There you can find the Key Take-Aways PDF from that blog as well. Last year’s post was a brief overview of motor planning and sequencing challenges. This year, we dive right in with a lot more detail. Here is our podcast with Maude LeRoux, DIR Expert Training Leader and Occupational Therapist who runs A Total Approach clinic in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.

The Building blocks of Motor Planning with Occupational Therapist and DIR Expert Training Leader, Maude LeRoux

by Affect Autism |

The Building blocks of Motor Planning with Maude LeRoux

Motor planning and sequencing is but one aspect of Individual differences, or the ‘I’ in the DIR Model. Maude talks with us about other sensory aspects of this component of the ‘I’ and their impact on learning. Maude’s pet peeve is when we try to teach children before they have the building blocks. If they are not developmentally ready, they will either go into fight/flight mode or they’ll find a bypass to please you that won’t be developmentally helpful to them. Today, Maude takes us on a tour of the building blocks for motor planning.

The main question around the ‘I’ is, “How does your child register and process information?” This is sensory discrimination and motor planning is an integral part of answering this question. We covered the basics of Ideation, Planning, and Execution in last year’s BLOG which are all components of Praxis, the medical term for motor planning. Maude discusses these in a bit more depth and adds that we also want to consider Registration, Timing, Sensory Modulation, and Visual-Spatial Processing.

  • Registration is feeling what your body just did, then being able to repeat it. It is the feedback in the body of the execution.
  • Timing is about being able to motor plan at the same pace as your peers. Timing is crucial between sensory systems, of motor planning in conjunction with another task we’re doing, of executive skills such as planning yourself, adhering to a time schedule, or understanding the passage of time.
  • Sensory Modulation is the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. We attain this balance with our coffee, smoking, our morning run, etc. but our children on the spectrum need our help to figure out how to regulate themselves.
  • Visual-Spatial Processing is how you can use your vision to get direction in space. It’s dependent on occular-motor skills which is how your two eyes work together (or not) that involves depth perception, central versus peripheral vision and the timing between each, and the auditory functioning and processing. It starts in the body. Once a child has visual spatial processing in the body, (s)he can usually translate it onto paper, but only then.

Once you understand the challenges you can empathize more with your child. It’s looking at your child through a different lens, or as Tina Bryson calls it, “Chasing the Why“. Before you consider a child’s behaviour, try to figure out why the behaviour happened. See the box below for Maude’s tips for parents to move past these challenges in development.

These challenges are resolvable. Here are Maude’s tips for parents:


  • To help with Registration, parents can do a deep pressure 25-to-30-minute massage each morning and night as part  of a sensory diet for their child. Within about two weeks that child should be more available. It helps children register where their body is. If they can’t feel their body, it is taking up a lot of energy from them to get to a place of regulation that we take for granted.


  • If a child struggles with what to do with what’s in front of him, he will find strategies to avoid the next thing that is too difficult. The child will find something else distracting. To help with Ideation, start by coming next to your child and say “First, let’s look at the object” and orient the child to the physical properties of the object. Pick it up and look at it.


  • To work on Timing, use the “first… then…” when having to do tasks such as first getting dressed, then going to school or first eating dinner, then getting to play with that favourite toy. At bedtime, review the day quietly and alone with your child by saying, “First, we went to the restaurant for breakfast, then we went to visit Grandma and Grandpa”. As your child understands “first… then” you can introduce “first… second… third…”.


  • Use high affect with your child. All children grow by their own intrinsic motivation. They are motivated to look at you and follow you when you use affect because it sparks their intrinsic motivation and helps them to go further than they would have otherwise, and more quickly than without DIR/Floortime. Maude mentions the research of Dr. Daniel Siegel–namely, that the early developmental years are more of a right-brain experience and that we as parents have to get into our right brains to reach the child’s right brain. It basically means throw the logic and rationale out the window to opt for the affect and intuition.


  • To help with Sensory Modulation, you can still use high affect, but in a slow, quiet, calm manner along with dim lights, Mozart in the background, and/or slow movements to balance the child in overdrive. This is another way of co-regulating with your child because in overdrive they are dysregulated. We also need to help the child to figure out how to self-modulate. We can say, “I can see you’re not talking so loud anymore” to give them body awareness so they can be aware of what it feels like when they’re coming down from sympathetic nervous system overdrive.


  • For children like our own son who is very often up-regulated, or in sympathetic nervous system overdrive, and have a hard time calming themselves down, Maude recommends a headphone set called Forbrain for 15-20 minutes in the morning and evening. It retrains the way you process information by enhancing specific patterns of the user’s voice, delivering the user’s voice directly via bone structure leaving your ears free to perceive external sounds. The bone conduction is automatically calming on the vestibular system and really supports the over arousal. Find out more about it by watching this VIDEO. You can order Forbrain here.
Links for more information

See Maude’s clinic’s website: A Total Approach which has a great detailed description of sensory processing and a special section on the Autism Spectrum.

Buy a copy of Maude’s book Our Greatest Allies which describes the journey of one child with the parent telling her story and Maude telling the clinical story, describing what the journey of development can do for a child with ASD.

Find many great blogs, tips, and printable downloads from The Inspired Treehouse which is a website that Maude is not involved with, but that we’ve found helpful for sensory processing information.

Sensory Processing Nuts and Bolts

A series of 7 webinars of 1 hour each that take you through a tour of sensory systems with assessment and intervention ideas. For professionals and parents.

These webinars will cover some theory and understanding of the different sensory systems, though the focus would be on how each system relates to the other in order to achieve fuller integration. It is not enough to ensure function in a specific system. The student still needs to be able to put it together when going back to the classroom. The clinician will find aspects to ponder in unusual and tough situations and the parent will gain understanding of what their child is going through. Intervention ideas will be shared as well.

Sensory Modulation
Somatosensory System 
Vestibular/Proprioceptive System 
Visual System
Auditory System 
Oral/Olfactory System


Maude's Meltdown Recipe

Learn an effective way of dealing with tough moments that will decrease power struggles, increase understanding, and keep relationships intact.

For both parents and professionals.


Does this week’s podcast and blog help you understand the sensory processing challenges your child faces a bit better? Do you feel a bit more empowered about how to begin to help your child through these challenges? Please share any comments or questions you have in the Comments section below. Also, if you found this helpful, please share this post by clicking on the Facebook or Twitter buttons below.

Until next time… here’s to affecting autism through playful interactions!

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