Sunday, January 16, 2022

So you say your child has sensory processing difficulties? In our previous articles we have discussed various suggestions related to setting boundaries and limits for your child as well as using visual schedules all to help you and your child get through the day. When it comes down to it though, if your child has sensory processing difficulties, you are likely in need of strategies to help him or her succeed.

In a previous article we described the child who has a sensory processing disorder (SPD) and may be sensory avoiding or sensory seeking. Many children with SPD have a combination of the two. Some children with SPD also have another diagnosis and some children with SPD do not have any other diagnoses. Regardless, with consistent intervention, strategies to address behaviors and daily routines and parent carryover, most cases of SPD are highly manageable.

One concept that is frequently recommended is a “sensory diet”. This is also referred to as a “sensory rich lifestyle”. The diet does not necessarily include food, however, follows the thinking that just as the body requires nutritional intake on a regular basis to maintain its healthy status, so too does the Central Nervous System of a child with SPD require sensory stimulation on a regular basis to maintain its “nutrition”. For example, many people can relate to the idea of having 3 meals a day with 2-3 snacks to maintain a well-balanced diet.  Our sensory system also needs to be “fed”.

Imagine sitting in one place for a long period of time, listening to a lecturer without a break. Most people require breaks to stretch, move around, get a change of scenery or have a snack (yes, an actual food snack!). When a child has a sensory processing disorder, he or she may require more or less stimulation than other children. Your child with SPD likely requires different levels of stimulation, as well. If your child is sensory seeking, then you can imagine that sitting in one place for periods of time in a classroom may be excessively challenging for your child. Or if your child is easily over-stimulated by sensory stimulation then you can probably imagine that being at a loud and crowded birthday party might be overwhelming for your child.  Helping your child’s sensory system become organized via the strategies that we have reviewed in addition to therapeutic intervention and a sensory diet can be a very helpful combination to enable your child to thrive.

Before we even discuss the finer points of a sensory diet, remember that setting up your child’s sensory diet should be done with the help of a qualified Occupational Therapist who can assess your child’s needs and make appropriate recommendations. Ideally, a child should be receiving great therapeutic intervention to help organize his or her sensory system and help the child identify strategies to learn how to self-regulate.

Once the above areas have been addressed, a sensory diet should follow the concept of a nutritional diet. An example of this can be that each morning, before coming down for breakfast, your child will spend five minutes engaged in a sensory activity. For example, maybe at 7:30 each day your child can jump on a small trampoline for 3-5 minutes before coming downstairs for breakfast. We frequently suggest that whenever possible, a child who is old enough carry out the sensory diet at school as well.  School-based OTs are great resources for appropriate exercises to perform during the day. Activities such as chair push-ups are great for getting pressure through the joints.  Activities that involve various types of textures are great for providing tactile (touch) stimulation and wearing a weighted backpack while running up a down a flight of stairs is a great way to provide pressure through the joints and a sense of movement.

Parents, remember, involve your child in this process and you will likely have a more compliant and motivated child who wants to participate and succeed. The point of this process is to allow your child to maximize his or her full potential. There are some great books available to help you navigate this process and give you some ideas on implementing these programs at home. If you are interested in more information, please email me and I will send you a list of books that you can purchase online to get you started.

Alyssa Colton MA, OTR and Aviva Lipner MA, OTR are pediatric occupational therapists and owners of Kids’ Therapy Place, LLC and Kids’ Therapy Toy Store info_kidstplace.com

By Alyssa Colton MA, OTR/L And Aviva Lipner MA, OTR/L

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