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sensory diets hippity hop
Credit: Waliki

Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) are often at the mercy of their environment. Our goal as their parents, teachers and therapists is to provide sensory diets they need in order to stay well regulated.

Sensory input can alert us (examples: roller coaster, coffee, rock music) or help calm us (examples: rocking, massage, soft music). It is helpful to think about ways you use sensory input to regulate yourself and then how you might help meet your child’s sensory needs.

The On the Go & Energetic Sensory Seeker

Sensory seekers often under register sensory input. These children are typically very active. They love to crash, jump, climb, etc., continuously engaging with their environment in a vigorous way. They may demonstrate poor awareness of their bodies in space and accidentally run into others; knock over classroom materials, etc. They seek out extra input in attempt to provide their bodies more feedback, help regulate themselves or improve their ability to focus.

Sensory Diets at Home

Help with yard and housework such as vacuuming, washing car, raking, wheelbarrow, or digging.

Create a crash area with large pillows and beanbag chairs.  Crash areas are great for running and crashing into or climbing over and under.

Explore use of vigorous indoor play equipment such as hippity hop ball, mini trampoline, [easyazon-link asin=”B001EJMS6K” locale=”us”]pull up bar[/easyazon-link].

Some children do well with a body sock, which provides touch pressure input.

Provide hand fidgets such as a squeeze ball when the child needs to sit still.

Oral inputs may be helpful.  Consider chewing gum or a [easyazon-link asin=”B001G0P8JQ” locale=”us”]chewable necklace[/easyazon-link]).

Sometimes an [easyazon-link asin=”B002399RN2″ locale=”us”]air filled seat cushion[/easyazon-link] is helpful for sitting still and attending.

The Easily Overwhelmed Sensory Defensive

Sensory defensiveness refers to a tendency to overreact to routine sensory (tactile, auditory, visual, movement) stimuli. We have two ways of responding to sensory input.

The higher, more mature response is discrimination, which allows us to immediately interpret what the stimuli is and whether or not we need to respond to it.

The more basic, survival-oriented response is a protective fight, flight, fright, or freeze reaction. Children with sensory defensiveness tend to be operating more in a survival mode, with stimuli being interpreted as threatening or annoying. Consult with an occupational therapist (OT) about implementing a deep pressure protocol program.

Sensory Diets at Home

Provide opportunities for heavy work and touch pressure input as outlined in prior section.

Use firm touch rather than light touch when interacting.

Do not approach unexpectedly or from behind.

Be aware of noise level and use of unexpected sounds with auditorily defensive child; provide [easyazon-link asin=”B00000J1EJ” locale=”us”]sound occluding headphones[/easyazon-link] if/when needed.

Use natural lighting when possible.

Provide quiet spaces with beanbag chairs, pillows – a [easyazon-link asin=”B00000IURZ” locale=”us”]small tent[/easyazon-link] works well.

The Slow Moving Low Arousal Sensory Under Responder

Some children with poor sensory registration present with a low arousal level. They tend to be passive, have a slow reaction time, and often demonstrate a flat affect. Their energy level is typically low.

Sensory Diets at Home

Provide opportunities for heavy work as outlined in first section.

Use a variety of materials, textures, sounds and colors.

Help child get moving in the morning with vigorous music.

Be sure breakfast includes protein.

Have child change position frequently.

Do activities in standing position, including school work.

Lemon is alerting, so having a water bottle with lemon slices may be helpful.

Summing it Up

Developing a ‘sensory diet’ at home requires both an understanding of sensory systems and the ability to be an astute observer of your child and their reaction to the environment. Consultation with an experienced pediatric occupational therapist can help clarify your child’s unique sensory needs and identify sensory inputs that are effective for your child.