What is a Sensory Diet?
A sensory diet is a group of activities that are scheduled into a child’s day to assist with attention, alert state and their overall response to stress and change. A sensory diet looks at a child’s sensory processing and provides tools to help them with self regulation.
Sensory Processing refers to how the body receives and responds to sensory information. A child’s ability to process information from the environment depends on the amount of attention required to complete an activity as well as the task demands. It also varies for each child based on what it takes to get the brain in a “ready” state which is appropriate to the task.
Sensory Regulation refers to How a child uses sensory information over time to calm down or alert depending on the needs or activity level. Self regulation is what allows a child to cope with stress, recover from a temper tantrum without it turning into a meltdown, and helps them to not shut down when overwhelmed.
Problem: When children don’t have the mechanism to modulate (self regulate) and prevent themselves from “shutting down”
Solution: To help them or provide them with the sensory information that they need within context of the task, environment, or activity so that they can learn to self regulate.
Why do some children “fidget”, move their bodies repetitively in an awkward manner or seem to be in constant motion and then can’t pay attention?
When placed in an over-stimulating environment (too much noise; too much visual distraction), some children become restless, in constant motion, and are unable to maintain their attention. Often times, when kids “can’t keep still” and “fidget”, they sense the need to be in constant motion to organize themselves and attend. They do not know where their body is in space so they will slouch, change the position of their head, or assume other awkward, quick positions in order to obtain this information. They are not processing proprioceptive and vestibular input the way that they need to. They may feel that their bodies are out of control and are trying to make sense of everything, and often will try these movements to attempt to self regulate and help prevent over-stimulation. Often times, these children will perform the same sensory movements over and over in an effort to give themselves what they need, but in actuality, they need different input from what they are seeking. Therefore, the input they are giving themselves can at times be counter productive and actually cause over stimulation. Changing the activity and getting them “moving” in a different way and providing with the needed sensory input (vestibular, proprioceptive, deep pressure touch) will help organize them, self regulate, and achieve an optimal arousal state to prevent over-stimulation.
Ideas to Help when you see your child in constant motion to prevent over stimulation and to help redirect attention when your child is in constant motion and unable to attend
Some ideas to improve attention and decreasing the amount and frequency of “fidgeting” include allowing “free time” to “move” or give themselves other sensory input such as vibration, using weights, pushing into the floor or the wall or squeezing a small object in their palms. This will assist self regulating and organizing to redirect their attention to the task at hand. Most children’s attention and school performance are significantly improved when both feet are flat on the floor and they are sitting up straight so that the feet, backside, and back are all getting proprioceptive input. By giving them a slightly mobile surface to sit on, the children will obtain input of where their bodies are in space. Therefore the need to “fidget” to get this same input and information will be decreased.
What can be done to help “return” a child to a “Normal” or more organized arousal state once overstimulated or over loaded?
Once overstimulated, the body is in need of intense structured sensory input to calm, organize, and counteract the body’s response and to help the body to register the sensory input from the environment appropriately.
Proprioception and Deep Pressure
Proprioception and deep pressure (Stimulation to joints and body) are very calming activities and organizing for most kids.
- deep pressure/downward pressure to shoulders or head
- big hug/squeeze
- big hug while also applying pressure to the head
- squeeze fingers in between webbed spaces at the joints
- jumping or stomping feet, getting input onto the heels of the feet (not the toes).
- Patting back very hard
Deep Breathing: Regulating breathing helps to slow our bodies and our thoughts. When kids are making a lot of noise, or crying, and are very excited they are not taking deep breaths. They are getting less oxygen to their brain and body. This can exacerbate a meltdown and hyperactivity. Slowing breathing can help to body and brain to calm down.
- slow deep breaths
- pretend to blow out birthday candles
- blowing bubbles
- blow a pinwheel
- focus is on take deep breathe in, hold a few seconds, and then blow slowly out
- slow/soft talking to prevent the escalating of behaviors
- lower your voice to a whisper and get everyone to imitate
These are just a few strategies that help your child become more familiar with being in a “calm” state. This is the beginning of teaching self regulation. Want more help? Join our Facebook group at Natural Treatment for Autism, ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder