Have you heard the term “Sensory Diet” and wonder what on earth it is? The term was first coined by Patricia Wilbarger, an occupational therapist and a clinical psychologist. Essentially a sensory diet is at its core a formal plan to meet the sensory needs of a person throughout the course of the day. It is customized to the individual and should be re-evaluated every few months or when the individual’s needs are no longer being met with reasonable success.
Growing up teachers always expected me and my classmates to sit quietly upright with our eyes fixed forward. I was not always able to stop my legs from twitching under the desk and getting caught meant standing in the corner. This was even worse – looking at the white walls with increasing need for sensory input. My body had too much energy and I had no way of getting my wiggles out unless I could score a trip to the principal’s office.
These days there is more awareness in schools about of conditions like Attention Deficit Disorder and learning disabilities (both of which I had but nobody knew about). I was just considered lazy and a problem student. When it comes to sensory processing issues, more people learn about it every day, but still many people are quite skeptical. It’s an invisible issue and therefore many simply refuse to believe that it exists.
I can only imagine how much happier I would have been if the school I went to growing up had the tools to deal with my sensory processing difficulties. The private school I attended required a uniform and I remember the itchy wool tunic that drove me insane. The seams in the socks distracted me to no end and I’d have to turn them inside out just to be able to stand wearing them. When I switched to a public school and was able to wear clothes, my grades improved and I was able to focus on the teacher.
Changing school is a very drastic solution for the problem, so let’s look into a sensory diet to calm a child’s brain and body to position it for success.
Look at your child’s overall schedule and figure times that are going well and those that are less than perfect. Think, what is different between the good hours and the bad ones. Often how well rested or tired, full or hungry the child is will impact the success, so make sure that the child is well rested and has enough snacks throughout the day.
Review your child’s everyday activities that the child is engaging in to give you the clues to what sorts of sensory activities they need. If your child fidgets at his desk in the afternoons, but seems to have no issues after the recess, he might need to run, stretch, and generally move his body during times where sitting is expected.
Look at the activities your child is doing during his free play – that might tell you what activities to put into his sensory diet. If you spot him hang off the end of the couch, your child might enjoy the feeling of being upside down or the pressure on his tummy when he is leaning over. If you see him jumping on beds and crashing into the couches and tables, he is most likely craves deep pressure or joint compression from jumping enjoyable.
What have you found odd about your child’s behavior?
We will continue talking about sensory diets in a week.