Sensory Processing Concerns: What is it and how can a Sensory Diet help? Part 2

In our last newsletter, we discussed Sensory Processing Disorder’s symptoms, possible causes and where to refer our patients suspected of this. This week we will discuss possible treatment and activities that are beneficial.
Most OTs will work in session to develop sensory activities that can help with sensory processing concerns. This is referred to as sensory integration therapy. This is based on an assessment as well as observations of the child’s responses to a variety of environments and different sensory activities. These can then be “prescribed” as a sensory diet to be followed at home. A sensory diet is a group of activities that are specifically scheduled into a child’s day to assist with attention, arousal, self-regulation and adaptive responses. The goal is to keep the child feeling “calm” and sensorily organized to allow them to attend, learn and stay regulated to the best of their ability. A sensory diet is used both as a treatment strategy when behavior is problematic as well as a preventative tool to use during situations that can cause sensory overwhelm. The activities in a sensory diet need to be flexible and fluid because what works one day or in a particular situation may not work another day or in a different situation. They should also be fun to encourage children to participate in the activities!
Examples of Specific Activities
Activities used in a sensory diet can be broken down into different categories: physical, tactile, visual, oral, and auditory. Physical activities are the easiest to start with and can involve heavy work. Examples of physical activities include: wheelbarrow walking, pushing something heavy, swinging, wearing a weighted vest or heavy backpack, and having access to fidget toys. Examples of tactile activities include: playing with play-doh or kinetic sand, playing with shaving cream, and water play. An example of a visual activity that could be part of a sensory diet includes using a flashlight to narrow visual attention on a book. Examples of oral activities include chewing on gum or chewing on a chew toy. Lastly examples of auditory activities include using “white noise” or noise cancelling headphones.
While it is important for a child and family to work with a professional in setting up a sensory diet to make sure a sensory activity isn’t in fact making the self regulation or problematic behavior worse, parents will often notice that a sensory activity is helpful for their child particularly when they seem dysregulated. It can be helpful to ask parents if they notice that anything is helpful or makes things worse and encourage them to incorporate helpful activities into the child’s daily schedule.
In summary, many children struggle with sensory processing challenges. This can either occur on its own or can co-occur with other challenges including ADHD, Autism, and Anxiety. It is important as primary care providers to ask about any sensory difficulties and be able to further assess to determine if additional assessment and treatment could be helpful.
AUTHOR: Charmi Patel Rao MD, DFAACAP
Co-Medical Director, Vista Hill Foundation
Health Science Clinical Professor, UCSD Department of Psychiatry
President, San Diego Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Posted in Uncategorized.