Although each person is unique, and some are more sensitive than others, there are certain ways of reacting to the most common sensory stimuli that are common to all.
There is a series of brain processes that allow us to take the information we receive through our senses, organize it and respond appropriately to the stimuli we perceive; This is called sensory integration.
And while there are children who are more sensitive to certain stimuli than others (for example, some may perceive an unpleasant odor or hear a distant noise more easily) the problem arises when the way of processing the information generates an abnormal reaction that can arrive to interfere with the activities of your daily routines.
Children with sensory integration difficulties react to stimuli in their environment in a different way than “normal”: they may respond exaggeratedly (they become distressed or become hyperactive), while others react with little intensity and seem to lack energy and need a greater stimulus to function.
An instinctive way of reacting for some children with sensory integration difficulties is to look for certain sensations or self-regulating activities such as rocking back and forth, moving the leg nervously, hitting the head, or putting inedible objects in their mouths.
In addition to some manifestations that occur through behavior, children with sensory processing deficits may have motor, balance and coordination difficulties, since in addition to the five senses that we all know very well (touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing) we have a vestibular sense that tells us in what position to put our bodies and heads to maintain balance, and a proprioceptive sense, which makes us aware of the position of our body in space and during movement.
What is a sensory diet?
A sensory diet is a treatment that includes a series of physical activities (movements with the hands, feet or the whole body) or modifications of the environment or environment to help children who have sensory processing difficulties to perform better in their daily situations, whether at home, at school or on the street.
This therapy is particularly useful for children with hyperactivity, attention disorder (ADD), autism, or some other type of disorder or disability.
Like a nourishing diet, sensory diets must be individually designed by a specialist (occupational therapist) to meet the specific needs of the child and thus provide just the right stimulation he needs.
That is why it is important for the therapist to evaluate not only your child’s sensory profile but also his routines, tastes and interests to make the appropriate modifications in the environments in which he operates with the greatest difficulty and to introduce the routines that best suit him and that may include:
- Activities that produce excitement, to raise the level of alertness.
- Inhibitory, relaxation, or calming activities to help you if you are very excited.
- Supports so that they learn to recognize their own level of alertness and be able to self-regulate with the appropriate stimuli.
- Sensory havens or places where you can go to calm down when you have received too much stimulation and are feeling overwhelmed.
- Sensory or motor breaks, that is, a period of time to stop or rest to return to your balance point.
Once the occupational therapist has identified the child’s sensory processing difficulties, he or she develops a comprehensive treatment plan with recommendations to promote their effective participation in the activities of their daily life.
For example, suppose your child is what a therapist considers “low arousal,” meaning that he needs a greater amount of stimulation to react appropriately. Your sensory diet might include a circuit of activities such as doing 10 jumping jacks and bouncing on an exercise ball with your feet on the floor while clapping 20 times, which you should repeat 2 or 3 times a day.
On my Instagram account I have given quite a few tips in this area.
Children who have not yet fully developed proprioception (awareness of their own body) tend to show certain behaviors such as constantly breaking the tip of pencils for settling with great force on the paper, they hug vigorously and are sometimes considered abrupt because they do not know how to measure the use of that force in the game.
In these cases, a diet is necessary to help promote the proper use of your strength, including exercises that involve fine and gross motor skills.
Activities of a sensory diet
Next, I tell you what are the activities that are used in sensory diets to promote appropriate stimulation to each of the senses:
Sense of touch: vibrating toys, finger painting, playing with clay, hugging a stuffed animal tightly, petting a dog or cat, playing with water, making cookies, curling up in a blanket, etc.
Never force your child to touch something that is unpleasant for him, he can use a stick or gloves to explore first.
Sense of sight: mobiles and bubble lamps, watching picture books or movies, games and activities that help develop visual skills such as connecting the dots, puzzles and word searches; reduce the accumulation of objects and do not use very strong colors and patterns in the decoration to avoid visual overstimulation, wear a hat or sunglasses in the street.
Sense of hearing: sounding toys, listening to different types of music, using a percussion instrument (drum, maracas, tambourine), identifying the sounds of nature, singing altering the volume, imitating animal sounds, whispering, blowing a whistle or harmonica, wear headphones to protect your ears.
Senses of taste and smell: smelling flowers, food or cooking spices, guessing what a smell corresponds to with covered eyes, exploring flavors (sweet, salty) or textures (gummies, toasts, creams), eating ice cream and lollipops, chewing bubble gum.
Movement: swings, rocking chairs, crawling, imitating animal movements, climbing stairs, trampoline jumps, climbing, rolling down the grass, bouncing on a medicine ball, riding a bicycle or skateboard … Rhythmic movements generally work like calming while irregular movements help to stimulate alertness.
Completing the sensory diet routine can help your child achieve that ideal state that will help her learn new skills, improve attention, and socialize appropriately with other children.
It is also believed to increase a child’s tolerance threshold for highly stimulating situations or environments, make transitions less disruptive, and reinforce positive behaviors.
In my store I offer you my Ebook of very fun activities to do with your little one, so that you can effectively stimulate their senses.