A few weeks ago, I was very fortunate to be able to attend the first world OT conference in Cape Town, South Africa. We were gathered at the southern tip of Africa because of the life and work of Dr Jean Ayres. Her incredible work has been continued through the efforts of her passionate and dedicated scholars such as Susanne Roley-Smith, Zoe Mailloux and Diane Parham, who were the keynote speakers at the conference.
Dr Ayres documented the importance of the flow of sensation in everyday life. When there is flow in our lives, we experience a sense of harmony to connect, learn and grow. The expression to ‘go with the flow’ is often taken in a leisurely way, of taking things as they come, however, it implies that we should be adaptable and mindful in the moment. In a child directed or client centred therapy session, we should stay grounded, and yet reach out and tune in to the child’s pace so that we can facilitate flow or a change in direction as needed
I was truly inspired by the conference, by the passion that was shared by us all regarding SI, by the wealth of knowledge, the research and review of the scientific evidence for relationships that Dr Ayres established between neurophysiological processes, the connection between sensory processing and integration and emotions, behaviour and learning.
This inspiration, coupled with the captivating charm and beauty of Cape Town, left me feeling rejuvenated and energised. It got me thinking about ‘sensory diets’. I was able to reflect on my own sensory diet and changes that I could put in place when I got home to assist me to maintain my newfound energy.
A sensory diet is like a nutritional diet which requires meals and snacks throughout the day to ensure a balance in the body’s chemistries and sugar levels. Similarly, sensory diets require the right combination of sensory activities and stimulation throughout the day to keep an optimal level of alertness/arousal for learning and settled behaviour. As food snacks do, some sensory based activities can change our mood or level of alertness for a short period while others, just like meals, have a longer lasting effect on behaviour and performance. Each child has a unique set of sensory needs. Generally, a child whose nervous system is over-aroused and too wired needs more calming input, while the child who is more under-aroused and tired needs more alerting input.
The great news is that the effects of a sensory diet, combined with professional intervention, are usually immediate AND cumulative. Activities that perk up your child or calm him/her down are not only effective in the moment, they actually help to change your child’s nervous system over time so that he or she is better able to:
- tolerate sensations and situations that are challenging
- regulate emotions, alertness and increase attention span
- reduce unwanted sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behaviours
- handle transitions with less stress
It is important to note that activities that worked well previously may no longer have an impact, so it’s necessary to evaluate, explore, update and get creative with regards to sensory diets. Speak to your OT re advice and ideas to update/add some new life into your child’s/family’s sensory diet.
This is a tricky time of year for lots of children. With the end of a school year looming, energy levels are low and the anticipated transition into the coming year can be the cause of anxiety for many. Schools often step out of the usual routine and provide days out, end of term concerts etc.
It’s a busy time and it may be worth putting in place some extra ’down time’ to assist well-being, focus and overall regulation. One way to achieve this would be to incorporate increased amounts deep pressure and proprioception. I recently came across the Weighted Seek and Find. This provides deep pressure to the lap area to help calm and organise. It also is great for fine motor and bilateral strengthening. The Weighted Animal wraps provide pressure and proprioceptive input. In the summer months these can be popped in the freezer and also come scented or unscented. Weighted Hats, Shoe Pockets and Weighted Dogs or Lizards enable focus and calmness as do Mini Massagers and Stretchy Pets. If the budget will allow the Steamroller Deluxe is an incredibly fun way to receive that deep pressure input. It’s also great for children (and adults too) also working on motor planning skills, body awareness and shoulder stability.
With the summer hols approaching, it may be worth thinking about introducing some changes or a summer sensory diet to assist to replenish and rejuvenate.
The Can Toss Set assists with hand eye coordination and throwing ability. Pop Toobs are bendy, stretchy plastic tubes that are a great sensory experience and provide lots of fun and inspire creativity. Other fun stuff includes a Boomwhacker. These colourful tubes are tuned and when you strike the them they will strike a chord. The Toobaloo magnifies the voice enabling the child to hear their sounds and words more distinctly. Scarf Balls provide a visual aid for tracking slow movements through the air, they are great for catching or target games. Yuck E Balls are also great fun. These are tactile balls filled with beads and a non-toxic gel to give unique tactile feedback.
Swingwise is a linear glider swing that provides endless creative opportunities. It is ideal for providing vestibular input, increased balance, addressing weight shifting abilities and increasing bilateral coordination. You can also add a linear tent cover to the glider to turn it into a moving den. This simple addition also provides a great way to improve attention, focus and one to one interaction. Another swing that is great for any child who loves small places is the Flying Purple People Eater!!!! Kids can sit and spin in the swing, you can fill it with balls and hide things in there.
Wishing you all a fun filled, sensory rich summer!!