Tackling issues caused by sensory dysfunction

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The difficulties faced by a child with sensory dysfunction are innumerous. Once we have successfully identified them, the next step is to tackle the system causing the imbalance in the first place. As the treatment implementation varies for each sensory system, it will be addressed in stages. To start with, let’s learn more about the term sensory diet.

What is sensory diet?
In this case the term ‘diet’ does not refer to food, rather it includes a set of activities and tasks (sensory-motor) that provides an optimal amount of sensory input to the child, in turn allowing them to perform better.

A sensory diet will include a set of “alerting, organizing, and calming activities” depending on the needs and performance of the child. Thus, it includes intervention for the specific problem areas, use of “calming activities” during stress periods and “alerting” activities during slow periods.

The sensory diet is a tailor made regiment, prepared bearing in mind the child’s various sensory needs. Therefore if a child is seeking vestibular sensation the activities planned will be those that provide vestibular sensation.

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Why do we need it?
Integration of a regular sensory diet program into a child’s daily routine helps in regulating and managing the dysfunctions caused by the imbalances in the sensory system. Thus it assists in preventing and reducing the impact of sensory dysfunction on daily tasks and behaviors of the child.

How does the sensory diet work?
The activities prescribed as part of sensory diet helps the child to be calm, alert and in an ‘optimal’ state of arousal. The activities are such that they address the particular demand of the sensory system and provide the stimulation needed i.e. addressing sensory needs that are lacking or seeking and avoiding. Only when the sensory system is balanced will a child be attentive, exhibit appropriate behavior and be receptive to learning.

How do we start a sensory diet?
A sensory diet is planned by an Occupational therapist bearing in mind the child’s sensory needs. Once the different systems of imbalance are identified (by means of observation, interview with parents, use of questionnaires etc) the therapist may chalk out a plan that is to be followed regularly in all the natural settings of the child. For children with higher functioning skills and comprehension, these activities can be made self- regulatory.

Points to consider:
The following are other factors to consider:
• Sensory routine: once started it will be more effective when the sensory diet is incorporated into the routine of the child. Therefore we start off with simple diets and progress into more complex activities based on the child’s performance.
• Activities should be child-centric as it facilitates active participation.
• At times, the routine and diet can be changed to make the activities novel and interesting for the child.
• Discuss with your therapist regularly to ensure that the diet is effective. If the behavior still persists, then the diet needs to be altered to be effective for the child.

Do visit our website for the next article regarding the different activities that can be used in your sensory diet.

Written by
Sarah Mary Joseph
Sr. Occupational Therapist
Prayatna, Centre for Child Development, Cochin

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