Sunday, March 30, 2014

They Are Starving.... A discussion about sensory diets.

They are hungry. In fact, starving. Deprived of something essential, that they need to survive and thrive. The more children I encounter on the spectrum the more I see a common link. My son and I were fortunate. He had early intervention services through our state, and he had an EXCELLENT occupational therapist who was open about what he needed and was willing to teach me, a mother who was willing to learn. I sat through every early intervention session he had with her and I learned what I needed to do most with him, from her. She taught me how to incorporate a sensory diet into his daily life. She knew what he needed before I did. She knew that he wasn't going to be able to accomplish anything, without getting his sensory needs met first. Sensory processing disorder and Autism go hand in hand, in fact many times the diagnosis of these two disorders are mistaken for each other. They are like sisters holding hands. Sensory processing disorder can come in a couple of different forms. One form, things and experiences being too much to take in, like walking straight out of a dark theatre into a bright afternoon sun. Or two, things and experiences not being intense enough, like not being able to feel your face after getting work done in a dentist's office. Imagine either one of those scenarios going on all the time, 24/7. Imagine that feeling or lack of feeling ten fold. Imagine having thoughts but not being able to express them because that scenario makes it impossible to communicate. Imagine just trying to do your everyday activities in that state! If you can imagine, then welcome to Autism! In order for someone on the spectrum to function in a world made for nuero typical people, they have to have a sensory diet in place. This has nothing to do with nutrition but just like you would not expect someone who had not eaten for a week to be able to function well at their job, a person on the spectrum cannot function without their sensory needs being met. There are a series of different activities that are "fed" to that person during different times of the day. The activities, which can range from swinging, bouncing, pressure, etc., help calm the nuero pathways. Those activities help send messages in a more direct line and calm the person suffering from this disorder so they can function. This diet is absolutely essential to their well being, so families need to have sensory things in place at home for their children with this disorder and most importantly, it MUST be written into the child's individualized education plan ( IEP) to be exercised at different points during the day. This may not keep away every meltdown but it will certainly keep away most. In my home, I covered a balance ball with 3 different textures of fabric, so my son had the benefit of not only being able to bounce on the ball, but the access to different textures to feel as well. I also have a mini trampoline set up for him. This is all part of my living room decor. When things get too much for him, he just walks over to that spot and starts bouncing. He knows how to self regulate at the age of 6, but more importantly he has the resources he needs to self regulate, right there in our front room. He can do this without having to leave the rest of the family, it has simply become part of our lives! I once had someone text me who was in a home with a child that has not been diagnosed but most likely should have been. I was told that everyone was miserable around the child because he was melting down constantly and would not stop screaming. I texted back and said, "Go to the kitchen , NOW! Find a bag of dried out beans and pour it into the nearest big container and put it on the floor in front of him!" It was done, and it calmed him within minutes. I texted back to see how he was doing 30 minutes later. The text back stated that the child was STILL playing in the beans and he was "like a different child". He was calm and happy and he just kept playing in them. Even if you do not officially have a diagnosis for your child, you can start making a more helpful environment in your home by setting up sensory friendly activities for your child. Here is a great link about sensory diets and ideas for activities that you can set up in your home. Most kids with autism IEP's have a sensory diet written into their plan but if your child does not or if your child has frequent meltdowns at school, look at this aspect of their plan and add accordingly. We wouldn't think of depriving these children of the food they need to survive, so we can't deprive them of this. Their sensory diet, is just as important!

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