Anyone having difficulty in processing sensory information from their surroundings and acting accordingly may have Sensory Processing Disorder, Some of the most common problems autistic individuals experience are their hyper- or hypo-sensitivities to sensory stimuli. Their senses seem to either be too acute (hypersensitivity) or not working at all.
Occupational Therapists (OTs) trained in sensory processing disorders often develop sensory diets to calm and organize the nervous system to keep it within the optimum range of arousal.
A sensory diet is a carefully scheduled routine of sensory activities, given throughout the day, to help keep the nervous system calm, organized and focused. It is a carefully balanced set of sensory activities that are implemented periodically throughout the day to keep the nervous system within the optimal range of arousal. This lowers anxiety, increases focus, and maximizes the child’s ability to learn and adapt to daily demands. When the child is over-aroused, calming and organizing activities are given to stabilize the nervous system. When the child is under-aroused, alerting activities are given to increase the arousal level. Once the nervous system is in the optimal range of arousal, then a steady dose of organizing stimulation can maintain that state of readiness.
The OT will develop an inventory of sensory preferences and sensitivities to design a sensory profile for the child. This profile helps the OT to identify what stimulation calms the child (e.g. joint compression, deep pressure etc.), what stimulation alerts the child (e.g. jumping, loud music, flickering lights, etc.), what stimulation the child seeks out (preferences) and what he avoids (sensitivities). With the help of this profile the OT can design a schedule of activities into the child’s daily routine that will calm and organize the nervous system. Some of the general sensory activities are listed below.
General Calming Activities
- Deep breathing
- Deep pressure massage
- Stretching, joint compressions
- Bean bag squeezes
- Lap pads / weighted vest.
- Bear hugs, neutral warmth.
- Slow rocking
- Lotion rubs
- Soft, slow and rythmic music.
- Slow moving light-up objects
- Chewing / Sucking / Blowing
- Fidget toys
- Calm, rhythmic movement patterns.
General Alerting Activities
- Fast, irregular movements (swing, trampoline, therapy ball, etc.)
- Kick, bounce, and throw a ball
- Strong tastes and odors (peppermint, perfumes, etc.)
- Bright lighting
- Loud, fast music
- Tactile play
- Sitting on T-stool or air cushion
- Physical exercise
- Brisk rubbing