Putting a Plan Together
Your child's occupational therapist may suggest a sensory diet, or you may go to the therapist with your concerns and request one. Either way, your occupational therapist is the one who should work with you and your child to plan the diet. Your job will be to implement it faithfully and to arrange for it to be implemented for your child at school or child care.
You will want to give the occupational therapist plenty of information about your child's day and seek input from the teacher or child care provider as well. You can certainly do the activities listed in this chapter with your child on an informal basis, and that will be more helpful than nothing. But a plan developed by a therapist will be more effective for your child and more likely to be respected and followed by others.
The therapist will devise a plan through which your child will be given short breaks throughout the day for intense sensory input. A typical plan might schedule those breaks every half hour to two hours. Some activities might be offered continuously throughout the day, like a water bottle with a straw for sucking on or a fidget toy to play with.
The therapist might recommend having your child jump on a trampoline before starting an activity that demands sustained attention. You might be advised to give your child deep pressure during these frequent intervals or provide deep pressure to his skin with a plastic surgical-style scrub brush.
The overall effect of a sensory diet should be to make your child more alert. You should see a decline in hyperactivity and hypersensitivity. If your child seems to be more agitated, hyperactive, or easily upset, let your occupational therapist know that the diet needs to be adjusted. Stop doing it until those changes are made.
It might seem overwhelming to imagine finding the time, space, and patience to really pursue such a rigorous diet. You should see enough of a difference in your child's behavior and comfort level, however, to make it worthwhile. Once you get into a routine, it will not seem as time-intensive as it looks on paper. A brief interval is all it takes to make an impact.
Keep in mind that much of this is simply a matter of providing comfort and stimulation before your child has a meltdown, rather than after. The time saved by avoiding tantrums, disobedience, and tears will more than compensate for the time spent providing sensory meals for your child. The activities are fun for your child and will give him positive experiences with you and his caretakers that make him feel less stressed.
Making sure your child gets her sensory diet when she's away from you may be a challenge. If your child is in a self-contained special education class, there may be an aide who can help with fulfilling the requirements of her sensory diet. You may be able to get the diet specified in her IEP so that everyone will be clear on the necessity of following through with it.
If your child is not in a self-contained class or the teacher doesn't have an aide who can take the time to attend to just your child, there may be times when your child can be excused to go to the occupational therapy room and get his diet requirements met there. However, you want to be sure that this doesn't take time away from your child's classroom learning; you don't want your child to miss important information in the class.
You can work with the teacher and therapist to strategize ways that your child may be able to get the input he needs without disrupting the class — carrying a box of books to the office, for example, or helping to put things away on a high or low shelf. A lot of things that will be done in your child's sensory diet may be fun for the rest of the class to participate in, too, and the teacher or child care provider may find an advantage in increased movement breaks for everyone.