Sensory Diet Activities For Children With Sensory Processing Disorder

Many activities can provide needed vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (body awareness) sensory input for children with sensory processing disorder. A sensory smart pediatric occupational therapist can design a unique sensory diet for your child that incorporates such activities, which will help keep a child’s sensory needs met throughout the day and, over time, actually retrain his system to function more typically. Alas, parents often find themselves frustrated by their child’s unwillingness to participate in activities that would seem perfect for meeting the child’s sensory needs. This makes it difficult to carry through the sensory diet at home and at school when the OT isn’t there coaxing and coaching the child.

It can be a challenge to find activities that provide movement (vestibular input) and compression and pulling apart of joints (proprioceptive input) that the child with sensory issues will willingly engage in. In part, this is due to the increased anxiety kids with SPD and/or autism experience (remember, children with autism almost always have sensory processing issues but a child can have sensory processing disorder without having autism). Often, individualized sports and private lessons, such as bowling or swimming, where the child doesn’t feel she has to compete with others who are more coordinated than she is, are a good bet. Physical activities that incorporate other interests, such as dancing to music she likes, can be excellent choices because the child’s natural attraction to some aspect of the activity may help get her past her anxiety about her lack of body awareness and coordination. Martial arts and yoga work well for many kids with SPD, in part because they can be individualized and involve body awareness and minimal stimulation (for instance, there isn’t a lot of noise or children moving about quickly when they practice).

At school, the child with SPD (sensory processing disorder) may need an adaptive gym class at school in order to be able to get the sensory input she needs without going into sensory overload, withdrawing, or becoming upset and even aggressive.

Whether at school, at home, or away, always consider the environment in which your child with sensory issues is exercising. Is it echoey, with the squeak of sneakers against a hardwood floor? Can she stand the smell of chlorine at the pool? Think about ways to alter the environment so she can better tolerate it. Perhaps your child would be better off with a dance class that involves quieter music, no mirrors, and a smaller group. Pools that are kept clean without chlorine and activities in an open field, large room with few echoes, or on a nearly empty playground may be less distressing for her.

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