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coauthor of Raising a Sensory Smart Child
Planning a Sensory Diet for Any Age
Planning a Sensory Diet for Any Age
Auditory input refers to both what we hear and how we listen, and is physiologically connected with the vestibular sense. In addition to listening to various types of recorded and live music, here are some ways kids and adults with auditory processing issues and sensory processing issues can get calming and organizing auditory input.
Get outside and listen. Go to the beach or sit still and listen to the rain, thunder, and so on. If you hear birds singing, try to identify what direction a given bird is calling from.
Listen to natural sound recordings. There are many recordings of rain falling, ocean waves, bird songs, and so on. Sometimes natural sound recordings also feature light instrumentation with flutes, keyboards, etc. Some children and adults find they sleep better if they play such music.
Play a listening game. Sit very quietly with your child and together, try to identify the sounds you hear (traffic, the hum of the refrigerator, a door shutting, etc.) and where it’s coming from.
Find calming, focusing music. Listen to music specially engineered to promote calm, focus, energy, or creativity such as HemiSync Metamusic or Sound Health. Keep in mind, of course, that musical preference is highly idiosyncratic, so this will take some experimentation. The music you love may distress your child, while the music he finds so soothing may drive you up the wall.
Encourage musicianship. Provide your child with a musical instrument and encourage him to play and even take lessons.
Give him some control. For a child with auditory sensitivity, predicting and controlling sounds can be very helpful. Encourage him to turn on the vacuum cleaner. Help her pop the balloons after a birthday party, anticipating the noise by counting off to the explosion she creates. Try Sound Eaze and School Eaze CDs that desensitize children to everyday sounds such as flushing toilets, thunder, barking dogs, alarms, and other sounds many kids find distressing.
Create pleasant, calming sounds. Get a white noise machine, tabletop rocks-and-water fountain, or aquarium.
Visual input can often be overstimulating for a child with sensory issues. Think about ways you can simplify the visual field at home or school for a calming, organizing effect. Alternately, if the child seems “tuned out” and doesn’t respond easily to visual stimulation, add brightly colored objects to encourage visual attention. For example, a child who has trouble getting aroused for play may be attracted by a brightly painted toy chest filled with toys in appealing colors. A child who seem unable to watch a ball as it rolls may be able to watch it if the ball lights up or makes noise as it moves.
Avoid excess visuals. Hide clutter in bins or boxes or behind curtains or doors—a simple, solid-color curtain hung over a bookshelf instantly reduces visual clutter. In rooms where the child spends a lot of time, try to use solid colored rugs instead of patterned ones. Solid-colored walls in neutral or soft colors are less stimulating than patterned wallpaper in bold colors.
Seat him elsewhere. Have your child sit at the front of a classroom where there is less distraction. He may also need to sit away from the window to avoid the allure of the outdoors. Some children do best sitting in the back of the room so they can monitor what other kids are doing without constantly turning around (children with sensory issues often experience anxiety over sudden sensory input such as a fellow student moving suddenly). Work with the teacher and an OT to see which seat placement works best. Find a sensory smart occupational therapist.
Be color-sensitive. Avoid toys, clothes, towels, etc., in colors that your child find distressing.
Olfactory input (sense of smell) comes through the nose and goes straight to the most primitive, emotional part of the brain. If your child is upset by something being stinky, it’s no wonder. Certain odors can stimulate, calm, or even possibly send him into sensory overload.
Smell stuff! Explore scents with your child to find ones that work best to meet your goal (to soothe him or to wake him up). Everyone has different preferences, but vanilla and rose scents are generally calming. Peppermint and citrus are usually alerting. Let’s say your child needs help staying calm and loves vanilla. You can use high-quality vanilla soap and bath oils at bath time, vanilla candles or essential oils in an aromatherapy machine at bedtime, and vanilla body lotion.Caution: Avoid lavender products for boys as several recent studies show a link with breast development in boys. It’s probably best to avoid using these products for girls as well.
Scent break. If your child is overtired at the shopping mall and you know scents help, have her smell her favorite scent or stop into a store that sells candles and soaps.
Scent play. Play a smelling game with your child. Have her close her eyes or wear a blindfold and try to identify smells such as citrus fruit, flowers, spices such as cinnamon, and so on.
Taste input travels to the brain from receptors on the tongue but how we interpret or experience taste is strongly influenced by our sense of smell. As an experiment, chew some gum until the flavor is gone, then hold a lemon under your nose; the gum will taste like lemon. Help your child with sensory processing issues to broaden the tastes he tolerates or likes, and use strong tastes he enjoys to help arouse his sluggish system.
Give strong-tasting foods before introducing new ones. Strong tastes can stimulate the mouth of an undersensitive child and make him more willing to try new foods. Before presenting new foods, let the child have one peppermint, sour gummy bear, or other strong-flavored food.
Play a taste game. If your child does not have a strong negative reaction to refined sugar (that is, if he doesn't become hyperactive or sleepy), get an assortment of flavored jellybeans. Eat one at a time, and have him guess which flavor it is. If you wish to avoid sugar (and artificial color and flavor in most candies), you can play this game with slices of fruit, or another healthier snack.
Involve him in food preparation. Children are more likely to taste something if they help make it. Let your child help you grow fruit, vegetables, and herbs, and plan dinner and shop.
Give her a sense of control: let him choose between chicken or fish, string beans or sugar snaps, potato or rice. Then let your child put the meat in the baking pan, husk corn, and so on. Let him help you arrange food on each plate.
Play with your food. A so-called picky eater may be more willing to eat “rocks and trees” than meatballs and broccoli. Fun arrangements such as some vegetable sticks and grape tomatoes placed in a smiley face pattern on a plate may encourage kids to try new foods.
BUY Raising a Sensory Smart Child and learn more about helping your child who has sensory processing issues.
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