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The Importance of a Sensory Diet for Children with Autism

The Importance of a Sensory Diet for Children with Autism

Do you ever catch yourself fidgeting during a meeting or going for a walk in the middle of the day to stay alert? When you do these things, you’re providing the sensory input your body needs to remain focused and attentive throughout the day.

For children with sensory processing issues, such as those with Autism, these needs are even more intense. Without proper exposure to stimuli, patients can struggle with being organized and in control, demonstrating appropriate behavior, or paying attention to their surroundings.

Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a range of neurodevelopmental disorders that affect social, behavioral, and communicative abilities.

Several factors, such as genetic disorders, can influence the development of the condition. It is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities and issues such as gastrointestinal disorders, seizures, and sleep disorders as well as depression and anxiety.

The best Autism treatment offers a full-fledged plan that addresses the symptoms of the patients as well as educates parents and caregivers about the management of symptoms and needs of their child.

What Is A Sensory Diet?
A sensory diet is a carefully planned routine or series of physical activities and accommodations tailored to give each child the sensory input they need. Completing a routine can help children pay more attention to studies, learn new skills, and socialize with other children.

Although children with ASD are often overstimulated and require help to calm down or feel more alert, they are not always able to recognize when they must step back. Parents are advised to consistently implement a sensory schedule to allow their children to become more self-aware and exercise increasing self-control.

A sensory diet is typically planned and executed by an occupational therapist. They design the routine of activities to fit the child’s needs and schedules, taking into consideration the age, severity of the condition, and other important factors.

What Does a Sensory Diet Include?
A sensory diet usually includes a combination of textures, smells, visual cues, and exercises that ensures the child receives a multitude of stimuli. A set of one or more can be used and include:

Physical components:
Physical activities are the easiest to start with as most children tolerate movement better than any other type of sensory input. Activities that use the core muscles result in a greater amount of sensory stimulation and might include:

  • Wheelbarrow walking and somersaulting
  • Animal-themed walking (e.g bear walks, crab walks, frog jumps)
  • Using a trampoline
  • Swinging in all directions
  • Mock wrestling
  • Sandwiching between soft items such as pillows or balls
  • Wearing a heavy backpack for movement
  • Playing with weighted items (rice bag on the lap while sitting or heavy blanket for sleep)

Tactile components: Playing with clay, slime, sand, shaving cream, birdseed, rice, or any other tactile products allows the child to get accustomed to various types of physical textures.

Visual components: Visual stimulation is important but needs to be planned carefully as it can often be overwhelming. Using torches to look at books, using dot-to-dots or mazes to narrow visual attention, and using solid colors in the child’s room are all good examples of a visual sensory diet.

Oral components: Specific toys or foods can be used to
supply sensory input to the mouth, jaw, and lips.

Auditory components: This can be in form of providing ‘white noise’ or music through a player or using noise reduction headphones.

Why is a Sensory Diet Important?
Similar to our need for a balanced food diet to keep our bodies healthy, we also require a balance of sensory information for our mind to remain in optimal condition. A sensory diet provides regular opportunities for a child with Autism to receive the stimulation they need to function.

A sensory diet can be established and then modified over time to keep up with the shift in the child’s sensory processing changes or environmental demands. As they learn to self-regulate their emotions and reactions, they develop important life skills such as empathy, concentration, generosity, and patience.

This enables a child to move from depending on others to becoming more independent and managing tasks or situations by themselves.

Treatment Options for Children with Autism
Although Autism cannot be cured, there are several methods of therapy that can help treat the symptoms and specific requirements of patients.

Currently, the best Autism treatment involves a holistic approach to ASD which includes one or more of the following:

  • Medications
  • Stem Cell Therapy
  • Occupational therapy intervention: sensory integration therapy, behavior retraining therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, social skills training
  • Speech Therapy

Parents are encouraged to seek medical help and support for both their children and themselves. With a little bit of patience and care, using a sensory diet can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience for everyone involved.

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