Occupational Therapists (OT) are the first resource to turn to with all of these sensory difficulties. An OT can (and will) create a sensory diet for your child. A diet by nature is a prescribed set of behaviors that can instigate a change in habits – yes, normally with food. This type of diet has nothing to do with food. What is a sensory diet? Patricia Wilbarger developed the term from her 30 years of experience in the OT field. A sensory diet is a prescribed set of behaviors which help children organize sensory input. This re-organization can instigate a change in response to their environment.
The strategies can be implemented at regular intervals throughout the day. They are often performed prior to something that may be considered ultra-challenging for the child. This is done so that it sort of ‘sets up’ the body to maintain a certain calmness.
Each one of you uses sensory strategies for the same reason, but you probably don’t think about it being sensory related. Do you take a shower to wake up? Calm down? Both? To get yourself to sleep? This is, in essence, part of you helping your body calm down and/or wake up!
To create a sensory diet an OT will work with your child(ten), you, and [hopefully] school personnel- it is best when also supported by a child’s entire ‘team’ (see Day #38 – Teamwork).
The OT will identify what challenges exists that may be helped with a sensory diet, what sensory strategies may help, and also what can be done more ‘naturally.’ Our first experience with the sensory diet had to do with brushing. First, let me tell you that if you have never experienced this, you are going to think I’m full of bull-honky. I thought our OT was (just being honest here). Seriously…I could NOT believe this would help.
Brushing. Not your teeth or your hair – this was a different kind of brushing all together. The OT hands me this tiny brush with soft bristles.
She says, “Practice brushing (this is now referred to as the Wilbarger Deep Pressure and Proprioceptive Technique). Use this brush for a week and I’ll check back with you.” So we did…faithfully. Every two hours during waking hours.
- Hold his hand, brush his arm in an up and down motion. Turn his hand to reach the whole arm. Do this 5 times.
- Repeat with his left.
- Repeat right
- Repeat left
- Bruch his back 5 times.
- Brush his right leg and foot just like you did his arm. Repeat 5 times.
- Repeat with his left left. Repeat 5 times.
- Do this every 2 hours during his waking time.
What?!?! Every two hours?!?! She assured me that if we continued doing this it would help. It would help him calm, help him concentrate. At the same time, If I couldn’t commit to every two hours – then I shouldn’t do it.
I did it – because I figured it couldn’t hurt.
I noticed a change. He was calmer. He wasn’t screaming in Wal-Mart anymore.
She told me to continue for another week – but just do it 3-5 times per day.
So I did.
Even more changes.
Then she told me to just use the method if we were going somewhere that would be ‘overloading’ for him.
So I did.
Before T-Ball games.
Before the grocery store.
I didn’t really know why it helped, but it did.
Basically, this therapeutic intervention addresses our three most important and largest sensory systems– the tactile, proprioceptive, and vestibular senses. These three systems, when working properly, are extremely important in neural organization, and are at the core of sensory integration theory and practice. (http://www.sensory-processing-disorder.com/The_SPD_Companion-Wilbarger-Protocol.html)
One of the reasons brushing works is that it calms the brain and allows the release of serotonin and dopamine. These are both ‘feel good’ chemicals that help to produce a feeling of calm within our nervous system. It is the same idea as getting a massage – a massage doesn’t only relax your muscles, it relaxes your brain.
The Center Of Development And Pediatric Therapies (http://developmental-delay.com) found the following: “Proprioceptive input is the best source of sensory input to help keep a good balance of serotonin in the brain which helps regulate all other brain chemistry and keep a neutral and relaxed learning state. Proprioceptive input is the best type of input to help with sensory modulation and regulation disorders.”
But why did it help my child calm?
The theory is that as the brushing is taking place, millions of tiny receptors in the skin sense the prickling/pressure and send messages to the brain. The brain, over time, becomes accustomed to these messages and learns to “tone down” its response to the environment. (http://www.families.com/blog/have-you-brushed-your-kid-today)
I know – it’s sounds like something that belongs in a science fiction movie, but it worked. Between the brain feeling good and being less reactive, it worked. Now, that doesn’t mean it will work for all children on the spectrum.
We haven’t brushed since he was six…but I keep the brush in my bathroom drawer.
Why? Check back tomorrow to find out.