A sensory diet is a necessity for a child who is not able to maintain a certain level of alertness required for accomplishing daily living tasks. A sensory diet is like food for sensations. As nutritionist is to a diet plan, ensuring that just the right amount of nutrients are consumed by body for optimal functioning, an occupational therapist formulate a sensory diet to ensure the child’s system must function at its optimum level.
Just like we have appetite/affinity for certain food articles while refrain from having others. The same way, some children experience pleasure seeking a particular sensation but will immediately withdraw from other. This excessive seeking or withdrawal from sensation alters the response of a child. Generally, a child whose nervous system is over aroused (seeker) needs more calming inputs and the one who is more under aroused (withdrawal) needs more alerting input.
Essential components of sensory diet
Basically while formulating a sensory diet for a child, an occupational therapist works on three sensations, namely, tactile (touch), proprioception (joint sensation) and vestibular (sense of movement) which are forms the main ingredients for a sensory diet along with other sensations required to spice it up. These are considered the primitive sensations on which other sensation dwell. Some literature also called this trio of sensations as the foundation sensation. But child’s sensory diet may also require inputs from visual, auditory, olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste).
Touch is considered to be the very first sensation to develop in a child. Even in womb, the child explores very possible stimuli. It may be a touch from the uterine wall or its own movement, constant sound of blood gushing in the blood vessels of the mother or continues vestibular stimulation from the amniotic fluid that changes with the activities or movement of the mother, the smell of the ingredients. Later, as the development continues, the foetus (child in womb) may react to smell also. So these sensations start developing each day with the physical development.
A strong foundation stone is the key to any building. Even the sensory diet prescription follows the same principles that make tactile, proprioceptive and vestibular inputs as the vital ingredients of any sensory diet.
Gains from a sensory diet
Once a child is put on a correct sensory diet, the fruits can be seen as the child will begin, tolerating sensations and situations that are challenging, regulating emotions, alertness and increase attention span, reducing unwanted sensory seeking and avoiding behaviours, handling transitions with less stress. Child can focus attaining the ultimate goal of improving involvement in daily life and facing the challenges of life and excelling.
We will explore these sensations in the third in the series of post soon on Sensory Diet at prowellnessindia.com.