Tag Archives: sensory diet

Gifted Child? Try “How Does Your Engine Run” For Sensory Processing

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I love working with gifted children.  OTs get referrals to work with gifted kids whether or not they have been tested by a psychologist.  Some have motor delays amplified by the asynchronous development, but many are sloppy at handwriting because their motor skill cannot keep up with their language skill.  Some are sensory avoiders or sensory seekers.  Or both.  They aren’t always in distress.  They are almost always out of synch with their families, peers, and teachers.  Without understanding how to manage sensory processing issues, these kids are driven by the need to handle motor demands and sensory input, often driving their teachers and parents a little bit nuts.

Some gifted kids really do need motor skill training and sensory processing treatment.  They are struggling with tolerating their world, and can’t achieve their potential in school, with peers, and at home.  While many kids are “twice exceptional”  and have a learning disability or other disorder in addition to being gifted, simply being gifted creates permanent processing challenges.  The gifted brain will always be driven, and it will always prefer intensity and complexity to an extent that exceeds people with typical skills.   Almost all younger gifted kids need help to understand that their brains will always respond this way, and they will constantly bump up against the typical world in ways that can create problems.  Knowing how to manage this conflict in daily life is our wheelhouse.  Occupational therapy is focused on function.  Always.  We don’t stop with a neurological explanation of giftedness.  We have solutions.

One of the most useful strategies to address a child’s aversions or sensory seeking behaviors is to create a “sensory diet”.  This can be very simple or very complex.  A sensory diet provides activities and equipment that help people tolerate sensory experiences that overwhelm them, but it also “feeds” the desire for sensory experiences that can derail them from interaction and participation.

Avoidant kids learn that more proprioception will help them tolerate noise without wearing headphones and blocking out all interaction.  Sensory seekers learn that they don’t have to kick another kid’s chair to get input; they can do wall push-ups or wall sitting quickly in the hall between classes.  Therapy that includes a sensory diet helps the child who has such pressure to speak that they interrupt everyone, and it helps the child that learned to escape bright lights and scratchy clothes through daydreaming.

Developing a sensory diet that a child can use independently is the goal of Mary Sue Williams and Sherry Shellenberger’s book “How Does Your Engine Run?  Children learn about sensory modulation by thinking about their ability to perform sensory processing as an engine.  Running too fast or too slow doesn’t allow for great performance.  Running “just right” feels good internally and allows a child to learn, respond appropriately and achieve mastery.  Finding the right activities and environments that allow for “just right” processing is based on what therapists know about neuropsychology, but this program asks the client to assess what works for them, and asks them to use these strategies effectively.

This book isn’t new, and it isn’t perfect.  But it is a good place to start.  It explains behaviors using neurological strategies that work, and provides a framework for inexperienced therapists to move from prescribing to guiding.  A gifted child can begin the process of using a self-directed sensory diet far earlier than their typical peers. I have seen 4 year-olds start to master their own drives once it is explained to them.  They feel terrific when their abilities are recognized, and adults are seen as supporters instead of controllers.

The biggest problem I encounter is unlearning the behaviors that children have developed before their parents and teachers understood that giftedness is more than a big vocabulary.  Children may have learned to push a parent to exhaustion to get what they wanted.  They may have bullied adults or intentionally alienated adults to be allowed to do what they want.  They may have become extremely bossy and gotten away with it.  They may have decided that any skill that takes time to develop isn’t worth it.  They will lead with the things that they find effortless.  This will trip them up over time, but without understanding the life of the gifted child, these behaviors sprout like weeds.

Gifted children are still children, and they need guidance and support to grow into their gifts!  Occupational therapists can help them and their families do just that.

Looking for more information on helping your gifted child?  

I am writing an e-book on this topic, but you can also call me for a consult as well.  Visit my website Tranquil Babies  and use my contact information to set things up today!

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Should the PARENTS of Kids With Sensory Issues Use Quickshifts?

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My clients and my blog readers know that I started using a therapeutic sound treatment called Quckshifts earlier this year Quickshifts: A Simple, Successful, and Easy to Use Treatment For Regulation, Attention, and Postural Activation.  I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for this treatment.  It has made easy sessions more effective, and difficult sessions workable.  Kids that are struggling get a boost, and kids that needed a lot of preparatory sensory activity to regulate and engage rapidly find their footing.

Could this be useful for parents too?

There is no age limit on the use of Quickshifts, and the creators at Vital Links write and speak about treating adults using this program in their training materials.  But thus far I haven’t heard them talk about the use of Quickshifts with the parents of their clients.  I wonder why.

If you have a child with sensory issues, even one who attends mainstreamed programs and is doing fairly well in social activities, your days have a certain level of stress in them.  Sensory diets work, but they also take work to use and monitor.  Children aren’t crockpots, so you are actively administering or at least setting up the activities the comprise a sensory diet.  Kids reach bumps in the road, and kids with sensory issues can have bigger meltdowns over smaller bumps.  Parents have to help them manage things that other kids shrug off.  And parents always are thinking ahead, wondering what effect a new summer camp or new school with have on their child.  Even when things are going well, parents can feel some stress about all of these things.

It is well known that if you are a therapist treating children with sensory processing issues, at least one parent could say to you “Wow; I used to have the same problems, and everyone told me I was just being difficult/stubborn/picky, etc.”  Treatment options picked up in the early 90s, so we do hear this less and less.  But not in every community  or school system.  And if a parent’s parents refused to “believe” in sensory treatment, then these kids got nothing.  Or perhaps they were sent to a psychologist.  When I describe their child’s experiences using sensory processing terms, some parents recognize that their responses are very similar.  They have been told, or they have assumed, that they are reacting psychologically to events or stimuli.  They now are thinking differently about themselves as well as their children.

Finally, in this era of #MeToo, there is growing awareness that many of the parents of the children we work with bring their own trauma with them into parenting  Are You a Trauma Survivor AND the Parent of a Special Needs Child?.  I just did a presentation in FL (Feb2020) on using sensory processing treatment to help adults with traumatic dissociation.  The dysregulation that accompanies trauma doesn’t disappear after delivering a child.  At times, having a child can bring past traumas up to the surface and create problems that seems to have been handled or forgotten.  These parents need our support and assistance.

Which brings us to the question:  Should the parents of kids with sensory processing issues, especially the parents that have problems with self-regulation, use Quickshifts as well?

My strong opinion is that since there isn’t a downside, they should give the Regulation albums a try, and see how they navigate a typical day after listening.  The changes in adults are more subtle because their lives are more complex.  Parents need to know what changes to look for: usually the ability to remain calm with transitions, to focus on a task or to think a process through more easily.

Parents with more anxious tendencies might use Gentle Focus successfully, and parents that need to up-regulate would love Synching Up or Rockin’ Surf.  The decision to use Quickshifts and how to select albums really is easier when you consult an OT.  Wasting money and time buying and using the wrong album is unnecessary!  I love working with adults that have regulation issues or sensory sensitivities.  The relief in their faces tells me that they are getting the help they need to be their best.

 

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Is Low Muscle Tone A Sensory Processing Issue?

Only if you think that sensing your body’s position and being able to perceive the degree/quality of your movement is sensory-based.  I’m being silly; of course low tone creates sensory processing issues.

It isn’t the same sensory profile as the child who can’t pay attention when long sleeves brush his skin, nor the child who cannot tolerate the bright lights and noise at his brother’s basketball games.  Having difficulty perceiving your foot position on a step, or not knowing how much force you are using on a pencil can make life a challenge.  Sensory processing issues mean that the brain isn’t interpreting the sensory information it receives, or that the information it receives is inadequate.

That is the situation with low muscle tone.  Low tone reduces the amount of joint and muscle receptor firing because these receptors need either pressure or stretch to activate.  If it is not in a sufficient quantity, the receptors will not fire in time or in large enough numbers to alert the brain that a change has occurred. Therefore, the brain cannot create an appropriate response to the situation.   What does this look like?  Your child slowly sliding off the side of a chair but not noticing it, or your child grinding her crayon into the paper until it rips, then crying because she has ruined another Rapunzel picture.

Muscle tone is a tricky thing to change, since it is mediated by the lower parts of the brain.  That means it is not under conscious control.  You cannot meditate your way to normal tone, and you can’t strengthen your way there either.  Strength and tone are entirely different.  Getting and keeping strength around joints is a very important goal for anyone with low tone, and protecting ligaments from injury is too.  Stronger muscles will provide more active contraction and therefore pressure, but when at rest, they are not going to respond any differently.

Therapists have some strategies to improve tone for functional activities, but they have not been proven to alter the essential cause of low muscle tone.  Even vestibular activities, the big guns of the sensory gym, can only alter the level of tone for a short period during and after their use.   The concept of a sensory diet is an appropriate image, as it feeds the brain with some of the information that doesn’t get transmitted from joints and muscles.    Sensory diets require some effort and thought, just like food diets.  Just bouncing on a therapy ball and jumping up and down probably will not do very much for any specific child.  Think of a sensory diet like a diabetic diet. It doesn’t make the pancreas start producing insulin, but it helps the system regulate blood glucose more effectively.

Managing low muscle tone for better movement, safety and function is complicated.  Step one is to understand that it is more than a child’s rounded back when sitting, or a preschooler that chews his shirtsleeve.  Step two is to make a multifocal plan to improve daily life.

For more information on life hacks for toilet training, dressing and play with children that have low muscle tone, please look in the archives section of my blog for targeted ideas! My post and are new posts that go into more details regarding life with kids that have sensory processing issues.

For personalized recommendations on equipment and methods to improve a child’s functional skills, visit my website and buy a 30-minute consult.  We can chat, do FaceTime, and you get the personal connection you need to make your decisions for your family!