The Sensory Lifestyle

Creating a Sensory Lifestyle

Our sensory system is crucial to how we learn and engage with the world around us. But did you know that you can help support the development of your child’s sensory system through a range of everyday tasks and games? You don’t even need to leave the house!

We spoke to two of our amazing clinicians here at Irabina Autism Services, Bessie Loo and Rebecca Karo, to learn more about sensory processing in children and how you can create a sensory lifestyle for your child.

What is a Sensory Lifestyle? Is that like a Sensory Diet?

As you may be aware, a sensory diet is where a therapist will construct a set group of activities that are specifically targeted at supporting your child with their sensory challenges.

A Sensory Lifestyle is where you build on the individual skills to incorporate sensory activities into your child’s everyday life. The key is to relate it to a function and make it meaningful to the child – whether it’s a skill to help with self-care, or a game they want to win.

By using all of our sensory systems, we can help bring them into balance and integrate them together.

What are some activities we can do each day that support a Sensory Lifestyle?

Does your child help you wipe down the bench? How about cracking the eggs to make a cake? There are a range of simple activities we do each day that your child is probably imitating and can help to improve their sensory processing.

The three key sensory areas that can help regulate our sensory system are our tactile, proprioceptive (sensation in our muscle and joints) and vestibular (balance and head/body position in space) sensory areas. These senses are most likely to be stimulated when we are involved in regular household chores and activities.

So, to help your child’s regulation, you could encourage your child to help with day-to-day cleaning. They can feel the difference in texture between clean and soapy water and a dry or slippery benchtop, engaging their tactile senses. Squeezing the trigger on a spray bottle and then practicing bigger motions as they push and pull a cloth will support their proprioception and practice their fine and gross motor skills. As they move around cleaning under chairs or into corners, shifting objects and carrying cleaning materials their vestibular system will come into play, helping them move in space and negotiate a path.

There are a variety of activities that can similarly engage your child’s sensory system as well as challenge their organisation skills. For instance, you could have them put away the dishes – putting bowls with bowls, plates with plates and so-on. Get their help to put away clean clothes and toys, using labels on drawers and cupboards to provide a visual cue and help identify what goes where. Include them in meal preparation, from gathering ingredients (feeling the different textures, learning how colour and firmness can indicate ripeness) to practicing their mixing skills as they combine everything in a bowl.

Children learn by watching what’s happening around them and imitating their parents. Leverage this and make the activities meaningful to ensure their active participation and help create positive routines that will support their development. Day-to-day, purposeful chores are proven to be regulating and calming.

“Day-to-day, purposeful chores are proven to be regulating and calming.”

Is it all chores? What about playing?

Play is key to ensuring your child is motivated and driven to keep engaging and learning. We want the child to have that inner drive. By actively participating in what they’re learning, kids will be more engaged and the therapy will be more meaningful and have a greater impact.

All of the different sensory areas can be included in playtime. Play games that engage your child’s sense of sight, taste and smell; that involve hearing and responding to sounds; and that explore different textures. Proprioception and the vestibular system are also a big part of playing, as your child gains more control of their own body and practices moving in a variety of different ways. Engage the whole body with pushing, pulling and lifting motions, or tilting the head slowly in different directions.

Play can be challenging, but it should also be achievable. Speak to your OT for game suggestions that will be within your child’s abilities but also supporting their sensory experience. Remember as well to use what they love – if your child has a passion for Minecraft and unicorns then incorporate these ideas into the games you play to keep it fun and engaging.

What is a Sensory Environment?

It’s important to feed that sensory appetite and provide a diverse range of opportunities for your child to stretch all of their senses.

Our house and garden can provide a really rich sensory environment for children. Ensure that your child has a range of sensory opportunities available to them – things they can look at, that they can hear, that they can smell and taste, that they can touch, and a place where they can move in a variety of ways.

Allowing them to experience all of these different sensations can improve their processing ability and will help you to recognise if there are specific sensory triggers that they are struggling with.

How common is Sensory Processing Disorder? Does it only affect children with autism?

While it’s estimated that 85% of children with autism have a difficulty with sensory processing, the truth is any of us can be affected by a sensory processing disorder.

Sensory processing is the foundation for human growth and development. Everyone is at risk of a sensory dysfunction unless we’re able to adapt and regulate ourselves in an appropriate manner without intervention.

Occupational Therapy incorporates sensory processing as an area of consideration when assessing and developing a therapy plan, as it impacts all children, regardless of whether they’re on the autism spectrum.

Do I need to see an OT in-person to get help with sensory processing?

Not at all. At Irabina we regularly run Occupational Therapy sessions online using our telehealth platform, which allows you and your child to talk to a therapist online from the convenience of your home.

Using telehealth, we can work directly with the child doing activities on screen or over the camera, or simply observe them playing at home while we chat to you. This can actually be really beneficial, as it helps us to come up with strategies unique to your home and situation, that you can start to implement immediately.

Another big advantage to telehealth is it helps us get to know your home environment. Children can act and behave differently at home, being able to see that helps facilitate a more tailored OT program. Our clinicians can observe your child in their home environment and recommend different day-to-day activities (whether those are chores or games) that will help to create a sensory lifestyle.

With telehealth we can also answer your questions as they come up and assist you to feel more confident supporting your child’s sensory needs.

How can I learn more about Sensory Processing?

This interview is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding sensory processing and how you can create a sensory lifestyle for your child.

If you’re interested in learning more, please join Bec for her workshop “Sensory Processing in Sensational Children” where she will walk you through Sensory Processing, give you an insight into your child’s sensory needs and provide techniques you can implement at home.

This workshop can be bought on demand so you can watch it at your convenience, and access it as many times as necessary. All our online workshops will be available until 31 December 2020.

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