Our Journey Through Occupational Therapy: SENSORY DIET

Since we posted our first blog about Our Journey Through Occupational Therapy: The Diagnosis, we received a great number of responses and support from friends who have had similar experiences. We’ve heard from people who have used occupational therapy and also received recommendations from people that did not use therapy but offered tips and practices that might be helpful for Lady C.

We thank you! Community sharing was the main goal for this blog series.

As it stands, Lady C is still seeing her occupational therapist on a weekly basis. The therapist has provided us with feedback and also a plan of action including a “sensory diet” to assist.

What’s a sensory diet?

Occupational therapists use the term “sensory diet” to refer to a planned and scheduled program of sensory activities designed to satisfy the nervous system’s sensory needs throughout the day.

We received a sensory diet that will help Lady C for the following situations:

  • “Proprioceptive Experiences” for when she is overwhelmed and needs to be calmed
  • Hand strengthening
  • Encouraging Hand Dominance
  • Visual Motor Skills

Here are the some of the recommendations we received and many of these things we already do – we just do them more thoughtfully now – hope they help someone else!

PROPRICEPTIVE EXPERIENCES

These activities are also known as heavy work activities and can help improve focus and attention and improve body awareness:

Pushing and pulling

Crawling or wheelbarrowing

Holding or pushing the wall

Using playdoh

Squeezing bottles

Kneading dough

Stretching

Giving tight hugs

HAND STRENGTHENING

These activities help to build hand strength:

Crumpling paper into a ball

Using squirt toys

Use clothespins to hand things (for pincer strength)

HAND DOMINANCE

These activities are key for Lady C because she switches hands quite a bit- Using her left hand to write and switching to the right for other activities. 

Stirring batter and holding bowl with other hand

Using helper hand to stabilize paper when writing

Picking up small objects with chopsticks

Pouring sand from one container to another

Scissors activities

VISUAL MOTOR SKILLS

Playing board games

Doing Mazes

Tracing and coloring pictures

Doing word searches

PLEASE SHARE ANY OTHER SUGGESTIONS YOU MIGHT HAVE – LOVE HEARING AND SHARING WITH YOU!

Next up for the blog series – how we integrate the sensory diet into our daily routines.

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Our Journey Through Occupational Therapy: THE DIAGNOSIS

Fidgety.

    Uncoordinated.

Muscle Weakness.

            Lack of Body Awareness.

Sensory Sensitive.

                     Sensory Seeking.

These were some of the words that we heard from Lady C’s school occupational therapist last fall that has led us on the path of occupational therapy, something that neither of us had heard about until last year when we decided to enroll our left handed daughter into a handwriting class. If you are like us and need a little primer – here’s what we first found on Wikipedia about occupational therapy:

Occupational therapy (OT) is the use of assessment and treatment to develop, recover, or maintain the daily living and work skills of people with a physical, mental, or cognitive disorder. Occupational therapists also focus much of their work on identifying and eliminating environmental barriers to independence and participation in daily activities

From an early age we noticed that Lady C held her body with little core control, ran a little slower and awkwardly, had trouble balancing on one leg… little things and it is something we always made her Pre-K teacher and now kindergarten teacher aware of and we discussed it. At first, we thought we might be focusing on it too much because on the reading, vocabulary and social skills spectrum, Lady C was off the charts, independently reading at the age of two and holding conversations with grown ups very early – perhaps we wanted her to excel at physical development and motor skills too quickly.

But – it’s something we’ve monitored closely and for the past few weeks, she has been engaged in occupational therapy once a week in order to help her build body awareness, build muscle strength, improve motor skills and continue to improve her handwriting skills. In addition to occupational therapy, we’ve also gotten her more engaged in activities that build strength: karate, ballet and gymnastics.

It has been humbling and overwhelming to realize that your child needs help and that you have to ask for it.  There is so much to learn and deciding to blog about this was not easy because it admits out loud that something needs to be “fixed”.  Coming from a generation where a fidgety and uncoordinated child would just be marked as clumsy and distracted, most of the time the “solution” was … THEY WILL JUST GROW OUT OF IT.  Now, occupational therapy is a growing field and early intervention at childhood is being used more and more these days to help with body awareness issues and motor skills development… so we are navigating the mines and plan to share what we are going through in case it helps others. Perhaps, we will get some help too! We hope so…

We plan to share the high and lows, our “sensory diet plan” and how it’s going and we hope that if there are others out there with children in occupational therapy or thinking about doing it – that we can engage in a dialogue and conversation through this series of blogs.

More to come! If there are particular questions you have or things you want addressed please let us know in the comments.

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Two Right Handed Parents, One Left Handed Kid

When Lady C was 2 and half years old she started reading independently. At first we thought she was just memorizing books so color us shocked when she started reading book after book without having it read to her first. She is now 5 and can read pretty much anything she puts her hands on and is enjoying chapter books. We don’t say this to impress you because all kids have SOME special skill where they accelerate and then lack in some other area. Our kid is an early reader and our kid’s area of concern is HANDWRITING!

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CAUGHT ‘EM! They put themselves in this position…

So while Lady is reading books left and right (pun intended) including reading to her sister, we noticed that she was not holding writing utensils well… we noticed that she was holding them in her left hand. Neither of us are left handed and it proved to be difficult to show her or teach her the proper grip. Couple that with over use of tablet devices and by the time she was in Pre-K her teacher referred her to the in-school Occupational Therapist. She was assessed and sure enough, the report came back that her hold is weak as compared to her fellow students. I know I know — some of you are probably out there thinking, she’s 5! What’s the big deal? And… that’s what we thought when she was 3 and when she was 4 but we started to get more concerned as the year passed particularly because she did not LIKE writing and drawing.

After hearing that report we have focused more on encouraging her to draw and write as much as possible and found ways to make it fun! Practice makes perfect and handwriting would only improve with practice.

Here are some of the things we are doing:

1) We have Lady C write birthday cards for all of her friend’s birthday parties. ALL. She LOVES this and now she looks forward to drawing and is a pro and writing her “To: and From:” greetings. We (un)fortunately go to a lot of kid parties so this happens often. We also encourage her to write and draw stories because her imagination is wild and she always has a good story in her.

2) We encourage her to write on an easel. Holding a writing instrument upright forces a better grip because of the position of the arm.

3) We actually went back to cursed electronic device and got an App called Wet.Dry.Try but we have her use a stylus instead of her fingers. The app provides a progress report and makes writing fun and a game for kids.

4) And this summer we went a step further, we enrolled her in an occupational therapy gym called SPOTS in Brooklyn. We realized that we were holding her back because of our tough time trying to teach her how to write and in 6 weeks of attending she has come around sooooo much. We are so grateful to her Occupational Therapist, Barbara and we made Barbara a card to thank her as well. Lady C looks forward to occupational therapy and is sad that she will be leaving soon.

So – that’s our story. Our kid is not perfect (ha!). Two right handed parents… one left handed kid!

Any other righties raising lefties??? Any lefties raised by righties???

Let us know some tools you have used to improve handwriting!