How the body and brain process information through the senses can affect the way we function and feel in the world. No matter how old we are, our senses play an important role in either focussing our attention and our actions, or distracting us, making us feel disorganized, confused, and annoyed.
Think back to when you were a child. Did you hate the feel of shirt tags on the back of your neck? Are you still cutting those tags off to avoid scratchy agitation? Or maybe you felt calm when your elementary classroom was flooded with sunlight but winced when the teacher turned on the fluorescent lights at 9:00 am. Maybe you still find bright lights at work agitating and favor a softer glow to feel settled and more productive.
What about your child? Has the teacher mentioned certain times of the day when your child seems more scattered and impulsive—maybe during less structured transition times and at recess? At home, does working at the kitchen table with the sights, sound, and smells of dinner preparation help or hinder focus and getting assignments done? Maybe a fidget tool, as well as timed breaks, can support your child’s attention. Additional sensory strengths and preferences—unique to your child—could be mobilized, too, helping the body and mind feel calm, focused, and on track even further.
Research in ADHD shows that sensory processing can affect ADHD symptoms. Interventions that consider what sensory inputs are calming, and which ones increase distractions and agitation, can help children and adults manage their ADHD symptoms more effectively. In a study of children with ADHD conducted by Occupational Therapists, sensory interventions—for example activities promoting deep pressure and strenuous exercise—helped to improve some symptoms associated with ADHD, like restlessness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Results like these show it’s important to consider sensory processing interventions to help regulate attention, actions, and feeling states when exploring integrated treatments for ADHD and other neurodiversities like ASD and Tourette Syndrome.
At Possibilities, Occupational Therapists offer a Sensory Diet service for children, teens, and adults to help individuals become “sensory smart” in their daily functioning. A sensory diet isn’t about what foods you or your child should eat. It’s about the sensory experiences you are encouraged to seek—and those you are advised to avoid or seek in smaller doses—to feel well-regulated from day to day in a way that supports functioning. A dose of jumping jacks might work wonders to inject attention and enthusiasm when your child is struggling with after-school homework. But jumping jacks right before bedtime probably won’t help your child settle. A soothing bedtime story, quiet conversation, and a deep pressure hug might work much better to create calm and support sleepiness.
If you know that some activities calm your child, while others bring over-the-top excitement—and if you change your interactions with your child to either crank up the volume or turn it down—then you know what it means to serve a sensory diet. But there are likely other servings and strategies you could try, too. Speaking with an Occupational Therapist can help to expand your offerings.
If you’re interested in a sensory diet approach to ADHD treatment—or for other disorders like Autism (ASD)—you probably have questions. Here are some answers to common questions about sensory processing in general, and about our Sensory Diet service offered by Occupational Therapists at Possibilities.
Sensory processing is how the body and brain gather information from the world using all available senses. How this information is processed can have a tremendous impact on how calm the brain and body feel, how well the mind generates and organizes thoughts, and how consistently the body mobilizes actions with emotions and behaviours that are predictable rather than scattered and overwhelming.
Yes. Individuals with Attention Deficit Disorders, like ADD and ADHD, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), often have challenges processing information about the world through multiple sensory channels. These differences can make it hard for kids, teens, and adults to feel comfortable, relaxed, and confident at home, school, or in other community-based settings like the sports arena or dance studio, or a work cubicle in a noisy office. Lights may seem too bright, sounds may seem too loud, and touch may seem too irritating. On the other hand, some streams of information—like the volume and rhythm of a teacher’s voice during math class, or a manager’s directions during a conference call—may not even register, and go unnoticed, in a classroom or office with lots of distractions. So processing information can be tough. Integrating multiple streams of sensory information can be challenging, too, when the body and brain are bombarded with incoming information about the world—like sights, sounds, smells and touch—all at once, all the time.
Yes. When sensory challenges exist, it’s important to explore sensory strengths and preferences, too. Rhythmic movement and visual stimulation are examples of sensory input that can calm the nervous system for some children, teens, and adults. When the nervous system is calm rather than agitated, it becomes easier to process other forms of sensory information, and that adjustment can make problem-solving and communicating with others more effective.
Yes. The body and brain process sensory information—and put all that information together—so you know what is around you and how to interact effectively within the world. But registering one channel of information too much—and other channels not enough—can mean attention gets pulled in the wrong direction. And when that happens, you or your child can feel disorganized and unclear about what is required to get tasks done. In the end, important information gets missed and work isn’t completed. And all the while, sights and sounds and other sensory information all around can lead to confusion, annoyance, agitation, and fatigue. Figuring out a Sensory Diet—or just the right levels and kinds of sensory information to keep the mind and body focussed, calm, and on track—is important.
In ADD, ADHD and ASD, gold-standard treatments involve multiple approaches, with those approaches being combined, or integrated, for best results. Taking a sensory approach to help regulate focus, emotions, and productivity can be an important component of a well-rounded and integrated Treatment Plan. An Occupational Therapist can work with you to explore how you or your child processes sensory information and how changing sensory experiences in specific ways can better support focus, feeling calm and confident, and getting work done.
Our Sensory Diet service for children, teens, and adults is offered in 6 sessions. Through clinical discussion and formal assessment, you’ll explore key topics and questions with an Occupational Therapist about sensory systems and how you can help yourself or your child achieve more focus, calm, and confidence by adjusting sensory input. Children and teens will be involved in these sessions, too, describing their experiences, and problem-solving collaboratively to help develop personal systems for achieving sensory experiences that are “just right”—not too little, and not too big.
Here is a summary of what happens in the 6 sessions:
Session 1: Getting to Know You or Your Child and 8 Sensory Systems
In the first session, the Occupational Therapist will do an initial Intake Interview with you covering developmental history, current strengths, and needs. As the OT gets to know you, you’ll also get to know more about the human body’s sensory systems, and how processing sensory information can either support or thwart success. When you think of the senses, you might think there are only five: 1) seeing 2) smelling 3) tasting 4) touching and 5) hearing. But there are actually eight, so three more systems must be considered. Proprioception allows the body to sense what joints, muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue are doing as the body moves. Vestibular processing helps the body maintain balance and detect changes with respect to gravity. For example, is the body sitting, standing, jumping, or spinning? Interoception keeps the body in touch with its internal, physiological state—letting the brain know whether the body is hungry or thirsty, whether a bathroom break is needed now versus later, or whether the heart is racing or beating as usual. All of these systems will be discussed in this first session. If you are seeking a sensory diet approach for your child, your child or teen will be involved in this first session at a level consistent with their understanding and ability to participate in this learning and information gathering stage.
Sessions 2 and 3: Creating Your Sensory Profile
In the second and third sessions, the Occupational Therapist will explore how you or your child responds to sensory information across the 8 Sensory Systems. Sensory strengths and challenges will be determined from a Sensory Profile Assessment done through a clinical interview. Profile results will help determine how mood, irritability, focus, and productivity can be affected by the way sensory information is processed across different settings.
Sessions 4 and 5: Developing Your Sensory Diet and Supportive Strategies
After exploring your Sensory Profile in depth over sessions 2 and 3, the next two sessions will be spent creating a Sensory Diet or Sensory Lifestyle for you or your child, designed to support more calm, confident, and organized actions, thoughts, and emotions. Personalized strategies for supporting smart sensory processing—that you can do for yourself or your child—will be discussed and compiled.
Session 6: Promoting Smart Processing Moving Forward
The final session is reserved for examining how well the strategies have helped you or your child. If there are strategies that could be improved, ideas for making strategies smarter, more manageable, and more effective will be discussed. Developing more awareness through a sensory lens will also be explored so you can move forward and continue making sensory smart decisions for you or your child.
The cost of this 6-session service with an Occupational Therapist is 180$ per session. Occupational Therapists are allied health professionals whose fees are not covered by OHIP. However, this fee may be covered by some employee benefits and private insurance plans.
Yes, additional sessions can be arranged. In the 6-session program with the Occupational Therapist, you’ll learn more about what agitates you and calms you, what focusses you and what distracts you, and what your body and brain need to enhance focus and increase success. If your child has received this service, then you’ll learn all of these things about your child at home and school. A lot of ground is covered in the 6 sessions, but you can always book more 6-session blocks or booster sessions if more issues arise, if you want to explore strategies as job or school demands change, or you need help knowing how best to implement the strategies you talked about earlier going forward.
Yes, in addition to offering a Sensory Diet Service, our Occupational Therapists support children, teens and adults in several other areas including fine and gross motor strength and coordination, executive functioning skills like getting organized, getting started on tasks, and seeing them through to completion, social skills and emotion regulation, and concerns related to mental health. You can read more about other OT services on our website.
Please complete the intake forms on our website for kids and teens, or adults. Once we have this form, a Care Coordinator from our office will call you to set up an appointment.