As some of you may know, Stevie is doing great at his new school. When we first toured the school, we knew that it was made just for him. It was a perfect match. And when the local school offered to send him there, we knew it was a match made in Heaven.
Not that there haven’t been any bumps along the way, there have been plenty. It isn’t a magic cure for his behavior difficulties. But it is a school that Stevie loves to go to when he has never liked school before.
His school runs year round—there are no long summer breaks. Even Christmas break is short and there is no “February Break” or Spring Break like our public schools have. At first I was worried he’d be upset about missing his summer off , but I worried for nothing. He did well over the one-week break in July and was crazy excited to go back!
So what is the big deal? Why is this school working so well? It’s at least in part because when they say they are implementing a sensory diet, they mean it. They are consistent about it and they are intentional about the sensory activities he gets in the day.
The school has implemented a simple routine for him. He has a chart with 4 activities on it. The teachers get to fill in the first 3, and Stevie gets to pick the 4th as a reward. One of the four tasks on his board is always a specific sensory activity like the swing that hugs. It’s something that will provide the proprioceptive and vestibular input that he needs so desperately.
The board would look something like this:
Once Stevie completes the 4 tasks, they wipe off the board and start over. They do this throughout the entire day so Stevie knows what to expect, and his cute once-little body that is growing way faster than this Mom is ok with, is getting what it needs, too.
Besides the one sensory task that is part of the 4 activities on his chart, they integrate other sensory activities into his day. When we observed him at school (and watch through the 2-way mirror with speakers—it’s totally awesome!) he was sitting on the gym mats in the OT room, reading a book while cocooned in a stretchy blanket. At home, he spends many hours cocooned like that and he even sleeps wrapped up in a similar way. He never wanted to read before, even though he is very good at it. He started reading at the age of 3 but as he has become more sensory seeking than avoiding, he just hasn't had the focus for sitting and reading a book...until now!
It is a breath of fresh air to have teachers and specialists that “get” autism and the sensory system. They understand the sensory needs are very real and go out of their way to give the kids in their school what their sensory systems need.
Sensory diets are not viewed as rewards, but rather viewed as activities that are needed in order for his body to be regulated and able to take in information and process it more appropriately.
Plain and simply put: he needs the strict diet in order to learn and be happy (emotionally regulated).
Back in our preschool searching days for Stevie, we visited many that used sensory equipment as a reward for good behavior, which is as backwards (and disrespectful to the way his body works) as can be.
For example, if the child wanted to sit on the big balance ball, they needed to sit still and “work” first. But that poor child can’t sit still until he has the sensory input that ball gives him!
Stevie needs the sensory input in order to have good behavior and to be ready to take in new information. It should never be looked at as something to earn. That would be like telling someone with reading glasses they can’t use them until they can read a book and answer questions about it’s content without them!
(Chat time in the comments!)
How does your child respond to a sensory diet?
What is included in your child’s diet?
I’d love to hear from you!