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The Sensory Diet Concept

presented by Tracy Stackhouse

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Disclosure Statement:

Financial: Tracy Stackhouse receives compensation from MedBridge for this course. There is no financial interest beyond the production of this course.

Non-Financial: Tracy Stackhouse has no competing non-financial interests or relationships with regard to the content presented in this course.

Satisfactory completion requirements: All disciplines must complete learning assessments to be awarded credit, no minimum score required unless otherwise specified within the course.

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In this course, you will learn how to establish power, precision, and proper timing in the sensory diet targeted to desired outcomes. In addition, you will learn to customize the sensory diet around common issues including postural development, autonomic dysregulation, and social-emotional or affective issues. The sensory diet concept can be extended to incorporate sensory-social routines to integrate co-regulation and relation-based interventions into daily programming. The evidence-base supporting the use of a sensory diet approach will be reviewed. Case examples from children with Autism and Fragile X Syndrome will illustrate the power of matching the sensory diet to a child’s specific needs. Finally, the sensory diet concept will be contrasted with a sensory based approaches, including the "sensory lifestyle," sensory breaks, supports, accommodations, and modifications.

Meet Your Instructor

Tracy Stackhouse, MA, OTR/L

Tracy Stackhouse is a clinical pediatric occupational therapist who has specialized in working with children, adults, and families affected by fragile x syndrome (FXS) and Fragile X related conditions since the late 1980s. Through this work, first at Children's Hospital in Denver, continuing at the UC Davis MIND Institute, and now at the nonprofit center…

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Chapters & Learning Objectives

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1. Context of Sensory Diet as an OT Intervention

Introduction to the Sensory Diet approach as an option along a continuum of intervention that requires clinical reasoning to select and implement. Further situates the sensory diet as within the broad framework of Sensory Integration as developed by Ayres.

2. The Sensory Diet Concept

The sensory diet is ‘prescriptive’ and individualized intervention that is goal directed with the power to shift underlying processing to allow the nervous system to function optimally. When properly implemented, the sensory diet can address a range of specific needs and result in added benefits. The sensory diet is best suited to addressing needs related to arousal and attention modulation, but can be used to address other needs when developed specifically and targeted at stated functions. The sensory diet should be evidence based and data driven from formation through implementation and always requires ongoing monitoring and modification based on the data. The importance of creating precise and powerful sensory diets is the focus of this chapter’s discussion.

3. How To Select Sensory-Based Activities for The Sensory Diet

This chapter focuses on how to select activities for precise and powerful sensory diets. Utilizing basic neural sensory processing information about the frequency, intensity, duration and rhythmicity/variability of input allows for activities to produce targeted adaptive responses, thus making the sensory diet a powerful clinical tool that extends from the clinic into everyday life.

4. The Essentials of Intervention Into The Sensory Diet

Sensory diets can create the structure for daily inputs that are targeted and specific. Currently, there are a number of interventions that might support or enhance the sensory-based activities to further shift identified functions. Collectively these are referred to as professionally guided treatments. This chapter provides a clinical reasoning flow chart to help guide decisions around when to select and implement professionally guided options into the sensory diet intervention plan. Further, the importance of data collection for data driven decision making to ensure the integrity of the intervention is reviews.

5. Education or Wellness Oriented Sensory Approaches

The sensory diet is a targeted intervention and is different in scope and focus than other education or wellness oriented sensory-based approaches. Sensory Enrichment and Sensory Lifestyles provide a contrast to the Sensory Diet concept and are reviewed in this chapter with an emphasis on why clinical reasoning is required to clarify and help select among the various treatment options. The final part of this course provides a panel discussion of clinicians considering the options of care across the continuum presented and how to gain confidence in selected and implemented appropriate plan of care. Clinical reasoning can be enhanced by considering the guiding questioned reviewed within the panel discussion. Finally, the panel considers modifications of the sensory diet to address individual strengths and needs or special diagnostic considerations.

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Clinical reasoning for pediatric occupational therapists should be informed by neuroscience, developmental theory, occupational science, and clinical practice, including tacit clinical knowledge – all rich sources of evidence and inspiration. However, combining all of these sources of information into a format useful for in-the-moment clinical use can be daunting. In this course, you will be introduced to a clinical reasoning framework for combining sensory, affective, and motor processing into a relationship-based model to allow therapists to create and implement effect treatment plans as well as monitor progress. The aim of the clinical reasoning process is to help the therapist identify the underlying issues and provide comprehensive treatment and supports while building targeted skills in order to shift the adaptive functioning of the client/child. The clinical reasoning format lends itself as a guide to treatment to address the most common clusters of difficulties/diagnostic conditions seen by pediatric occupational therapists. This course will provide theory and practical information for enhancing OT clinical work with children with a broad range of neurodevelopmental conditions including those categorized as having sensory integrative difficulties or "SPD" concerns. Learning sound clinical reasoning allows the therapist to commit to excellence in their evidence-based approach to treatment and establishes the OT as a strong member of a multidisciplinary team.

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This course provides the fundamentals for understanding how to harness the power of the somatosensory system to influence optimal outcomes when somatosensory-based intervention is indicated. A basic overview of somatosensory function and anatomy, as well as central nervous system interaction, is provided. Somatosensory functions will be traced from the receptor through the primary and associated processing pathways. The content will include information on how to directly assess somatosensory functions, including discriminative processing and evaluative/modulation functions.

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This course provides the fundamentals for understanding how to harness the power of the vestibular system to influence optimal outcomes when vestibular-based intervention is indicated. A basic overview of vestibular function and anatomy, as well as central nervous system interaction is provided. Vestibular functions will be traced from the receptor through the primary and associated processing pathways. The content will include information on how to directly assess vestibular function as well as the common physiological, postural, ocular manifestations that need to be included in assessment. Vestibular processing is a quiet, pivotal foundation, critical in the ASI approach, and often a missing link underlying neurodevelopmental progress. Treatment considerations to produce effective improvements in specific vestibular symptoms (dizziness, motion perception difficulties) as well as the direct products of vestibular processing, (balance, bilateral coordination, postural/ocular control, motor timing and coordination, visual motor/perceptual skills, etc) are provided. These considerations are extended to include associated modulation-based difficulties, including a grounded sense of self within the context of person/environment/other/task, and as functional abilities related to vestibular processing are provided.

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