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Episode Notes


In this episode of All About Kids, Zach talks with Jennifer Cody about the long-overdue buzz around the importance of sensory processing. Increasingly parents and teachers are recognizing the powerful impacts of environmental feedback, which is exciting for occupational therapists like Jenn, who is also a supervisor at AAK. She has devoted her career to giving kids the tools they need to recognize and manage stressors. In Part I of a two-part episode, Jenn defines and explains what constitutes a “sensory diet,” best practices and strategies to implement. Helping every child reach an “optimal state” means meeting them where they are and tailoring a program that works not just for them but also at home and in the classroom. Working collaboratively and incorporating a realistic “diet” of activities is key. Jenn details specific programs that include activities helpful to kids – and that would very likely be helpful to anyone coping with stress, anxiety or overload at any age or stage of life! The episode wraps with a peak at topics to be covered in Part II:

  • More on specific senses and how they are integrated into a sensory diet.
  • The digital world and how things like cell phones and tablets affect sensory diets.
  • Specific resources to learn more about and implement a sensory diet on their own.

Jenn explains the concept of “sensory diets” and why they are important.

    • 2:51 – “Our bodies need different things at different times.” 
    • 3:04 – “As we develop we discover how we can best get our bodies ready to perform different activities. However, children are still learning those things and, to make it even harder, there are times when children might struggle because of a processing disorder.”
    • 4:00 – “A sensory diet is a specific set of prescribed sensory input that a child participates in at different times of the day. The different inputs can serve different purposes and can be completely individualized.”
    • 6:15 – “Generally speaking, a sensory diet is a set of sensory strategies or sensory input that is prescribed for a child to participate in at specific intervals during the day.”

Every child’s ‘optimal state’ is not the same, so it’s important to design a program that takes all styles of learning into account.

    • 7:40 – “We want to get them to a place where their body is ready to sit and learn. Expectations are shifting so finally as a society we’re about to grasp that not all children need to sit in a chair to learn.”
    • 8:37 – “Wherever a child’s body is best able to function is the ‘right state.’ ”

Jenn provides a specific case to exemplify one of many types of disorders and how to tailor appropriate sensory diets in response.

    1. 15:44 – “There all kinds of things that are very easy to embed. You’re not changing anything or purchasing equipment or trying to add anything to the day but simple activities.”
    2. 16:31 – “It’s called a sensory diet but it often has nothing to do with food … We want it to be something that’s really easy for a family to put into their routine. And the same for a teacher if (the child) is struggling in school.”

The advantages to taking a positive rather than a punitive or restrictive approach.

    • 18:30 – “At the end of the day every single person has sensory preferences at the very least or sensitivities where we’ve just learned how to cope with it. But kids aren’t born with those coping skills and it’s our job to teach them those skills.”
    • 19:13 – “We want to help children bridge that gap. We want to make it so that they can function and manage their daily life – not just manage, but flourish.”

The challenges Jenn has seen with kids who are fed up with or agitated by wearing masks to prevent Covid19 transmission – and strategies in response.

    • 20:52 – “My first step would be trying to pinpoint which piece of it is the problem because each has its own fix.”

The importance of helping kids learn to identify when they need a break or to redirect in a particular circumstance.

    • 24:33 – “The end game of all of this – of sensory diets – is when they’re old enough and cognitively able we want the child to begin to notice the signs on their own: My body is feeling like I need a break.”
    • 24:58 – “We want them to be able to recognize whatever (particular feeling) and then verbalize it or communicate to the adult or someone else in the room so they can take a break before it escalates.”

General advice for parents related to sensory diets.

    • 26: 51 – “We want these sensory diets to be feasible. We want them to be able to be completed without adding another stressor or struggle to parents’ lives.”
    • 27:53 – “Be honest about what you think you can implement at home … I would much rather know so I can think creatively and we can work collaboratively. What can you actually do?”
    • 29:43 – “As long as there’s open communication and honesty, that’s the best chance of following through with the sensory diet, which is the key to making it effective. It’s not the kind of thing that you can do once in a while.”

Perhaps we all need to be on a sensory diet?

    • 31:19 – “Honestly pretty much every single part of a sensory diet would benefit (others). It’s fun! There is no reason why the entire class can’t do it, if time allows. Same at home with the family.”
    • 32:20 – “When I approach someone and I have a sheet of activities at first glance it’s like, ‘I can’t fit that into my day!’ But I say, ‘No, no, no! We’re going to work it together. I promise you, when I break it down and explain, the lightbulb goes on.”

Jenn shares a little about her enthusiasm for sensory diets and how discovering this work shaped the direction of her career.

    • 34:05 – “Sensory systems and sensory processing in general is a world that a lot of people don’t realize. It’s so important to make the connections about how we rely on our sensory systems to get things done during the day.”
    • 34:26 – “Personally learning about this stuff is really what pushed me into the occupational therapy world way back when someone took the time to explain it to me. My mind blown!”

You can learn more about Jenn Cody at this this link. Previous podcast episodes and more information related to All About Kids is available here.