Interview Diana Henry, OTR/L Sensory Strategies for Children

Interview Diana Henry, OTR/L Sensory Strategies for Children

Parents, teachers, therapists, and other caregivers who are looking for sensory strategies for children, specifically for toddlers and preschoolers, must get their hands on Tools for Tots: Sensory Strategies for Toddlers and Preschoolers written by Diana A. Henry, MS, OTR/L, Maureen Kane-Wineland, Ph.D., OT/L, and Susan Swindeman, OTR/L.  It doesn’t get better than this. It is a guide book written by three very experienced occupational therapists condensed into one easy-to-use, family-friendly, fifty-three page book.

Lucy Jane Miller, PhD, OTR, Executive Director of SPD Foundation, Director of STAR Center, Associate Clinical Professor of Colorado Health Science Center, and Professor at Rocky Mountain University wrote, “This is a must read for all therapists working with toddlers and preschoolers. The photographs are magnificent and the ideas are creative! It will inspire parents, families, teachers, and therapists alike.”

The folks behind Special Needs Book Review are happy to post this interview with Diana Henry MS, OTR/L, FAOTA in our Author Interview Series. Who is Diana Henry? One interview would not be enough to tell you all about this remarkable expert on sensory strategies for children. Let me start with what I found on Facebook, “Diana A. Henry, is bilingual. She is SIPT certified, is one of the authors of the Sensory Processing Measures (SPM & SPM-P), has written The Tool Chest: For Teachers, Parents, and Students™, Tools for Parents™, Tools for Teens™ handbooks, Tools for Pets™ and Tools for Tots™ books and created three dvds Tools for Teachers™ ,Tools for Students™. and Teen Sensory Tools™”

You can read my review of Tools for Tots: Sensory Strategies for Toddlers and Preschoolers here.

Lorna: Congratulations on all the books and videos/dvds you have helped produce either alone, with your husband, or with colleagues. I find when we tell parents about our KidCompanions Chewelry and what these chewy/fidgets are used for many still do not know about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). How do you explain SPD to parents? We even hear, “If your child bites and chews on everything simply forbid him/her to do it. Case closed!”

Diana Henry >> Although the term SPD has evolved from the term sensory integration dysfunction (Ayers 1989), the term ‘sensory processing’ is now used frequently in regards to the underlying neurological processes subserving ‘sensory integration’ theory to be in alignment with current neuroscience terminology (May-Benson, 2012).

SPD exists when sensory signals do not get organized into appropriate
responses and a child’s daily routines and activities are disrupted as a result (Miller, 2006).

RE your  “…KidCompanions Chewelry and what these chewy/fidgets are used for…” these are very important ‘mouth tools’ and kids love them too. They can provide calming input via proprioception in the muscles tendons and joints in the mouth, especially via the temporal mandibular joint of the jaw, when chewing. As Monica, a 2nd grade student said in my tools for teachers DVD, ‘it makes my mouth be still’.

Sensory Strategies for Children from mobile workshop ATEACHABOUTLorna: I read,” In February 2000, Diana and her husband Rick embarked on ATEACHABOUT. Their ‘sensory’ workshop…”  Now this seems like an efficient way to reach people who want to attend your presentations on sensory strategies for children.  Please elaborate.

>> Diana Henry >> This was my husband Rick’s idea :-). We sold our home, our cars and bought a big RV in 2000, traveling across North America. This is how I met my co-authors for Tools for Tots, Maureen and Sue. As Rick and I criss-crossed the continent we stopped to teach in small towns too. This adventure has been fun as parents, teachers, administrators and therapists  were thrilled to have information regarding sensory integration and sensory processing come to their communities.

Lorna: In my review I wrote, “The advice on the importance of PLAY is for all parents and for every day. Like the words in the toddler letter, “You helped me play today. You gave me gifts of learning and self-esteem that no one can ever take away.” Tell our readers why you feel so strongly that parents know about the importance of “PLAY”.

>> Diana Henry >>As occupational therapists (OTs), we know that the main occupation of toddlers and preschoolers is PLAY! We use play to promote social participation, develop activities of daily living and self care skills and address challenges with regulation, sensory processing and praxis.

Tools for Tots: Sensory Strategies for Toddlers and PreschoolersLorna: What impressed me about Tools for Tots is how easy and practical all the activities/tools you suggest are. Any adult working/playing with a child can do them any time of the day, anywhere they find themselves, and usually there is almost no equipment necessary. Your suggestions are activities any caregiver can integrate into a tot’s daily routines for each of his seven senses. To show our readers how simple and common sense your strategies are, what is your advice to a parent who would say, “My tot is a very picky eater; he gags when some foods are presented.”

>> Diana Henry >>  Some tots with over-responsivity do not like the feel, taste, sight, or smell of foods. They may be especially sensitive around their mouth or hands. If your tot is over-responsive to smell, it could affect his taste. Most taste perception is dependent on the perception and interpretation of smell sensations which go right from the nose to the part of the brain that is involved in emotions and inner drive. That explains why eating can be such an emotional adventure for tots!

Consistency with feeding times and approaches is important to success. Praise your tot for trying new foods, and withhold expressions of frustration. Introducing new foods at play time or at the beginning of a meal when your tot is hungriest may be helpful. Playing with your tot before he eats gives him the attention he seeks outside of mealtimes and can help improve positive behavior at meals. These are the Tools or activities I would suggest and this is the way they are presented in our book Tools for Tots:

Tools for Tots teaches sensory strategies for childrenMovement Tools
*Encourage active play for your sensory seeking tot before sitting for a meal, and wait until the meal is served to call him to the table.
*If needed, give your tot movement breaks every few minutes during meals, or allow him to kneel or stand
while eating.
*Put an air cushion or partially deflated beach ball on your tot’s high chair, booster seat or school chair to allow for ‘wigglies’ without leaving the table.
*Allow your tot to sit on a small therapy ball at a child sized table.

Muscle Tools
*Prior to eating, play push/pull games, such as pushing a weighted grocery cart.
*Place a heavy beanbag on your tot’s lap to help him relax while eating.
*Use weighted utensils to increase sensory awareness of the hands.
*Offering a plate with a lip guard may help to decrease spills.
*Placing a plate on a nonskid place mat, or even a wet wash cloth, will help to hold it still, allowing your tot to have control of his eating utensils.
*Have your tot carry new foods to the table.
*Provide meals using a tot sized table and chair with arms. If your tot has over-responsivity or a postural disorder, he may find adult sized tables and chairs intimidating.

Touch Tools
*Start with large amounts of food textures that your tot with over-responsivity or dyspraxia tolerates (e.g. smooth, crunchy, or mushy), and gradually add small, barely noticeable amounts of non-preferred
textures to the preferred ones (e.g. smashed grahams to pudding, or sprinkles to yogurt).
*Change food textures by freezing, shredding, mashing, etc.
*Your tot may tolerate foods without ‘lumps’ or with meltable ‘bumps’ (e.g. graham crackers).
*Sneak fruits or vegetables into muffin mixes, pancake batter, hamburgers, etc.
*Encourage your tot to help mix cookie dough or other foods with his hands.
*Allow your tot to use his fingers or utensils to self-feed without worrying about the mess.
*Paint with pudding or yogurt, encouraging your tot to use his finger or a pretzel.
*Gradually vary food temperatures if your tot has a strong preference for only one (e.g. cold or hot).
*Offer assorted dips for finger foods.
*If your tot does not like to touch food, offer a breadstick or pretzel for a dip stick.
*Find other times to play with food outside of mealtimes (e.g. pudding or gelatin) at a different spot than your tot usually eats.

Ear Tools
*Together, read fun storybooks about eating new foods, or design your own.
*Consider eating in a quiet place rather than a noisy one.
*During meals play slow music for your tot with over-responsivity or fast music for your tot with under-responsivity.

Eye Tools
*Offer your tot a plate with separate compartments for each food.
*Give small portion sizes so your tot with over-responsivity will not be overwhelmed by seeing too much food on his plate. Remember that you can always add more food later.
*Slowly add new colors of food if your tot has strong food color preferences, and just let him get used to seeing them on his plate.
*Present food on fun, colorful plates with pictures of your tot’s favorite character hiding under his food.
*Keep healthy snacks, such as bananas, in your tot’s visual sight.
*Choose a dimly lit area to calm your tot with over-responsivity, or a brightly lit area for your tot with under-responsivity.
*Encourage your tot to look at new foods on his plate or even at pictures or in books.
*Cut food in fun shapes to entice your tot to try it.
(Find a simple recipe from a tot’s cookbook, and have your tot help prepare it.
*Allow your tot to watch a DVD to decrease anxiety while eating.

Nose Tools
*Sniff different foods and try to guess what they are, avoiding oils which can pose a safety risk when inhaled.
*Sit away from smelly kitchens at restaurants and cafeterias.
*Using candles with calming scents (e.g. vanilla) can help eliminate the other food odors that your tot may find noxious, thus interfering with his ability to eat.
*Avoid strong smelling foods for tots with over-responsivity.

KidCompanions Chewelry a sensory strategy for kidsMouth Tools
*Massage your tot around and in the mouth (using your finger or specially designed tot safe mouth massager) as tolerated before meals (See Resources).
*Offer textured, tot safe, nontoxic ‘mouth fidgets’ (e.g. teethers or chewy tubes), using caution to offer those that do not pose a choking hazard.
*‘Kiss’ your tot with stuffed animals, puppets, or bath mitts.
* Use fun shaped or flavored straws for drinking and sucking foods like pudding or applesauce.
*Gradually add tastes (e.g. salty, bland, spicy, or sweet).
*Have your tot lick suckers, peanut butter off a pretzel, cream off a cookie, etc.
*Add flavor by mashing foods together (e.g. bananas into yogurt).
*Try lots of foods that melt quickly in his mouth, like cheese curls or puffed cereals.

Some additional tips below from the upcoming SPM Quick Tips ( following the use of the SPM-Preschool, identifying touch over-responsivity) : SPM Quick Tips: An electronic system for sensory-based strategies following the use of the Sensory Processing Measures (SPM and SPM-Preschool)

  •  Respect differences provided nutrition is not compromised.
  • Introduce small bites/portions in the side of the mouth, not directly on the tongue.
  •  Provide what the child knows and very gradually introduce a new color or new crunch.
  • Choose a food that your child likes and offer other foods that are similar to shape, color, texture, taste.
  • Try adding different textures to warm foods.
  • When offering a new food offer the same food at each meal breakfast, lunch, dinner.
  • On your plate, place the same foods that you would like the child to eat, and eat them with the child.
  •  ‘Hide’ the unappealing food by adding it into a recipe (Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food).
  •  Encourage the child to participate in the cooking process and sing the song Making Food with You.

Children with over responsivity may not like the texture, taste, sight and/or smell of foods, therefore provide opportunities to address the many sensory issues which can be challenging for the child. (Sensory Songs for Tots).

  • Prepare the body through massage.
  • Dim the lights.
  • Give a hug.
  • Encourage the child to mix using both hands.
  • Invite the child to help by carry the plates and utensils.
  • Label the different qualities and experiences food can provide.
  • Invite the child to sniff.
  • Give the child a variety of incremental options: putting the food on the adult’s plate, on the child’s plate, touching, holding, licking, tasting, chewing and swallowing.
  •  Give the child a number and have the child agree to the number such as “You have to touch at least two new things today, or put two new things in your mouth and then you can spit it out”.
  • Complete the food preparation when the child does not have to smell strong odors.
  • Cook foods that do not have strong smells.

Lorna: Parents, please note that individuals differ in their sensory preferences for calming, waking, focusing, etc.  Tools for Tots has a page that can be reproduced called “My Tot’s Tool Chest” which parents fill out to give to others who care for their child. This list will identify the activities called “TOOLS ” that your child prefers to get him engaged, play, and learn most effectively.

 Thank you so much for this interview! Best wishes to you, Diana Henry and good luck with all new projects!  

Tools for Infants: Sensory Based Strategies for Parents, Caregivers, and Early Intervention Providers™ by Susan Swindeman OTR/L,Maureen Kane -Wineland PhD, OT/L, and Diana Henry, Ms, OTR/L, FAOTAToday, Nov.25th 2015, we are updating this post to add info about Tools for Infants

  • Buy Tools for InfantsSensory Based Strategies for Parents, Caregivers, and Early Intervention Providers™ (2015)  Tools for Infants’ Web Site

Read Also:

This post was written by Lorna
Lorna d’Entremont: Co-owner of SentioLife Solutions, Ltd. the company behind KidCompanions Chewelry (2007) and SentioCHEWS (2013), mother of three, grandma of 5 and wife. She is a retired teacher and special needs advocate. Throughout she has taught all levels from grade 2 to grade 9. Lorna loved teaching and enjoyed seeing the students progress in the school system. During her 30 year career she took a few years off to raise her three children.
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