I spend a lot of time talking to parents. Its one of my favorite things about being the owner of a pediatric therapy company as well as a practicing occupational therapist. Sensory integration is one of the most commonly raised subjects, especially how to address sensory issues at home. That's why I've decided to address this hot topic in a series of short articles. In each installment, or set of installments, a specific feature of every family's daily life will become the focus. For the exciting debut, food and drink will have the spotlight.

Most of us know that food and drink have powerful effects on the way kids function. What many people don't realize is that it's not just about nutrition. Before the foods they eat and the liquids they drink even make it to their stomachs, they can have profound influences on their sensory systems.

So let's start with a typical scene in many households. Your son walks in...no, make that bounces in the door after school. He has a lot of homework as usual and you've already started skillfully reasoning with him that the sooner he starts, the sooner he'll be done, while he recklessly begins jumping up and down on the couch. He interrupts your appeal by announcing that he wants a snack. What you may not have known, until now, is that this is a great opportunity to have an impact on his sensory system in a way that will organize his behavior and help him focus on his homework. Following are some ways you can use food and drink to bring him down a few notches.

The key to making smart food and drink choices for sensory integration purposes is to think about "The Three Ts." These are Texture, Temperature, and Taste. First, let's look at texture. Crunchy, sharp textures such as crackers or croutons have an alerting, excitatory effect. The rubbing of the hard, rough surfaces against the gums and teeth and even the sound effects of chewing them have a rousing, "upper" effect on the nervous system, especially one that struggles to integrate sensory information properly. On the other hand, smooth creamy textures such as yogurt or tofu are calming and organizing in nature.

Temperature is an often-overlooked but important aspect of food and drink in the context of sensory integration. Cold temperatures are alerting while warm foods or drinks are more soothing.

Finally, taste must be considered. Although taste is surely the most obvious feature of food and drink, choosing taste for sensory integration purposes is a new way of thinking for many parents. It is further complicated by the fact that, much more so than texture and temperature, it varies greatly by individual. And of course there are so very many different flavor combinations out there to choose from! So in this area it is important to pay attention to what specific tastes tend to increase or decrease the number of walls your child bounces off of at certain times of the day! But luckily, there are a few guidelines. Sweet flavors are likely to be the most calming organizing flavors - WAIT, DID I READ THAT RIGHT? Yes, you did. Here, we are not talking about sugar so much as the flavor sensation. Sweets that contain large amounts of refined sugar, such as cookies, will result in the familiar "sugar high" as well as other unpleasant effects in some children. This is when nutrition definitely comes into play...the trick is to choose sweet flavors that contain natural sugars such as those found in fruit. Ok, where were we? Oh yes...sweet flavors are apt to organize, while spicy and sour tastes will be more likely to excite. Some specific tendencies are that vanilla and banana flavors are calming while cinnamon and citrus are both excitatory.

So the next time your child needs a little sensory regulation, you'll have the confidence and know-how to say "Sure my love, you can have a banana and a glass of warm milk before we tackle those spelling words!"