What is a sensory diet?

from Black Bear Academy

Occupational therapists determine areas of concern that are impacting a child’s functional performance and their ability to engage in meaningful activities. One major area that impacts a child’s ability to learn and play is their sensory processing skills or their ability to interrupt and process sensory stimuli in their world to produce an adaptive response.  Therefore along with direct intervention, a sensory diet is often recommended. A sensory diet is a child specific designed activity schedule that provides the sensory input your child’s nervous system needs to stay focused, regulated, and organized throughout the day. Many children, with or without sensory processing challenges, may not know what activities are appropriate to  provide their little sensory systems with the input they need to maintain a “just right” arousal level.  Therefore engaging in sensory diet activities teaches children strategies to achieve self-regulation.  It is important to try many of these strategies, since what works for some may not work for others.  Some children may need more alerting activities whereas some might need more calming activities.  A nice rule of thumb is to always following alerting sensory activities with calming activities (i.e. spinning on a swing followed by crashing into a pillow pit). The goal of a sensory diet is to respond proactively, not reactively, to your child’s sensory and nervous system needs.  Therefore completing these activities prior to engaging in challenging tasks or entering into a challenging environment is extremely beneficial. Lastly, it is important to understand your child’s sensory needs and meet them where they are at. For example, if a child is unable to sit still, it is important to recognize they need some movement input prior to being expected to sit.  The effects of a sensory diet are usually immediate and cumulative and help a child become more efficient in processing sensory information. Below is a list of common strategies associated with our 8 senses:

Proprioceptive (deep pressure)

  • Jumping on trampoline
  • Crashing or rolling into pillows, bean bags, or mattress
  • Baby massage
  • Joint compressions
  •  Chewing gum or gummies
  • Compression or weighted vest

Vestibular (movement)

  • Swinging in various planes and positions (on belly, upside down, side sitting, etc.)
  • Log rolls or somersaults
  • Rocking on a ball on belly, back, and bouncing in a seated position
  • Sit ‘n spin or standing and spinning

Visual (seeing)

  • Eye spy games
  • Use a slant board while writing
  • Play with bubbles, balloons, or light up toys
  • Clean your home or school environment. Present tasks without completing objects
  • Dim lights or place sheets over lights, wear sunglasses or a baseball cap to minimize visual input

Tactile (touch)

  • Scrubbing with a washcloth or loofahs
  • Hand fidgets such as koosh balls, rubber coiled keychains, etc.
  • Tactile exploration sensory bins with beans, sand, baby oil, shaving cream, etc.

Auditory (sound)

  • White noise machine
  • Noise cancellation headphones
  • Listen to calming or quiet music.

Olfactory (smell)/Oral and Gustatory (Taste)

  • Blow bubbles
  • Diffusers with essential oils
  • Deep breathing
  • Chew on chewy or lollipop
  • Eat crunchy snacks  or gummies
  • External and internal oral massage
  • Eat strong flavors

Please consult with an occupational therapist for further direction and/or specific strategies recommended for your child.  For more information and resources on self-regulation, visit  www.alertprogram.com  or https://www.spdstar.org/.

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