What is a sensory diet?
A sensory diet is a set of strategic sensory activities implemented in a child’s day to proactively meet their sensory needs. The purpose of a sensory diet is to provide sensory input that organizes the central nervous system and regulates a child.
What types of sensory activities are included in a sensory diet?
The activities implemented in a sensory diet vary based on the child as each child responds differently to various sensory inputs. Sensory activities that are included in a sensory diet may target any of the sensory systems.
The sensory systems are as follows:
- Tactile – Sense of touch
- Auditory – Sense of hearing
- Gustatory – Sense of taste
- Olfactory – Sense of smell
- Visual – Sense of sight
- Proprioceptive – Sense from sensory receptors in joints and muscles that provides our body information on where it is positioned in space
- Vestibular – Sense in our inner ear that provides information about where the body and head are positioned in space
Activities that can be implemented in a sensory diet can range from eating a crunchy snack, drinking a thick smoothie out of a straw, carrying groceries in the house, crawling up the stairs, doing yoga, listening to white noise, laying underneath couch cushions, playing with a sensory bin, the options are endless!
Would my child benefit from a sensory diet?
Children who are unable to effectively meet their sensory needs would benefit from a sensory diet. Some children are over-responsive to sensory input, meaning they have an out-of-proportion reaction to sensory input and would benefit most from calming activities. Some children are under-responsive to sensory input and need more alerting and stimulating activities. Lastly, there are sensory-seeking or sensory “cravers” who have a higher sensory threshold and need more stimulation and alerting activities to reach that threshold.
It is important to note that once again, every child is different and it is possible for a child to be under-responding to some input and over- responding or seeking to others. That is why a sensory diet is tailored to each child in order to take into account the way they register various sensory stimuli.
How do I implement a sensory diet?
First, you should consult with your child’s occupational therapist. Discuss with your child’s occupational therapist the target behavior you are wanting the sensory diet to address (head banging, constant spinning, jumping, crashing, biting, difficulty waking up, completing routines, etc.) Based on the target behavior the type of sensory input your child is seeking/ avoiding will be determined in order to provide the correct sensory input. As a team you will decide which times are best to implement the activities based on your child’s daily schedule.
Example of a sensory diet:
Target behavior: Child frequently bangs head against surfaces when happy, sad, angry with no known trigger.
This child is craving proprioceptive input. Each time the child is head banging they are receiving proprioceptive input from the sensation as their head contacts a surface. In addition, the child is getting vestibular input from the sensation resulting from the movement.
Sensory strategies: Providing the child with proprioceptive and vestibular activities throughout the day to reduce the target behavior.
- Each morning after the child wakes they select an option of two activities to integrate into their morning routine.
- The child selects a weighted blanket while in a bean bag chair and jumping on a small trampoline indoors.
- The child wakes up, sits in a bean bag chair with a weighted blanket with a timer set, then proceeds with their morning routine and jumps on a small trampoline right before leaving the house to get into the car. This routine is goal directed, includes non negotiables (brushing teeth, getting dressed, etc.) and has meaningful sensory activities chosen by the child
- In the afternoon at school, the child has an exercise band wrapped around their chair to fidget on with their feet – When the child gets home from school they are presented with two activities to integrate into their afternoon routine
- The child selects somersaults and performing animal walks
- The child performs animal walks while putting away school supplies (hanging up backpack, going into room to change out school clothes, going into kitchen for afternoon snack) and performs somersaults prior to sitting down for brief screen time
- The child selects a sensory activity to incorporate into night time routine
- The child chooses to bounce on a therapy ball for 5 minutes and begins their night time routine (if your child struggles completing routine tasks they may benefit from sensory input before, and after as a motivator to engage in routine tasks)
- A sensory diet may look different each day, a child does not have to do the same tasks each day for a sensory diet to be successful; however, if the child responds well to more rigid routines with the same sensory input it is okay if they routine does not vary
- It is important to present sensory activities that will meet their sensory needs, if you know that the activity would not meet their needs, do not present it as an option
- Make note of how your child responds to the sensory input, are they more calm afterwards? Are they more aroused? Improvements with attention? Increased behaviors?
- It may take some time to come up with a plan that works for your child, it can be trial and error, be patient!
- Gwen Wild, MOT, OTR – Developing and Implementing Sensory Diets, Presented by Summit Professional Education
- Ayres, Jean A. Sensory Integration and the Child. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services, 1979.
- Biel, Lindsey, and Nancy Peske. Raising a Sensory Smart Child. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.
- Heller, Sharon. Too loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight. New York: Harper, 2002.
- Kerstein, Lauren. My Sensory Book. Shawnee Mission: Autism Asperger Publishing Company, 2008.
- Koomar, Jane, Carol Kranowitz, and Stacey Szklut. Answers to Questions Teachers Ask About Sensory Integration. Arlington: Future Horizons, 2007.
- Kranowitz, Carol Stock. The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun. New York: A Perigee Book, 2003.
- Veenendall, Jennifer. Arnie and His School Tools. Shawnee Mission: Autism Asperger Publishing Company, 2008.
Blog by: Payton T. (MOT, OTR/L – Occupational Therapist)