A sensory diet is a coping mechanism for children living with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). It has nothing to do with food and refers to physical activities that a child can do in a home or schooling environment. It is a tailored treatment that is designed by an occupational therapist to meet the child’s needs. A sensory diet is a list of sensory activities that help children feel calm, allowing them to be more attentive, learn and behave to the best of their ability.
Sensory Processing Disorder is a neurological condition that affects the sensory system. The sensory system collects information through sensory receptors, by reacting with the surrounding environment through vision, smell, touch, sound, taste, movement and balance. Learn more information on Sensory Processing Disorder here
Sensory Processing Disorder is different for every child. A child whose nervous system is over aroused needs more calming input, while a child who is under aroused needs more alerting input. A sensory diet tailored to a child’s specific needs can provide them with the sensory input necessary to be in a ‘just right’ state.
The carefully designed sensory diet program of sensory activities, equipment, and strategies help to improve children’s nervous system over time, so that they can stay focused and organised throughout the day. Sensory diets help children to:
• Regulate emotions, alertness and increase attention span
• Reduce unwanted sensory seeking and sensory avoidance behaviour
• Tolerate sensations and situations that are challenging
• Handle transitions with less stress
It is important for an occupational therapist to evaluate the needs of the child to come up with a personalised treatment plan. The occupational therapist’s personalised treatment plan can include a worksheet for the carer to complete. A sensory diet worksheet involves the feelings of the child at different times during the day, what type of activity the carer implemented and its effects on the child (whether positive, negative or the same). This allows the carer and occupational therapist to follow and learn from the child’s needs. Patterns may emerge showing the type of sensory input the child needs and at what time during the day.
A sensory diet may include some of the following activities:
Visual (Sight): The Visual System processes sight and allows us to respond to visual stimuli. Sensory diet activities that may help a child with visual sensitivities can include having a safe space with minimal visuals that could cause discomfort, using a lava lamp, or wearing quality tinted glasses if sensitive to glare. Playing games and activities that develop visual skills such as dot-to-dots, drawing and puzzles can also be beneficial.
Auditory (Sound): The Auditory System processes sounds through the ear such as language to communicate. Sensory diet activities that may help a child with auditory sensitivities can include listening to music (calming or arousing), banging on pots and pans, playing musical instruments, singing, humming, whispering, or therapeutic listening programs, and white noise headphones.
Olfactory System (Smell): The Olfactory System processes our sense of smell and odours. Sensory diet activities that may help a child with olfactory sensitivities can include having access scented products, smelling flowers, sniffing spices.
Gustatory System (Taste): The Gustatory system processes our sense of taste through surface cells in the mouth, tongue and throat that react to food and beverages. Sensory diet activities that may help a child with gustatory sensitivities can include exploring taste (sweet, sour, savoury, spicy, bitter), exploring different temperature foods (frozen, cool, warm), chewing gum and sucking thick liquid through a straw.
Vestibular System (Balance and Movement): The Vestibular System involves our sense of balance (equilibrioception) and spatial orientation for coordinating movement with balance. Sensory diet activities that may help a child with vestibular sensitivities can include swimming, running, jumping, dancing or walking, playing on a merry-go-round or trampoline, swinging on a swing, and bouncing on a pogo stick.
Proprioceptive System (Body Awareness): Proprioception is the process by which the body utilises receptors in the muscles to track the positions of joints and muscles around the body, allowing us to know where our body is in space (body awareness) and giving us the ability to manoeuvre around the environment safely. Sensory diet activities that may help a child with proprioception sensitivities can include giving them a warm hug, playing catch and other ball games such as soccer. Set up obstacle courses for them to go under, over, through and around objects. Having them take part in heavy work activities such as carrying groceries, taking out the trash and moving furniture can also be beneficial.
Tactile System (Touch): The Tactile System includes multiple types of sensations that the body receives from interaction with the environment, including touch (touch, pressure and vibration perception), pain and temperature, and proprioception (muscle tension and joint position). Sensory diet activities that may help a child with tactile sensitivities may include compression clothing (JettProof), bear hugs, therapeutic brushing, warm bath and water play. Other activities such as feeling different fabrics, exploring textures, finger painting, playing with shaving cream, whipped cream and play-doh. If a child resists touching something, try a paintbrush or other item for them to cautiously explore and gain confidence.
Vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile input are called “power sensations”- they are the foundation of sensory integration and sensory processing skills. When a sensory diet targets one of these inputs, it impacts on the other two. These types of inputs provide the basis for brain development. Incorporating sensory activities that target these three categories is necessary for the development of all children, but for those with sensory processing difficulties, it is critical.
It is important to take time and always keep a record (sensory diet worksheet) of the activities that are attempted, and what effect they have on the child. Use this record to refer to your occupational therapist to understand any improvements or other reactions the particular activities have on the child.
Children can benefit from participating in sensory diet activities a minimum of five times a day. Activities only need to be 10 minutes in length and can be made fun for both child and carer. Also get to know the child, and how each activity affects them. Some children might react negatively to a bear hug where others will ask and even crave a bear hug from loved ones.
JettProof calming sensory clothing assists children and adults living with Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Apraxia, Dyspraxia, ADHD and Anxiety.