Do you ever find yourself spinning your pencil, tapping your leg or twirling your hair while trying to do work? These are all ways we subconsciously provide our bodies with sensory input in order to be focused and productive. Many children do not know how or when to provide their bodies with the appropriate input they need.
(Scroll to the bottom for a printable sensory diet template!)
This is where a Sensory Diet comes into play. What is this new diet everyone is talking about? A sensory diet is a personalized action plan that gives your child the unique sensory input his or her body needs at that very moment. The diet can be easily incorporated into a child's daily routine. It is a variety of activities that your child is actively engaged in throughout the day. When participating in these tasks, it helps to regulate emotions and behaviors for optimal function and interactions. A sensory diet is aimed to help a child obtain his or her ‘just right’ state to perform at their most productive level. For a child who tends to be overstimulated and aroused, a sensory diet will help calm them down so they can be more focused and attentive. For the child who tends to be understimulated, a sensory diet will help alert him or her and provide the energy and the ability to focus.
Some Reasons To Use A Sensory Diet May Include (But Are Not Limited To):
- Sensory overload
- Sleep disruptions
- Emotional meltdowns
- Seeking behaviors
- Difficulty with transitions
- Improve attention, self regulation
- Encourages purposeful movement
The tricky part is that our bodies and our needs are constantly changing and evolving, even from day to day. So what does that mean as it relates to a sensory diet? It means if we make (or follow) a sensory diet, that also has to change and evolve simultaneously with your child. This is why it's so important to have an individualized sensory diet.
Creating An Individualized Sensory Diet:
Get ready to play detective and create a personalized sensory diet.
A good place to start is by making a list of activities that your child enjoys that simultaneously helps regulate his or her body. Some things to consider are:
- Do weekday behaviors differ from weekend behaviors?
- Times of day (ex. morning, after school, evening, bedtime)
- Environments (ex. home vs. school)
- Where is a space/room my child can be in safely to get regulated
- Does my child seem to be under-responsive or over-responsive. This will help guide what activities to use (ex. calming vs alerting)
- What sensory activities can I use when we are not home (ex. having dinner out at a restaurant, out for a family day, out with friends)
- Any specific triggers that typically upset/agitate my child
- Are certain tasks harder than others (ex. fine motor-buttoning, snaps versus gross motor difficulties-bumping into things, difficulty with balance and coordination)
There are endless possibilities for sensory diet activities. And the most important thing to remember is if one activity doesn’t work...don’t do it! Simply find another activity that provides you with a desired outcome. It is highly recommended to work with an Occupational Therapist with experience and understanding of sensory processing issues.
Here are some examples of sensory diet activities based on specific sensory needs and chronological age. I would encourage you to explore ALL of the activities as chronological age and development often do not coincide. Again, remember that activities can be alerting or calming, based on the child, the day, the moment. In each category I list general guidelines for alerting vs calming, however remember again-every child is different. If something doesn’t provide the results you are seeking, modify or stop it!
Sensory Diet Activity Generator
How to use:
- Select an option from the drop down menu
- Click a button to choose the age group you would like to see sensory diet activities for
Give it a try!
How Do You Know If Your Child Would Benefit From A Sensory Diet?
These are some things to consider when contemplating implementing a sensory diet. If these things seem like your child, the likely answer is that he or she will benefit from a sensory diet. Again, you can always consult an Occupational Therapist (if you haven’t already).
- My child doesn’t seem to listen
- My child has a hard time following directions
- My child is always jumping on the furniture
- My child plays too roughly with his/her siblings or peers
- My child bites, chews and/or licks non food items when excited (or for no apparent reason)
- My child cries when it’s time to end/change activities
- My child struggles to stay in his chair (ex. during meals, at school)
- My child doesn’t sleep well
- My child is easily bothered by sensory input (ex. too loud, too messy, too crunchy, to bright, too itchy, too smelly)
- My OT recommended one
- My child has a diagnosis of SPD, ADHD, Developmental Delay
Check Out These Sensory Diet Examples:
Here are some hour-by-hour sensory diet examples based on some of the activities listed above:
Example 1: Xavier (Age 9)
Xavier is 9 years old. He has a diagnosis of Autism. He wakes up and is immediately “off the walls”- seeking input. He might benefit from deep proprioceptive input right away and every 1-2 hours after that to keep him modulated throughout the day.
8am he jumps on his trampoline.
10am he crashes into the couch pillows.
12pm he blows up 4 balloons.
2pm he has a thick smoothie through a straw.
4pm he reads a book under a weighted blanket.
6pm he has some crunchy carrots with dinner.
8pm he listens to calming music while watching a lava lamp in a room with calming essential oil.
Just remember, if tomorrow he wakes up and is cranky and irritable (while bouncing “off the walls”) his sensory diet activities could possibly need to be totally different.
Example 2: Teagan (Age 4)
Teagan is a 4 year old girl who wakes up lethargic and slow to get her day going. She might need to jump, hop and bounce immediately to get her body alert. She might need this type of input every 2-3 hours to remain alert and attentive.
8am she rubs lotion on her arms & legs with force
10am she completes a puzzle while using the hippity hop to retrieve the pieces
12pm she uses a scooter board in the hallways of her house
2pm she goes on her swing outside, she goes side to side, round and round quickly
4pm she goes outside and log rolls down the hill in her backyard
6pm she crab walks to brush her teeth using a vibrating toothbrush
8pm she stomps back to her room and climbs into bed with her weighted blanket.
Example 3: Rory
Then there is Rory. He is 13 years old with a diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder. He wakes up happy, but by the time he is done with breakfast, he is on the verge of an emotional breakdown. He might benefit from some calm auditory or visual input; he might only need this input sporadically throughout the day.
8am he watches a calm projector on the wall with dim lights
10am he throws a balloon up and catches it 10x
12pm he uses noise cancelling headphones while completing a typing activity
2pm he goes outside and rakes the front lawn for 20 minutes while whistling his favorite songs
4pm he plays flashlight tag after he carries the laundry upstairs for his family
6pm he does 15 minutes of yoga ending with down- dog (an inversion).
8pm he takes a warm bath with lavender essential oil and blows bubbles in the bath through a straw.
A healthy food diet consists of a variety of balanced foods. A healthy sensory diet consists of a variety of input (from different senses). It should be closely monitored and continuously adjusted to sufficiently meet the child's individualized sensory needs.
The concept of the sensory diet was originated by Patricia Wilbarger, MA, OTR (Wilbarger & Wilbarger, 2002). Ideally an Occupational Therapist should be consulted to create and maintain a healthy sensory diet. Even small amounts of input can be very powerful! If used correctly this is a wonderful, beneficial & healthy diet!
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