Prepared by: Regina R. Rastrullo, M.Ed, OT
What is a sensory Diet?
Just as your child needs food throughout the course of the day, his need for sensory input must also be met. A “sensory diet” (coined by OT Patricia Wilbarger) is a carefully designed, personalized activity plan that provides the sensory input a person needs to stay focused and organized throughout the day. Just as you may jiggle your knee or chew gum to stay awake or soak in a hot tub to unwind, children need to engage in stabilizing, focusing activities too. Infants, young children, teens, and adults with mild to severe sensory issues can all benefit from a personalized sensory diet.
Each child has a unique set of sensory needs. Generally, a child whose nervous system is on “high trigger/too wired” needs more calming input, while the child who is more “sluggish/too tired” needs more arousing input. A qualified occupational therapist can use her advanced training and evaluation skills to develop a good sensory diet for your child—or you!—but it’s up to you and your child to implement it throughout the course of the day.
Likewise, a sensory diet is an intervention strategy used to help people with sensory processing disorders understand and make sense of sensory information.
What does “ sensory “ means?
“Sensory” information is any information the brain receives about touch, smell, sound, sight, proprioception (sensations from joints, muscles and connective tissues that lead to body awareness) can be obtained by lifting, pushing, and pulling heavy objects, including one’s own weight. A child can also stimulate the proprioceptive sense by engaging in activities that push joints together like pushing something heavy or pull joints apart like hanging from monkey bars. Vestibular- (sense of movement, centered in the inner ear). Any type of movement will stimulate the vestibular receptors, but spinning, swinging, and hanging upside down provide the most intense, longest lasting input. If your child has vestibular (movement) sensitivities, please work closely with a sensory smart OT who can help you recognize and prevent signs of nervous system overload. Tactile – detects light touch, deep pressure, texture, temperature, vibration, and pain. This includes both the skin covering your body and the skin lining the inside of your mouth. Oral tactile issues can contribute to picky eating and feeding difficulties.
Why do we need to implement a sensory diet?
A sensory diet, when implemented correctly, can help improve or maximize learning, improve fine motor/gross –motor skills, improve a person’s self-esteem, and improve a person’s behavior, among other positive and significant changes.
A person with sensory processing disorder has a hard time correctly processing information. Motion sickness is a type of sensory processing disorder because the brain is not appropriately registering vestibular information. Decreased attention to a task, insisting on large personal spaces, difficulty with transitions, self-stimulatory behaviors, poor motor planning skills, and/or avoiding movement activities can be an indicators of sensory processing disorder.
A sensory diet “re-wires” the person’s brain to help it correctly interpret sensory information. When a person is correctly interpreting sensory information, then the person is going to be able to function more successfully in their work, (e.g. school, home environments).
How to Implement a sensory diet?
Implementing a sensory diet is easier than it may seem! Below are some activities for deep touch, vestibular, and proprioceptive activities that you can do it your student/child, and his or her classmates during school and/or his or her siblings at home. The key to the sensory diet is doing one to two of the activities recommended EVERY WAKING HOUR. Don’t panic! The activity does not have to take long! It may only consist of a 30 second stretching time, a two minute hoppity ball break, or even laying a lap buddy over your child’s lap. Also, remember that during the day, a recess time would also count as a sensory diet intervention because it is likely that child will participate in an activity that will expose him or her to movement, proprioception, and/or deep touch.
Sample Sensory Diet:
Make a “burrito” or “sandwich.” Firmly press on your child’s arms legs and back with pillows or make a “burrito” by rolling her up in a blanket.
Push and pull. She can push her own stroller, and a stronger child can push a stroller or cart filled with weighted objects such as groceries. Have him vacuum, carry books from one room to another, help wash windows or a tabletop, and transfer wet laundry from the washing machine to the dryer
Carry that weight. Your child can wear a backpack or fanny pack filled with toys (not too heavy!).
Jump! Have your child jump on a mini-trampoline or rebounder or play hopscotch.
Swing. Encourage her to swing on playground swings, trying various types of swings and movements, such as front to back and side to side.
Spin. Have him spin using a Sit n’ Spin, or office chair. Let her run in circles, and ride a carousel. Hold your child’s arm and spin in a circle as he lifts off the ground, or play airplane by holding one of his arms and the leg on the same side of his body as you spin in place (only if he does not have low muscle tone). Encourage him to go on amusement park rides that spin.
Get upside down. Have him hang upside down from playground equipment, do somersaults, or ride a loop-de-loop rollercoaster.
Swing and roll. Encourage her to use playground swings and roll down a grassy or snowy hill (which good proprioceptive input as well).
Messy play with textures. Have her play with foamy soap or shaving cream, and add sand for extra texture. Have her fingerpaint, play with glitter glue, mix cookie dough and cake batter, and so on. Let your child use the playground sandbox or create your own at home, filling a bin with dry beans and rice or other materials and small toys. Cover and store the bin for future use.
Use child-friendly modeling material such as Play-Doh, Model Magic, and Sculpey (the classic Play-Doh Fun Factory provides excellent proprioceptive input as well). Never force a child who is unwilling to touch “yucky” substances. Let him use a paintbrush, stick, or even a toy for cautious exploration.
Dress up. Dress up in fun costumes to get used to the feel of unfamiliar clothing.
Here is a book entitled : The out-of-sync Child Has Fun –Activities for kids with sensory processing Disorder that is inspiring and practical book that will help develop and organize a child’s brain and body…. You can order at www. amazon.com