What is a Sensory Diet?

A sensory diet is an individualized therapeutic program designed to help regulate sensory processing issues and improve overall functioning. A sensory diet can be used to help people with sensory processing disorders, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, anxiety, and other neurological disorders.

What is a sensory diet?  The Virtual Pediatric OT

Since the term “diet” invokes thoughts about food, a personalized sensory diet really should be called a personalized sensory activity plan. This plan revolves around a child's needs and is designed to provide the right activities with the right amount of sensory input the brain needs in order to function efficiently.

Sensory activities work well to help avoid autism sensory overload (which can also lead to eloping behaviors).

This plan consists of activities that provide sensory input at specific times throughout the day and are tailored to meet the needs of each individual. It can also be used to help anyone who needs to regulate their energy levels. With the right amount of sensory input, individuals can find greater balance and improved levels of functioning.

Being personalized for the individual is so important. Right now I see so many other professionals throwing the word “sensory”, sensory lists, and sensory activities around.

I call trying every sensory activity and technique out there that is not individualized to a child's sensory needs, and without professional evaluation and guidance, “sensory confetti”. We can not just throw confetti at deregulated alert states and expect great outcomes.

Benefits of a Sensory Diet

Sensory diets and activities can have many benefits. These include improved:

  • Attention and focus
  • Calmness and relaxation
  • Motor planning and coordination
  • Social skills
  • Communication and language development
  • Sensory integration
  • Self-regulation
  • Sleep
  • Overall well being

Types of Sensory Experiences

A sensory diet can include activities that provide vestibular input, proprioceptive, tactile, visual, olfactory, and auditory stimulation depending on a person's needs throughout the day.

Vestibular stimulation can be provided through activities like swinging, spinning, jumping, and bouncing.

Proprioceptive system input can be provided through activities like squeezing and pushing heavy objects.

Tactile input can be provided through activities like sensory brushing or massage.

Visual input can be provided through activities like looking at pictures or playing with puzzles.

Olfactory stimulation can be provided by smelling essential oils or food items.

Auditory input can be provided by listening to calming music or white noise.

Oral input can be provided with chew necklaces, crunchy foods, or gum.

Each individual will respond differently to the different types of sensory input and it is important to find out what works best for each person in order to maximize the effectiveness of their sensory diet.

A well-designed sensory diet can help avoid sensory meltdowns.

Aromatherapy can be part of a sensory diet

How to Create a Sensory Diet

In order to create a sensory diet, first you need to know what sensory inputs the person needs or enjoys. This can be determined by observing the person’s behavior and interests, as well as through trial and error.

An occupational therapist trained in sensory processing difficulties or sensory integration therapy and has extensive experience with children or adults with sensory processing needs can easily determine a person's needs.

Alternatively, a person's needs can be determined through the use of standardized tests such as the Sensory Processing Measure SPM. These tests still require skilled interpretation by an occupational therapist.

Once you know what sensory inputs the person needs or enjoys, you can then create a plan of activities that will provide these inputs. The activities should be tailored to the individual’s preferences and abilities. It is important to make sure that the activities are engaging and enjoyable so that they will be more likely to participate in them. The frequency and duration of each activity should also be taken into consideration when creating a sensory diet.

It is also important to remember that a sensory diet is not meant to be a rigid structure but rather an ever-evolving plan that is adapted over time as needed. It should also be noted that it may take some time for the person to adjust to their new sensory diet, so it is important to have patience and remain flexible during this process.

Additionally, the term “diet” refers to providing and completing these activities throughout the day.

Tools for Sensory Input

There are a variety of tools and toys that can be used to provide sensory input for children or adults with autism, ADHD, or sensory processing disorder. Examples include weighted blankets, therapy balls, tactile toys, music, and aromatherapy.

Each of these tools can be used to provide different types of sensory input for the individual. It is important to remember that each person is unique and may respond differently to different types of sensory input.

In order to properly implement a sensory diet, it is important to consult with an occupational therapist who will be able to assess the individual’s needs and determine which type of sensory input would be most beneficial for them.

They will also be able to help you create an individualized plan that takes into consideration the person’s preferences, abilities, and goals.

Pop it Toy Fidget
Many like using fidgets to increase attention while seated for long periods of time. Adults and children alike!

Sensory Diet Activities

There are a variety of activities that can be used as part of an autism sensory diet. Examples include deep-pressure massage, sensory brushing, joint compressions, heavy work, and stretching.

Additionally, activities such as yoga and swimming can also provide beneficial sensory input.

Other activities such as playing with playdough or slime can also be used to help provide sensory information.

Finally, activities such as listening to music or taking a bath can also provide calming and soothing sensory input.

Can Adults Benefit from a Sensory Diet?

Yes! Many adults create their own sensory diet. But very often it helps to know that including more sensory activities into your day is important.

What are Examples of Sensory Diet Activities for Adults?

These can include:

  • Exercise – running, walking, yoga, and weightlifting are great forms of proprioceptive input.
  • Fidgets – tactile input
  • Ball chairs – vestibular stimulation
  • Gum – oral input
  • Massages – are great forms of deep pressure input.
  • Aromatherapy – olfactory
  • Soft music or headphones- auditory
Yoga can be a fabulous addition to a sensory diet

These are all examples of adult sensory diet activities.

Sensory Diet Resources

1. Consult with a Pediatric Occupational Therapist: An occupational therapist can provide individualized assessment and guidance for creating a sensory diet. (How to find the right occupational therapy for children near you).

2. Consider Preferences: When creating a sensory diet, it is important to consider the individual’s preferences in terms of activities and types of sensory input.

3. Monitor Progress: It is important to monitor the individual’s progress when implementing a sensory diet to ensure that it is providing the desired benefits.

4. Be Flexible: A sensory diet plan should be flexible and able to accommodate changes as needed.

5. Seek Support: It is important to seek out support from family, friends, and professionals when implementing a sensory diet plan for an individual.

Does your child have a hard time staying calm?

Is it a meltdown or a tantrum?

Learn the differences so you can respond with confidence!

Meltdown or tantrum download

A sensory diet is an individualized therapeutic program designed to help regulate sensory issues and improve overall functioning. Since the term “diet” invokes thoughts about food and thus really should be called a sensory activity plan to provide the right activities the brain needs to be provided with the right amount of sensory input in order to function efficiently. This plan consists of activities that provide sensory input at specific times throughout the day and can be tailored to meet the needs of each individual.

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