Goals of a Sensory Diet | The OT Toolbox

Goals of a Sensory Diet

Have you ever had a professional mention the term "sensory diet"?  Have you wondered why a sensory diet would be used with kids?  This post describes the goals of a sensory diet for kids with sensory processing needs. 

Before we get started, I have news to share! I've been busy working on a new (BIG) project for you.  You'll see more sensory diet information here on the site because I've been putting together a strategy book for developing sensory diets!  This is going to be a resource for parents, teachers, therapists, and anyone who works with kids with sensory needs.  Be sure to join our mailing list so you can be the first to know more about this project! 

Why do kids need a sensory diet to help with sensory processing problems?


Sensory Diets for Sensory Processing Needs

Sensory diets are a commonly known strategy for addressing sensory needs.  The term “sensory diet” was coined by Patricia Wilbarger in 1984 to explain how certain sensory experiences can improve occupational performance and help to remediate disruption of the sensory processing systems.  A sensory diet is a means to adjust sensory input in relation to an individual’s needs.  

Sensory diets don't need to be a strict set of prescribed structured activities for every child.  They ARE a meaningful set of strategies for developing sensory programs that are meaningful, practical, carefully scheduled, and controlled in order to affect functioning.  

Sensory diet activities provide appropriate sensory input based on the needs of an individual.  Just as a healthy diet consists of a variety of foods, a sensory diet is a balanced set of sensory information that allows an individual to function.  A person cannot survive on broccoli alone.  Similarly, a child cannot function with only one type of sensory activities.

Sensory diets are not just for kids with identified sensory issues.  We all need a diet of sensory input.  Our bodies and minds instinctively know that varying sensory input allows us to function appropriately.  Neuro-typical children naturally seek out a variety of proprioceptive, vestibular, and tactile sensory input.  As a result, they are able to accept and regulate other sensory input such as a seam in their shirt, a lawnmower running outside their classroom, or the scent of chicken cooking in the kitchen.

Studies support the use of active participation in multi-sensory activities for at least 90 minutes per week to improve occupational performance and autism symptoms and behaviors (Fazlioglu & Baran, 2008; Thompson, 2011; Woo & Leon, 2013; Wuang, Wang, Huang, & Su 2010).  

Children who have a toolbox of sensory activities available to them for daily use may benefit from prescribed sensory activities.  These activities can be a part of and incorporated into the day in a natural way.


What is a sensory diet?

A sensory diet is a set of activities that are appropriate for an individual’s needs.  Specific and individualized activities that are specifically scheduled into a child’s day are used to assist with regulation of activity levels, attention, and adaptive responses.  

Sensory diet activities are prescribed based on the individual’s specific sensory needs.   Just as there are no two people that are alike, there are no two sensory diets that are alike.  

Every sensory diet will meet the specific needs whether in activity, position, intensity, time, sensory system, or type.  Additionally, a sensory diet can be modified throughout the day and based on variances in tasks.

A sensory diet needs to be specific with thoughtful regard to timing, frequency, intensity, and duration of sensory input.

Goals of a sensory diet


Goals of a sensory diet are to:

  1. Provide the child with predictable sensory information which helps organize the central nervous system.
  2. Support social engagement, self-regulation, behavior organization, perceived competence, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
  3.  Inhibit and/or improve modulation of sensation within daily routines and environments.
  4. Assist the child in processing a more organized response to sensory stimuli.



Reference:
Fazlioglu, Y., & Baran, G. (2008). A sensory integration therapy program on sensory problems for children with autism. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 106, 415–422. http://dx.doi.org/10.2466/PMS.106.2.415-422

Read more on sensory processing information here:


Sensory processing red flags for parents to help identify sensory needs in kids




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