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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.
This resource on how to create a sensory diet is a good place to begin when it comes to creating a sensory plan that helps kids thrive and function in their daily tasks.
This related resource on breaking down goals is another tool you’ll want to add to your therapy toolbox to create a sensory diet. Likewise, consider the sensory diet for adults that can support adults with sensory needs.
To begin, read this blog on what is a sensory diet. You’ll discover that 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.
When it comes to benefits, a sensory diet is a means to adjust sensory input in relation to an individual’s needs.
There’s more to it, though.
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.
We use sensory diets for many reasons:
Specific needs- While a sensory diet offers specific sensory input at times in preparation for periods of poor regulation, the optimal sensory diet becomes a sensory lifestyle, in which the individual has a “bank” of sensory strategies at their disposal and can use those tools in preparation before a meltdown or crash occurs.
Individualized needs- No two individuals are alike. And, no two individuals will experience the same sensory needs. As a result every sensory diet will differ in sensory input, timing, and various other factors. Sensory diet activities provide appropriate sensory input based on the needs of an individual.
Balance- 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.
Position in Space- 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. Children that struggle because of underlying issues or developmental concerns may show difficulties with fine motor, gross motor, sensory processing, self regulation, executive function, creativity, and general life skills. It’s through a process of identifying specific sensory processing needs that these areas can be impacted.
Routines and Transitions- Having a better understanding of transitions for children, routines, and schedules may allow children to know what to expect in their day. A sensory diet offers this opportunity.
Confidence- When we offer children strategies that support their needs, they thrive. This is true for children of all abilities and skill levels. Involving kids in movement based and sensory activities allows them to connect with others, and learn about the world around them, how their body moves and interacts in daily tasks, and this offers confidnce and further skill-building, as well as overall competence.
Regulation Needs- 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.
Why Sensory Diets?
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.
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 are to:
Provide the child with predictable sensory information which helps organize the central nervous system.
Support social engagement, self-regulation, behavior organization, perceived competence, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
Inhibit and/or improve modulation of sensation within daily routines and environments.
Assist the child in processing a more organized response to sensory stimuli.
The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory processing information, each step of creating a meaningful and motivating sensory diet, that is guided by the individual’s personal interests and preferences.
The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is not just about creating a sensory diet to meet sensory processing needs. This handbook is your key to creating an active and thriving lifestyle based on a deep understanding of sensory processing.
Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to email@example.com.
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