If you have been following along here on The OT Toolbox recently, then you may have seen some of our recent sensory diet resources. We’ve shared a lot of information about creating a sensory diet. There is a valid reason. Besides the growing need for sensory support for kids with sensory processing disorder or sensory challenges, there is a real need for parents and teachers to understand exactly what a sensory diet is and how it can help address sensory needs.
The tips below are strategies for creating a sensory diet that can be effective and helpful in enabling a successful sensory lifestyle. Understanding how does a sensory diet help is many times, the first step in addressing sensory related needs!
Whether you are wondering exactly what a sensory diet entails or why a sensory diet can be effective in addressing underlying sensory needs, knowing how to create a sensory diet using the tools a child needs is essential.
Below, you’ll find answers to questions about how to create a sensory diet and what exactly a sensory diet is. If you are wondering how does a sensory diet work, then read on!
Sidenote: Over the last week as we’ve led up to the release of The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook, we’ve shared some amazing free resources. You can still grab those tools below. They are just a sample of the type of tips and tactics found in The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook. These are a great starting point for knowing how to start a sensory diet.
Get your free sensory resources here:
What is a sensory diet?
First, it can be helpful to explain exactly what a sensory diet is. A sensory diet is a specific set of sensory activities designed to meet specific needs of the individual. Creation of a sensory diet requires assessment and trial followed by analysis and continued monitoring of strategies and their effectiveness.
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. A sensory-based strategy guide can help.
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.
A sensory diet is a meaningful set of strategies for developing sensory programs that are 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.
Why use a sensory diet?
Sensory diets are effective for addressing many sensory-related behaviors. Just a few reasons for using a sensory diet may include:
Difficulty with transitions
Resistance to textures/food/clothing
Poor social Interactions
How to create a sensory diet
There is more to a sensory diet than applying sensory input or encouraging a child to participate in sensory play activities. Knowing how and why a sensory diet should be created is essential to success, safety, and carryover of sensory strategies.
As individuals, we tend to choose activities and experiences that are pleasurable. We enjoy snuggling up under a thick blanket at the end of the day. We tend to shy away from unpleasant sensations such as a static shock that happens every time we use that certain blanket.
Likewise, some of us are thrill seekers and enjoy experiences like jumping from airplanes or bungee jumping. Others like to stay firmly on the ground and play it safe when it comes to leisure activities.
Similarly, our clients or children who struggle with sensory processing can present with different preferences, as discussed in The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook.
Steps to Create a Sensory Diet
The key to successful integration of a sensory diet is ensuring the clinical strategizing and application are fit into the specific needs of the individual. However, combining the needs of an individual with interests and preference along with application of specific steps ensures successful creation of a sensory diet.
Step 1: Analyze/Identify- The first level in creation of a sensory diet requires identification of sensory related behaviors, attention issues related to impaired sensory input, challenges with focus or emotional regulation as a result of sensory needs, or meltdowns that impair functioning.
This level of sensory diet creation requires assessment and identification of each challenging issue. Sensory behaviors should be identified and charted. This includes jotting down when specific behaviors occur, the setting where meltdowns occur, and antecedent to the behavior.
Sensory related issues can be charted in a methodological manner or they can simply be written down on a scrap paper. The point is to identify the issues through analyzation and to record them.
The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook contains printable data collection forms that can be used to analyze and identify sensory-related actions, behaviors, and resulting issues.
Step 2: Strategize/Reasoning- The next level in creating a sensory diet involves identifying the “why” behind the behaviors. Is it an unmet sensory need that causes a child to bolt down the hallway? Is the reason the child chews on all of their clothes because they need more proprioceptive input?
After dysfunctional behaviors are identified, the reason behind the behaviors should be described.
In The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook, you will find printable sensory-based behavior screening tools that can be used to identify the underlying sensory needs leading to a behavior or action. Additionally, resources in the book allow for strategizing to address existing sensory challenges for an individual. The best part is that the pages can be printed off and used over and over again for a single individual or for many individuals.
Step 3: Apply/Trial Various Sensory Strategies- In this stage of sensory diet development, strategies need to be trialed for effectiveness within the lifestyle of the child and family. Sensory strategies need to be incorporated as indicated across a variety of settings, based on various sensory needs as they change throughout the day.
Each strategy should be assessed for effectiveness. A simple checklist can be completed in the classroom or at home. When a sensory strategy is determined to work, that activity can be added to the child’s sensory diet.
If a particular sensory activity is determined to be ineffective, return to level one.
As adults who work with or raise children, we know the fluidity of childhood. Needs, strengths, interests, environment, and other areas can change as a child develops and grows. In the same manner, a sensory diet needs fluidity. Applying various strategies at different levels of growth in a child is a must.
Readers of The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook will find the Sensory Diet Schedule in the Addendum of the book to be a useful tool in creating a checklist for sensory diet activities. This is another series of printable pages that can be utilized over and over again as needed.
Step 4: Monitor- At this stage in development of a sensory diet, strategies should be monitored for effectiveness. Strategies should be monitored on a frequent basis with regard to effectiveness. As part of the monitoring process, a subjective assessment can be completed by adults who oversee the child’s sensory diet strategies.
Additionally, carryover of sensory strategies must be monitored. A list of prescribed activities that are not completed because they require exhaustive effort are not an effective strategy within the life of a family.
Carryover of sensory strategies is extremely important in both the home and in the classroom. If activities are not able to be carried out, then a different sensory strategy should be incorporated into the child’s sensory diet.
When using The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook to create and monitor sensory diets, users will find the Daily Sensory Diet Sheet and the Sensory Diet Schedule to be effective tools for carryover and monitoring strategies.
Use the Sensory Diet Effectiveness Tool, found in the Addendum of this book, to monitor sensory diet results and strategies. This form should be completed after a sensory diet has been in effect for two weeks.
If creating a sensory diet and turning it into a sensory lifestyle sounds like a strategy that is needed in your home, classroom, or clinic, then The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a tool that you may need to get there! Check out more on The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook HERE.
The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a strategy guide for sensory processing needs. With valuable insight into the sensory system and the whole child, the book details how sensory diets can be incorporated into a lifestyle of sensory success.
The tools in this book provide intervention strategies to support and challenge the sensory systems through meaningful and authentic sensory diet tactics based on the environment, interests, and sensory needs of each individual child.
So often, we hear that sensory recommendations are not carried over into the home or classroom. The tips and tools in The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook uses child-led interests and daily life interactions so kids WANT to participate in sensory diet activities their bodies need…because it’s part of play!