What you need to know about Sensory Swings

Sensory swings

If you’ve ever walked into an occupational therapy gym, you may have seen a variety of sensory swings and wondered, “why does occupational therapy swing kids in their OT sessions?” There are many reasons why, and in this blog post, we’ll cover sensory swings, the best sensory swings to use for sensory needs, and why!

Sensory swings for sensory input and occupational therapy swings used in OT sessions

Sensory Swing Movements

Swings are simply a great tool for sensory input as well as sensory integration. The predictability of linear swinging can be calming and settling for the children who need that support.  For more information on the theory and background on this concept, check out our blog post on Ayres Sensory Integration.

Having the swing perform unpredictable moves such as rocking, spinning, side to side movement, and even start and stop movements while suspended in air, can be very alerting and stimulating for the children who need that support.

In our blog post, Sensory Swings for Modulation you will read how powerful the swing can be when used as a sensory strategy for individual sensory processing needs and modulation. 

There are many considerations when it comes to sensory swings, however. A swing can be a tool for modulation but it can also cause sensory dysregulation in users.

Dysregulation refers to internal needs of the sensory systems that result in meltdown because the sensory processing system is out of balance.

You might find that only 5 minutes of intense swinging leads to dysregulated sensory system with overstimulation. This state can require a long period of time and intervention to get the individual to reset or calm down.

When it comes to sensory swings, different types of movements can impact modulation or dysregulation. It’s important to be aware of these considerations before using a sensory swing as a tool in therapy.

Each individual will be different and it can be a delicate balance of movements that are stimulating verses calming. A swing for one child might spiral into dysregulation with a lengthy period of time and calming input required to regulate the sensory systems. Other individuals may crave intense movements and can benefit from that swing input for a longer period of time, allowing for functional participation.

Alerting sensory swing movements

In general, fast rotary vestibular input is often stimulating. Likewise, quick and sporadic movements on the swing are stimulating.

The vestibular sense which is utilized during swing use helps to activate more body awareness, muscle tone, balance, and coordination as well as providing a level of increased alertness. If you want to learn more about vestibular activities in general, you can read the blog post Vestibular Activities.

Calming sensory swing movements

Calming or regulating sensory swing movements may include gentle, linear movement to calm the vestibular system. These swing pushes should be rhythmical and linear movement as these are more calming swing movements.

The proprioceptive sense can be activated during swing use by reclining in a swing and rocking rhythmically in a swing providing deep pressure input to the body can help soothe strong emotions and decrease engine levels of high alertness. This helps with self-regulation and body control. 

You can see that there are many different variables and each individual will require independent assessment from a qualified professional. This is why simply adding a sensory swing to a sensory room in a school can be a detriment to all of the students. School administrators and educators should always consult the occupational therapy professional before using a sensory swing in the school environment.

Types of sensory swings in occupational therapy and activities to do with sensory swings

Occupational therapy Swings

Sensory processing is not the only area that can be addressed with the use of swings.

How you utilize a swing and even the type of swing you use, can help a child to work on core and upper extremity strengthening, balance, visual processing, bilateral coordination, motor planning, righting reactions, body awareness, position in space, gross motor coordination, neck extension, eye-hand or eye-foot coordination, and visual tracking.

When working with occupational therapy swings, each child is different in their needs and their preferences and it is up to you as the OT professional to determine what is needed and what needs to be worked on for skill development.

It is also your role as the OT practitioner to guide and educate other professionals and parents of children to ensure the child’s needs are being met properly and that safety measures are being utilized.

Now, two questions for you regarding those OT swings:

  1. Do you know what swing to use for the kiddos you see in therapy? 
  1. Do you often ask what activity can I do while they are on this swing so they will continue to remain motivated?

Types of Sensory Swings

Well, let’s take a look at six of the most common therapy swings utilized in occupational therapy clinics and therapy rooms in schools. These types of sensory swings can be used for various reasons and in a variety of sensory swing activities.

Also, there are swings that parents can use indoors or outdoors to address a child’s sensory needs.  If you read our post Outdoor Sensory Swing you will learn how taking sensory play activities into the outdoors will provide children with many outdoor sensory experiences just by using the world around us.

If purchasing a sensory swing is just simply too expensive to think about, read all about how you can use the playground equipment to address Sensory Integration at the Playground with the guidance of the therapist to meet each child’s needs.  

There is no best sensory swing of this list, rather, each type of sensory swing has it’s own specific uses and benefits to supporting the needs of the individual user.

Bolster Sensory Swing

A Bolster swing (affiliate link) is a type of sensory swing that challenges balance, vestibular processing, motor planning, cervical extension endurance, proximal control/stability, and core strengthening, The child can lie prone, inverted, kneel, sit or straddle the swing. 

Bolster Swing Activities:

  1. Have a child work on hanging inverted like a koala bear and then time them to see if they can meet or beat their last best time.
  2. Have a child kneel on the bolster while hanging on and then attempt to toss bean bags into a basket.  
  3. Have a child straddle the bolster swing like a horse and use a reacher to pick up bean bags from the floor and then try to toss them into a basket using the reacher to toss.
  4. Spread balls around on the floor under the swing and have the children lie prone on the swing and attempt to reach out to pick up the balls and place them in a basket. You will move the swing around as needed.

Ladder Sensory Swing

A Climbing ladder swing (affiliate link) provides the challenge of motor planning while simultaneously working on balance, strength, and body awareness. The child simply works to climb the ladder from the bottom to the top and then back down again. It adds the fun of swinging while providing a challenging workout.

Ladder Swing Activities:

  1. Place a bucket or basket filled with puzzle pieces, letters, shapes, or other items at the top of the ladder for a child to retrieve one at a time by climbing up and down the ladder swing. Then, have them either put the pieces into the puzzle base or practice writing the letter or drawing the shape before going back up the ladder to grab the next item. 
  2. An adult can stabilize the bottom of the swing by holding it steady while the child climbs or an adult can slightly twist and turn the ladder swing while the child attempts to climb up and down. It’s called the ship on the rocky seas! 
  3. Place two or three articles of clothing at the top of the ladder and have the child retrieve one at a time and when they get to the bottom they can work on zipping, buttoning, or snapping!

Hammock Swing

A Cuddle hammock swing (affiliate link) (also called a cocoon swing), is a calming type of sensory swing that provides proprioceptive input, assists with soothing strong emotions, and gives a nice deep pressure input which is calming and grounding for some children. This swing can be an easy first swing for children who need more gross motor support and are fearful of the movement other swings provide.  The Lycra-type material allows children to sit, stand, or lie in the swing making it a highly versatile swing. 

Hammock Swing/ Cocoon Swing Activities:

  1. Have a child lie prone with their head and arms positioned outside the swing. This position creates a form of weight bearing through their arms and works on full upper body strengthening. They will work to pull and push themselves using the floor while inside the swing. 
  2. Place items around on the floor under the hammock just out of the reach of the child and then have them pull themselves along the floor to reach the items, such as bean bags, to toss into a basket. 
  3. Have the child lie prone and then grasp and hold your hands while you are seated on the floor in front of them. They will pull themselves toward you to shift the swing back and forth. 
  4. Have the child lie supine and reach up to remove clothespins that are clipped on the edge of the swing. The swing provides body support but works on building upper extremity strength and endurance as the child works against gravity to reach up. You can alternate activities and have the child place the clothespins instead.
  5. Have the child recline or lie within the swing and simply do deep breathing or mediation exercises while slowly swinging back and forth. 

Pod Swing

A Hanging pod swing (affiliate link) provides vestibular input, assists with balance, and makes a nice cozy pod that gives children a sense of calm regulation and relaxation to just simply cool inside. This swing can serve as a good first swing as it allows for seated support while simply swinging slowly and provides more comfort to children who may be more fearful of the freedom of other types of swings. 

Pod Swing Activities:

  1. Try turning off the lights, playing soft music, and have a child hold a small fidget or light-up toy while swinging slowly back and forth as they stay cuddled inside. 
  2. Place a pillow inside of the pod swing and have the child climb inside to provide a cushy, deep pressure input while swinging slowly and rhythmically in a linear fashion.
  3. Blowing bubbles for the child to watch while seated in the swing provides a calming feel as the motion of the bubbles will be slow as they descend. 
  4. Have the child sit in the swing and complete deep breathing or mediation exercises while slowly swinging back and forth. 

Platform Swing

We covered specifics about platform swings on a related blog post.

A Platform swing (affiliate links) (or this version of a platform swing with net base or material platform base) is the most common swing found in therapy settings and provides the opportunity for calming and alerting to get the child’s engine right where it needs to be for a treatment or classroom session. It is highly versatile as it can help a child build upper body strengthening, core strengthening, balance, and motor planning. 

Platform Swing Activities: 

  1. Use this unstable surface swing to challenge a child’s body positioning to include side-lying, tummy time, tall kneeling, standing, criss-cross sitting, long sitting, and partial kneeling. 
  2. Have the child lie prone with their head and arms positioned over the edge. Then have them walk with the upper extremities around the floor picking up puzzle pieces to place in the puzzle base located in a central location. Pieces are picked up one at a time. 
  3. Place different colored bean bags in a circle on the floor around the swing. Call out different colors and have the child rotate themselves while lying prone on the swing and using their hands to walk around on the floor to stop at each color called out.  Letters and shapes can be used for this activity too.
  4. Place cones on an elevated surface and while the child is either lying prone or in a quadruped position, have them reach out to drop rings onto the cones. 
  5. Have the child sit criss-cross in the center and toss a beach ball to themselves.

Trapeze swing (affiliate link) provides a good opportunity to work on upper extremity strength and endurance, gross grasp skills, trunk strength, and motor planning. If you add lower extremity work also, then you address upper and lower body coordination. 

Activities:

  1. While swinging or not, encourage a child to hold and lift their legs to kick a ball.
  2. While swinging, the child can simply jump over a therapy ball that is placed inside of a tire tube. 
  3. Simply work with a child on grasping and swinging while pumping the swing with their own feet. 
  4. While swinging or not, have a child hold on and lift their legs to kick a set of bowling pins or have them attempt to pick up each bowling pin with their feet and place them in a basket. 
  5. While swinging the child, can work on timing and release to let go and crash into a crash pad.

Sensory Swing Tips

What do you do with all of this information and activity ideas? Go get onto a swing and try out some of these fun activities! That’s right, we as adults need to have some fun too!

But, after you’ve tried them, demonstrate them to the kiddos as they will most likely be more motivated to do the same activity after they see YOU do it. After all, you and I both know that the best way to teach a child is by setting a good example and you’ll get to have some fun in the process! It’s a win-win folks! 

One tip for using a sensory swing in a therapy session can include a visual schedule with a plan that helps the individual with regulation needs. It can include swinging, then heavy work, music, blowing bubbles, dim lights, heavy rhythmic play, and deep breathing. All of these sensory tools regulate the system and can calm the system after the movement from the sensory swing. This is just one example and each individual will benefit from different strategies.

Be sure to take a look at the maximum pounds allowed for some swings as you’ll want to be sure that it will work for all of your kiddos before purchasing.

Always supervise children while on swings especially when rotary swinging as this can instigate seizure activity in some children.

sensory swing safety

There are important things to remember when it comes to sensory swing safety. Safety considerations for sensory swings relate to both in the clinic and, with the ready availability of purchasing a sensory swing online, in the home as well.

Remember these sensory swing safety tips:

  1. Installing a sensory swing- Always read the manufacturer’s instructions and follow them carefully. Different types of sensory swings may have different weight limits, installation requirements, and safety recommendations. You may need specific installation parts for sensory swings, especially considering the weight of the user and how the sensory swing will be used.
  2. Support structures for sensory swings- Make sure the swing is securely anchored to a strong support structure. The support structure should be able to handle the weight of the swing, the child, and any additional equipment or accessories.
  3. Monitor the sensory swing for signs of wear and tear- Check the condition of the swing and its components regularly. Look for any signs of wear and tear, such as frayed ropes, torn fabric, or rusted hardware. Replace any damaged parts immediately.
  4. Supervision during sensory swing use- Always supervise your child while they are using the swing. Never leave them unattended, even for a short time.
  5. Educate the user on how to get on and off the swing, and how to use a sensory swing- Teach your child how to use the swing safely. Show them how to sit or lie down properly, how to hold on to the ropes or chains, and how to get in and out of the swing safely. This is especially important for particular positioning such as laying in supine (on belly) or when spinning is used in the sensory swing. Teach your child and other children using the swing to watch for signs of overuse.
  6. Where to put a sensory swing- Make sure the swing is set up in a safe and open area. The area around the swing should be clear of any obstacles or hazards, such as furniture, sharp objects, or hard surfaces.
  7. Other safety equipment- Consider using a safety harness or seat belt to keep your child secure in the swing. This can be especially important for children who have difficulty sitting still or have balance or coordination issues. You can also consider padding around the swing area on walls using gymnastic pads or wall padding, or cushioning pillows of pads on the floor.
  8. Upkeep- Keep the swing clean and dry. Wipe down the fabric or other materials with a damp cloth and allow it to air dry between uses.
  9. Consider overuse and type of use- If your child has any medical or physical conditions, consult with their healthcare provider before using a sensory swing. They can provide guidance on whether the swing is appropriate and safe for your child’s needs.
  10. Lastly, trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right or safe, don’t use the swing until you can address the issue or seek guidance from a qualified professional.

Therapy Swings- What to watch for

When using a therapy swing of any kind, it is a must to watch for overuse or overstimulation. This is because the sensory input of a therapy swing/sensory swing can be very overwhelming.

Particularly with rotary input, a therapy swing (either at home or in the clinic setting or in a sensory room in the school setting) can lead to overstimulation, dizziness, agitation, hyperactivity, fatigue, or other considerations. For this reason, it’s very important to limit rotary input to a specific set of minutes which should be monitored throughout use of the therapy swing.

Also, it’s extremely important for therapy swings to be used under the guidance and recommendation of a pediatric occupational therapy professional.

While sensory swings can be beneficial for children with sensory processing issues, overuse or improper use can potentially cause harm. Here are some things to watch for with sensory swing overuse:

  1. Dizziness or nausea: Rapid or repetitive swinging can cause dizziness or nausea, especially in children who are sensitive to motion.
  2. Overstimulation: While sensory swings can be calming for some children, they can also be overstimulating for others. Overstimulation can cause anxiety, irritability, or difficulty with attention and focus.
  3. Fatigue: Prolonged use of a sensory swing can cause muscle fatigue or soreness, especially in children who have weak muscle tone or low endurance.
  4. Agitation or hyperactivity: Some children may become overly excited or hyperactive after using a sensory swing, which can make it difficult for them to transition to other activities or tasks.
  5. Risk-taking behavior: Children who become overly confident or adventurous on a sensory swing may engage in risky behavior, such as jumping off or swinging too high, which can lead to injuries.
  6. Increased dependence: Overuse of a sensory swing may cause a child to become overly reliant on the swing for sensory input or emotional regulation, which can interfere with their ability to develop coping skills or self-regulation strategies.

If you notice any of these symptoms or concerns with your child’s use of a sensory swing, it may be a sign of overuse or improper use. Consider reducing the amount of time your child spends on the swing, or consulting with a healthcare provider or occupational therapist for guidance on how to adjust or modify the use of the swing to better meet your child’s needs.

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.

Regina Allen

Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!

Fidget Kits for Travel and On-the- Go Sensory

fidget kits

Do you know a kiddo that LOVES all things fidget toys? This Fidget Kit is a DIY Travel Sensory Kit that is perfect for on-the-go sensory needs for kids with Sensory Processing Disorders children or those who are Autistic and prefer sensory fidget items. Let’s cover fidget kits, just one occupational therapy kit that meets specific needs.

Read on for tips to help with sensory issues while out and about, how to use and set up a fidget kit, and why fidget kits are a great sensory tool for self-regulation, a sensory diet (based on meaningful and motivating sensory strategies (aka a sensory lifestyle), or sensory needs. 

Sensory fidget kits

What are Fidget Kits

A fidget kit is essentially a collection of fidgets that can be used to meet sensory needs and can be used as a movement break to incorporate specific sensory motor actions into daily functional tasks. Fidget kits may contain squeeze toys, fidget items, pop toys, putty, slap bracelets, Rubix cubes, stress balls, and many other fidget items. These sensory items can be housed in a box, bin, tote bag, shoe box, or any small carrying case. Fidget kits can be used by occupational therapy professionals with a whole caseload of clients, or a fidget kit can be individualized based on one person’s specific sensory preferences.

Fidget toys support self-regulation and sensory needs so that kids can pay attention, focus, learn, and interact with others. Some fidgets offer heavy work through the hands. Others offer movement for the hands or body.

A fidget kit can be used in many different ways:

  1. A fidget kit can be used in a sensory corner of a classroom as a calm down area.
  2. Or, a collection of sensory fidgets can be used by one individual for meeting various needs.
  3. Other times, a fidget kit is used as a choice, where use of a sensory tool is selected from a bin or bag of sensory fidget items. In this case, a visual schedule may be incorporated into the fidget toolbox.

We’ve shared various collections of fidget toy recommendations here on the website in previous years.

These types of fidget toys are all excellent additions to a fidget kit:

Occupational Therapy Fidget Kits

Occupational therapy practitioners know the benefit of carrying a collection of intervention tools in their therapy bag. They create a collection of materials designed to meet various needs on their caseloads. OTs make handwriting kits, scissor skills kits, auditory kits, functional skills kits, and even themed OT kits, or seasonal kits. Each therapy kit contains materials and activities designed to make therapy sessions fun and innovative. A fidget kit is no different!

Why use fidget kits?

Have you ever been out shopping the day before Christmas Eve when the entire city is packing everything from pineapples to pickles in their carts?  And while you wear your itchy winter coat and drippy boots, the carts bump into aisles, people are talking everywhere, and buzzes, dings, and noise are everywhere.  

It is utterly unorganized chaos.   Now imagine you have difficulty ignoring those beeps and buzzes.  That itchy wool coat is SO there.  The people talk and talk and you hear them all.  The utterly unorganized chaos makes you feel so out of sorts that you can’t help but breakdown, throwing yourself on the floor, and trying to make it all go away.  

Children who live with a Sensory Processing Disorder experience situations like this every day.  It doesn’t have to be a busy holiday for the environment to be too much for their body to organize.  It is everyday life for SPD kiddos.  They over or under process environmental stimulation at the bus stop, in the library, in a restaurant, or while waiting with Mom at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The disruption of typical processing can occur at minor or severe levels, but is always a struggle.     

Use of a specialized sensory diet can help with over or under sensory responses while out and about.  Specific sensory inputs can help to organize these inappropriate sensory responses.

Treatment of Sensory Processing Disorder with a Sensory Diet To treat these responses to input, Occupational Therapists perform an assessment of individual abilities and needs.  Using information from evaluation, they establish a diet of sensory integration activities to organize sensory systems so that appropriate and meaningful responses occur. Function and purposeful responses to sensory input in all settings are the goals of sensory integration and sensory diets.  

A sensory diet is highly specific to the needs of a child with sensory processing disorder.  Sensory diet activities should be specialized to the meet the child’s regulation needs.  Items that are often times found on a sensory diet include activities like wall push-ups, jumping on a trampoline, vacuuming, pillow sandwiches, and kneading play dough (among tons of other ideas!)    But how do you do these sensory diet activities while in a classroom, car, restaurant, or in a while waiting for appointments? 

This is where a fidget kit comes into play, that can help with sensory needs and can go anywhere.

How to set up classroom fidget kits

How to use a fidget kit in schools

When I started working in school-based therapy in 2000, long before the craze of fidget toys, I created a set of fidget kits for each classroom in one school that I served.

As the occupational therapist in this school, I worked with many of the children in various classrooms on my caseload. However, I knew the benefit of using fidget items during specified times in the classroom.

The kits were contained within a clear plastic shoebox with a lid. There would be a list of materials in the kit and a sign out sheet if students removed an item to use at their desk.

Because I knew the students on my caseload in each classroom, and their sensory preferences, I was able to select specific sensory tools to place in each classroom’s fidget kit. Then, I added additional materials that may benefit the general population of the classroom. These items included things like stress balls, a string of paperclips, a bead on a keychain ring, a fidget desk strip, wacky tracks (clicking string of blocks), finger trap, and Koosh ball.

I offered a quick in-service to each teacher on the fidget kit that I created for their own classroom. I introduced the fidget kit, showed them the items in the kit and how to use them, and quickly explained the benefits of using a fidget kit to support attention, focus, sensory, and regulation needs in the classroom.

I explained preferred sensory tools for the students on my caseload and when they may use the materials to best support their education.

I also quickly explained that we all (whether receiving OT services or not) use sensory strategies all day long throughout our day to regulation, to focus, attend, deal with anxiety, or even boredom. For most of us, this fidgeting, or sensory breaks, looks like getting a cool drink of water, standing up after sitting for a long time, taking a deep breath, sitting up strait, stretching, clicking out pen, or jiggling a leg.

Finally, I instructed teachers to use the supports as they deemed fit within their classroom. This way, the kit was used correctly within the classroom.

Consult time with students was spent identifying needs and making changes to the individual student’s items and supports.

At the end of the school year, I collected all of the kits and saved them for the next school year. These sensory kits were a success with every teacher and were requested again at the start of the next school year.

How to make a sensory kit

Sensory fidgeting breaks support learning and paying attention for all individuals and using a kit of fidget tools can support the entire classroom. Plus, another benefit to using a kit with the whole classroom is the normalization of the fidget tools as a generalized support, and using the tools correctly, and not as a means to gain attention. Still other students may feel as if they are being watched when using the fidget tools and when the entire classroom has fidget time, the use is less ostracizing.

The benefit of creating fidget kits for schools is that you can put the items in any container that suits the needs of the students. Some can even travel from classroom to classroom. Try these ideas:

  • Plastic shoe box
  • Mini tote bag
  • Pencil box
  • Pencil pouch

fidget kit

This post contains affiliate links.

sensory fidget kit

This travel sensory diet is perfect for on-the-go sensory needs.  We made a small tote bag with fun paint and used it to create a travel sensory diet.  A tote of this size can be slid into a big purse, carried by the child, or carted around in the minivan.  

The best thing about this travel sensory diet is that you can switch out activities so that new regulating items are added in and old favorites remain.    

Travel Sensory Diet Bag for on-the-go-sensory needs

What goes in a fidget Kit?

 A fidget kit can be made up of any sensory motor item!

Some common sensory items include movement based fine motor or activities that offer heavy work through the hands, or Proprioception Activities Related articles: Proprioception and the hands impacts pencil pressure, and can be a great way to add a quick heavy work brain break.

  • Bungee cord or Exercise band (affiliate link).  These can be used by arms or legs while sitting or standing. 
  • 1 pound wrist weight:  This is an important addition to a travel sensory bag.  The weight provides proprioceptive input as the child carries the bag. Sometimes, just carrying the tote bag can be enough to regulate sensory needs. 
  • Other ideas include wearing the weight on the wrist, ankle, placed on the lap, or draped over shoulders.
  • Use the weight of the bag as input: While seated, hang the loop of the handles over a knee for weight down through the calf and into the foot.  Switch legs after a while.
  • Hang the bag on one shoulder, then the other.
  • Hold the loops of the bag by the hand as if carrying a suitcase. Switch hands often.
  • Hold the loops of the bag by individual fingers.

Oral Fidget Items

  • Sugar free hard candy
  • Sugar Free gum
  • Eat dried fruit, bagel pieces, popcorn, pretzels, or raisins
  • Kazoo (affiliate link)
    (take the paper out for less noise!)
  • Chew Toy ” or Chew Necklace (affiliate links)

Scent Fidget Tools

  • Small bottle of scented lotion

Tactile Fidgets

  • Fidget with sensory koosh balls.
  • Pipe cleaners twisted together make a great fidget toy.
  • Beaded Keychain Friends (affiliate link)
    for fidgeting
  • Small Scrub Brush (affiliate link)
    (The pictured brush is used in the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol.  An Occupational Therapist should train you in this treatment
  • Baby wipe to wipe the face, arms, hands to “wake up” the skin.
  • Fidget items (affiliate link)- The nice thing that is different than in 2000 is that Amazon now has large kits of items available that can be distributed into various smaller kits and recirculated among classrooms.

Vestibular Fidgets

  • Heavy work activity cards
  • Hang the head and arms down between the legs to touch the floor.
  • Arm windmills
  • Twisting walks: Twist at the waist as the child walks.

Other sensory diet ideas that work while on-the-go

These are fidget kit ideas to have on hand that don’t require any equipment. these are sensory strategies that can be “pulled out” anywhere to support attention, focus, emotional needs, or sensory needs.

  • Carry grocery bags.
  • Push shopping carts.
  • Bend over hand hang the head and arms down to the ground.
  • Find a wall for wall push-ups.
  • Hug from a loved one.
  • Chew gum.
  • Drink from a straw.
  • Carry a sports bottle with crushed ice for resistive sucking and chewing ice.
  • March down a hallway.
  • Duck walks.
  • Find stairs and climb them.
  • “Mountain Climb” up a stairwell banister.
  • Use a coat as a sensory wrapper.  Wrap the child up like a sensory burrito with an extra coat.
  • “Prayer Stretch”  Press the palms of the hands together and press hard.
  • “Spider Finger” Stretches” Place fingertips of both hands together and stretch fingers up and down.
  • Spin in a chair (if at a doctor’s office).
  • Chair Push ups.
  • Weighted vest for situations that you know will cause sensory overload.
  • Headphones to cut out background noise.  
Travel Sensory Diet Bag for on-the-go-sensory needs

  This on-the-go travel sensory bag can go everywhere from the doctor’s office with the too-hot waiting room and buzzing fluorescent lights to the hair salon with the noisy dryers and itchy hair clippings.  

Travel Sensory Diet Bag for on-the-go-sensory needs


This post is part of our 31 Days of Occupational Therapy series where you can find free or almost free treatment activities and ideas.  Stop by every day!  You’ll find more fun ideas each day in October.

Looking for more sensory integration ideas?  These are some of my favorite:

Dinosaur-Sized Sensory Feelings and Proprioception Activities

  Oobleck in the Marble Run

Oobleck in the Marble Run

 Alphabet Discovery Bottle

Alphabet Discovery Bottle

Fidgeting During Homework

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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

Goals of a Sensory Diet

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

Sensory strategies that are motivating can be a big help for some kids. Try these train themed sensory activity ideas.

Why Use a Sensory Diet?

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.


Related Read: Here are more sensory-based tricks and tips that help with meltdowns.


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.

Add these resources to the ones you can find here under sensory diet vestibular activities to meet the sensory needs of all kids. 

 
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
 
 

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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

Outdoor Sensory Activities

outdoor sensory activities

Have you ever considered what a wealth of sensory input there is in outdoor sensory play? Here, you’ll find outdoor sensory activities that would make a great addition to outdoor occupational therapy sessions, or just sensory input through playing outdoors! Consider taking the benefits of sensory play and moving them to an environment with differences in sounds, temperatures, textures, surfaces. You end up with a functional space that invites motor and sensory development!

Previously, we’ve shared how to go on a sensory nature walk, but this resource covers much more in the way of outdoor occupational therapy activities to support needs.

Outdoor sensory activities to support sensory processing

Outdoor Sensory Activities

The outdoor sensory ideas listed below include sensory activities that can naturally be found outdoors!


It’s a fact that kids are spending less time playing outdoors. From after-school schedules to two working parents, to unsafe conditions, to increased digital screen time, to less outdoor recess time…kids just get less natural play in the outdoors.

Research on outdoor sensory play tells us that playing outdoors supports development through areas such as: developmental and primary tasks that children must achieve can be effectively improved through outdoor play. These include: exploring, risk-taking, fine and gross motor development, absorption of basic knowledge, social skills, self-confidence, attention, language skills, among others.

In fact, one study found a sensory diet in outdoor play along with sensory integration therapy resulted in better functional behavior of kids with ADHD (Sahoo & Senapati). 

Some therapists have connected the dots between less outdoor play and increased sensory struggles and attention difficulties in learning. Knowing this, it can be powerful to have a list of outdoor sensory activities that can be recommended as therapy home programing and family activities that meet underlying needs.

A note about using outdoor activities in sensory diets (and creating a sensory lifestyle…)

Sensory activities can be prescribed according to need along with environment in order to maximize sensory input within a child’s day such at home, within the community, during transitions, or within the school day. Outdoors are part of our everyday. Whether it’s walking to the car or school bus, travelling down a sidewalk, or spending time outside in the yard, there are many opportunities to support sensory and emotional regulation needs with outdoor play.

Using authentic sensory input within the child’s environment plays into the whole child that we must understand when focusing on any goal toward improved functional independence.

We’ve been talking a lot about sensory diets here on The OT Toolbox recently. Understanding what a sensory diet is and how it can be used within a sensory lifestyle is a big part of integrating sensory activities and sensory play into needed sensory input that a child needs to self-regulation, cope with his or her environment, and to attend or focus despite sensory overload or distractions.

You’ll find more outdoor sensory diet activities like these outdoor sensory diet activities for the backyard coming to the site very soon!

For specifics on how to get started with a sensory diet, and how to use these outdoor sensory processing strategies in a sensory plan, start here with this resource on how to create a sensory diet.

Outdoor sensory activities can be specific to sensory system like proprioception activities, auditory processing, vestibular sensory diet activities, and the rest of the sensory systems.

Use these outdoor sensory activities to help kids with sensory processing needs

Outdoor occupational therapy

When therapists develop a specific and highly individualized sensory diet, it’s not just throwing together a day filled with sensory input. It’s activities based on sensory need and strategizing. Each of the nature-based sensory activities above should meet specific needs of the child.

outdoor occupational therapy activities and reasoning

Imagine a world with more creative outdoor play that involves a variety of enriching sensory input. The proprioceptive input from running and jumping into puddles can calm the child who is typically overactive.

Outdoor occupational therapy supports the development of skills in a functional and natural space. When OTs venture outdoors for therapy practice, the world opens up in the way of sensory input, motor experiences, emotional regulation, and skill-building.

Occupational therapists practice outdoors for many reasons:

  • Develop confidence
  • Social skill building
  • Independence with clothing
  • Attention
  • Focus
  • Body awareness
  • Problem solving
  • Executive functioning skills
  • Safety skills
  • Motor planning
  • Sensory processing
  • Connection with others

Through outdoor occupational therapy, individuals experience all that nature has to offer while developing skills, just like one would in traditional occupational therapy services.

Below, you’ll find specifically sensory occupational therapy activities that can occur outdoors.

Sensory Activities for Outdoors

Nature, playing outdoors, and experiencing everything the outdoors has to offer supports all of the sensory systems. Let’s break this concept down:

  1. Visual System- Outside, we can see details in the trees, notice differences in plants, spot items hidden in the grass. Vision is more than just acuity. It’s through the visual sense that we learn, communicate. Visual motor activities and visual processing tasks occur naturally through play and experiencing the outdoors.

Try some of these outdoor activities to support the visual system:

  • Play I Spy
  • Hide objects and find them
  • Play tag (visual tracking and visual scanning)
  • Collect rocks or leaves (visual figure ground)
  • Watch the clouds (visual attention)
  • Look for birds
  • Collect items from nature and notice differences

2. Proprioceptive System- Another of the “Big 3” sensory systems (explained in detail in our book, The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook), is the proprioceptive system.

There are so many proprioceptive activities supported by the outdoors. Try some of these:

  • Hike of inclines or declines
  • Animal walks in the grass
  • Relay races
  • Pound and smash ice
  • Lift and carry rocks or logs

3. Vestibular System- The vestibular benefits of slowing swaying side to side on a tree vine can organize the child who is challenged by sensory overload.

Try these outdoor vestibular activities:

4. Interoceptive System- There is a connection with interoception, too. This sensory system is responsible for hunger, thirst, fatigue, digestion, sleep, toileting, and other internal systems. Sensory activities like going outdoors, experiencing differences in temperature and texture (warmth of the sun, cool breeze, wet rain drops, damp soil, etc.) on the skin receptors can impact how we feel, how mindful we are, and how the interoception system responds.

Outdoor sensory activities that impact the interoceptive system include:

  • Running/walking/crawling
  • Playing in wet sand, soil, grass
  • Feeling the breeze on skin
  • Feeling the warmth of sun on skin
  • Playing on swings
  • Going up or down a slide
  • Laying on the ground (pressure on the stomach and internal organs)
  • Rolling on the grass (vestibular and proprioceptive systems)

5. Auditory System- Outdoors, you can rest your state of mind just by listening. The outdoors offer a great mindset strategy for emotional regulation and is a way to calm the body. These backyard auditory processing activities will get you started. Try these outdoor auditory processing strategies for regulation and sensory needs:

  • Listen for birds
  • Mimic sounds
  • Play “I hear” (just like I Spy for sounds)

6. Tactile System- The outdoors offer so many tactile experiences. From walking in grass without shoes on, to playing the variety of natural tactile sources, there are so many ways to support the tactile system outdoors.

Try some of these calming or alerting sensory activities for the tactile sense:

  • Walk barefoot in grass
  • Play in a sandbox
  • Climb a damp tree
  • Pick grass
  • Dig in dirt
  • Play with messy, sensory play outside
  • Pick flowers
  • Feel and crunch leaves (also great for the auditory sense)
  • Create a tactile nature walk collection

7. Gustatory System- The gustatory sense, or the sense of taste can be incorporated into the outdoors. Think about your experience with picking berries, tasting a cool and sweet popsicle on a hot day. There are so many sensory-based memories involving tastes. Try some of these gustatory sensory activities in the outdoors:

  • Grow a sensory garden with fruits and vegetables that can be eaten outdoors
  • Eat a juicy watermelon outside- This is a great tactile activity, too
  • Make ice pops, smoothies, or ice cream using fresh fruits.

9. Olfactory System- This is the sense of smell. Outside, there are so many scents that occur and may change every day (and even based on the time of day!) Consider these olfactory sensory ideas:

  • Smell flowers
  • Smell grass
  • Identify odors and scents by location
  • Name the type of plant based on scent
  • Garden- Plant herbs such as mint, parsley, basil, lavender, etc. These are powerful scents that can be calming.
These outdoor sensory diet activities are great for occupational therapists to use in development of a sensory diet for kids with sensory needs, using outdoor play ideas.


Outdoor Sensory Play

There are so many outdoor activities that incorporate play naturally while meeting underlying needs in the great outdoors! The ideas you’ll find below are naturally occurring play ideas using items found in nature, natural environments. They are outdoor activities that kids can try without any additional equipment or specialty therapy items.

The point with these outdoor occupational therapy strategies is to support motor skill development, motor planning, visual motor skills, and overall development through the natural environment of the outdoors.

Ideas for outdoor occupational therapy:

  • Hike
  • Play in the woods
  • Roll down hills
  • Balance beam on logs
  • Climb trees
  • Collect nature
  • Play at the beach
  • Nature walk
  • Play in the backyard
  • Climb on stumps
  • Jump in puddles
  • Driveway or pavement play activities
  • Swing on tree vines
  • Sensory play on a porch or enclosed space
  • Collect sticks
  • Leaf hunt
  • Water table
  • Move and carry rocks of various sizes
  • Hide and seek
  • Create with nature
  • Outdoor water play
  • Collect fireflies
  • Pour rocks
  • Build with rocks, stumps, sticks, small logs
  • Mix and create nature soup (mud, sticks, flower petals, grass clippings)
  • Mud play
  • Use more of the ideas in our Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards

The outdoor world is full of sensory input that can meet individual needs of every child. The kids with sensory needs as well as those who present as neurotypical will benefit from a lifestyle of sensory play and experiences in the outdoors.

These outdoor sensory diet activities are great for occupational therapists to use in development of a sensory diet for kids with sensory needs, using outdoor play ideas.

As always, these activities should be looked over and utilized along with assessment and intervention of an occupational therapist, as each child differs so very vastly.

Some of the ideas above are going to be described in more detail here on The OT Toolbox. Watch this space for more outdoor sensory play ideas based on the following outdoor play spaces:

Sensory diets and specific sensory input or sensory challenges are a big part of addressing sensory needs of children who struggle with sensory processing issues.

Incorporating a schedule of sensory input (sensory diet) into a lifestyle of naturally occurring and meaningful activities is so very valuable for the child with sensory needs.   

That’s why I’ve worked to create a book on creating an authentic and meaningful sensory lifestyle that addresses sensory needs. The book is now released as a digital e-book or softcover print book, available on Amazon.   

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory diet creation, set-up, and carry through. Not only that, but the book helps you take a sensory diet and weave it into a sensory lifestyle that supports the needs of a child with sensory processing challenges and the whohttps://www.theottoolbox.com/product/the-sensory-lifestyle-handbook/le family.  

Get The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook here.

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a resource for creating sensory diets and turning them into a lifestyle of sensory success through meaningful and motivating sensory enrichment.

How to Create a Sensory Diet

How to create a sensory diet

Here you’ll discover how to create a sensory diet through information on sensory diets as well as a powerful resource to set up and establish an effective sensory diet lifestyle that works for kids. 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!

How to Create a Sensory Diet

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! 

 

Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a resource for creating sensory diets and turning them into a lifestyle of sensory success through meaningful and motivating sensory enrichment.

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.

Sensory diets can include various sensory strategies and supports that help the individual to regulate. Some additional movements, or activities can include:

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.

Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.

Why Create a sensory diet?


There are many reasons why a sensory diet should be used to support specific needs. This resource covers the goals of a sensory diet.

Sensory diets are effective for addressing many sensory-related behaviors. Just a few reasons for using a sensory diet may include:

  • Emotional overreaction
  • Meltdowns
  • Aggression
  • Hyper-attention
  • Difficulty with transitions
  • Inattention
  • Sleep issues
  • Impulsivity
  • Sensory-seeking behaviors
  • Sensory-resisting behaviors
  • Resistance to textures/food/clothing
  • Poor social Interactions

This blog post on sensory processing includes a sensory processing disorder checklist that covers many reasons and reactions that can be impacted by sensory needs.

Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.

Make a Sensory Diet Template


One important piece of the sensory diet puzzle is the successful implementation of strategies. This is the part of actually using sensory activities, brain break, movement activities, calm down corners, sensory tools, etc.

We’ll go into how this looks in more detail below, but it’s important to remember that the sensory diet template plays a big role. Actually scheduling strategies and implementing them into day to day tasks is part of the sensory lifestyle.

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.

There are specific steps to creating a sensory diet. Let’s go through the process:

  1. Analyze/Identify
  2. Strategize
  3. Sensory Diet Template/ Apply Sensory Strategies
  4. Monitor

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.

Make detailed notes that describe the action, the environment, the disabilities, and the impact on function, safety, learning, social participation, etc. When taking the time to analyze sensory impact on function, it’s important to look for issues that may be impacting the individual’s functional performance.

Make notes on things such as:

  • Actions/behaviors- how is the individual responding in situations?
  • Environment- where is the situation occurring
  • Timing- when does the behavior occurring? What happens just before the behavior or actions?
  • Co-existing considerations- what else is occurring during the behavior or action?

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.

Identifying sensory needs when beginning the sensory diet process is much like keeping track of a food diary or sleep diary. In these situations, you’ll also want to mark down every detail including how one is feeling emotionally, physically, and other considerations. Just like these types of diaries help to identify what is really going on in a food diet, a sensory diary can help to support and identify needs for creating a sensory diet.

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook contains printable data collection forms that can be used to analyze and identify sensory-related actions, behaviors, and resulting issues.

After dysfunctional behaviors are identified, the reason behind the behaviors should be described.

Step 2: Strategize/Reasoning- The next level in creating a sensory diet involves identifying the “why” behind the behaviors. Think about why the individual may be responding, or reacting to sensory input or environmental input in the way that they are. Can you come up with rationale that describes actions?

Ask yourself questions to strategize on the “why” behind sensory-related 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?
  • Did the child not get enough sleep?
  • Is the routine off?
  • Was a transition done without warning or preparation?
  • Was the individual at a level of stress?

Use this information to come up with predictions and opportunities to support the individual with specific accommodations or modifications to the environment.

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: Create a Sensory Diet Template and 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.

Scheduling sensory diet strategies is an important step. If a box of sensory supplies is offered, but no schedule put into place, the sensory diet immediately is set up for failure.

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.

Remember that this part of the sensory diet creation process is very fluid! There will be trials, adjustments, periods of re-trialing, and monitoring. It can seem like this stage goes on and on! The thing to remember is to persist and don’t give up!

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. It must be said that a sensory diet for adults is just as powerful for the teen or adult with sensory needs.

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. 

Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.


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.   

Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.


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!

Get The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook here.

Using a sensory diet in various environments

A sensory diet is an important strategy and tool to support learning needs in the classroom environment. Here is a resource on creating sensory diets for the classroom.

Occupational therapists can be a great resource for sensory diets that flow from the home to the school environment.

In fact, using a set of sensory diet cards as a resource where the student pulls various sensory supports to use at specific times or during transitions in the classroom can be very helpful.

The best type of sensory diet utilizes sensory aspects of everyday functional tasks within the activity as it occurs. This is covered specifically in the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook. But consider this: if one is outside or in the home and needs to address regulation needs, using activities and everyday objects is ideal. These backyard sensory diet strategies is one way to incorporate the outdoors into sensory needs.

Related, a sensory diet can include recess activities as a tool to support emotional or sensory regulation needs. This resource on recess sensory diets covers this concept in more detail. Running on a blacktop surface at recess, playing with hula hoops, balls, or building blocks at a key part of the day is scheduled into the students’ schedules every day they are at school. When you think about it, each student has a sensory diet of their own in the way of recess!

At home, recess isn’t an option, but heading outside is! The outdoor sensory diet strategies can really impact self-regulation, emotional needs, attention, and sensory processing needs.

Another environmental consideration is the playground. A park or playground area offers sensory diet equipment and tools that can be used on a scheduled basis. Consider adding a trip to the playground to the schedule on specific days of the week. Maybe a visit to the playground is in order for Friday afternoons after the student’s spelling test and the end of the school week. Or, a playground visit can occur every Sunday afternoon as a way to wrap up the weekend. Perhaps a walk to a local park can occur each evening after dinner. It’s all about what the individual needs and what works for the family’s lifestyle.

Another location for sensory diets can be the woods or a wooded outdoor area. This is a great way to incorporate nature into sensory needs, and should be scheduled according to availability, time available, and family lifestyle.

Another related resource on this site is the concept of sensory diets at the beach. When we travel, there can be a lot of different or novel sensory experiences. When hot weather, wind, and scratchy sand impact sensory needs at the beach, these are all important considerations.

Another support for travel is the sensory diet on the go! This easy to create sensory support is individualized and includes the materials and strategies that support the individual’s needs. Read how to create a travel sensory diet toolbox.

How to Support Sensory Issues with Hair Brushing

Sensory hair brushing

For many children, hair brushing is a challenging ADL task due to difficulties with sensory regulation. Using tools such as a sensory brush or a sensory diet can help support sensory issues that impact hair brushing. Individuals with sensory challenges related to their scalp can be further exacerbated by knots, pulling of hair, shampooing, or daily stress when it comes to this hygiene task. Fortunately there are some tips to help sensory needs and hair brushing.

NOTE: The information and strategies in this blog post on sensory hair brushing will not be appropriate for all types of hair and all sensory issues.

Sensory Hair Brushing

Individuals with sensory processing sensitivities may feel that getting their brushed hurts, or may find it overstimulating.

Other children may have challenges with hair brushing as it signals the morning routine is almost complete. They associate hair brushing with having to go to school or daycare, which increases their anxiety. Whatever the reason your child dislikes having their hair brushed, it can be very disruptive to your child’s routine, and anyone else in the home as well.

Sensory Hair Brushing Tips

Check out the tips below to help alleviate stress with hair brushing. 

Tip #1: Brush hair while in the tub or sink

When you brush your child’s hair in the tub or sink:

  • You can build on the relaxed mood to complete a stressful task
  • Warm water temperature offers calming sensory input.
  • Having probably just washed your child’s hair, the conditioner/oil (depending on hair type) will help to allow a comb to slip through your child’s hair with ease.
  • You will also be able to work out any larger knots they may have with your fingers much easier as the water runs in the direction of hair growth.
  • Your child will more than likely be distracted with toys that are in the tub/activity occurring around the sink area, keeping the focus off having their hair brushed.
  • Make sure to braid or put it into a top knot if your child’s hair is long, to prevent tangles in the morning. 
  • Bonus Tip! Don’t have time to wash your child’s hair every night, or don’t take a bath daily? Use a spray bottle to moisten your child’s hair, then brush it out. You can use a detangle to bring an extra element of fun to it too! 

When it comes to brushing, the most important thing is to set up a routine, using the hair brushing techniques that work for the child’s hair type. Stick to that routine. Consider using a visual schedule, written schedule, or checklist.

Tip # 2: Turn hair brushing into a Game 

Using humor and distraction in the form of a game is another great way to help your child feel less stress and sensory issues during hair brushing. You can have them “earn” points for each stroke or set of strokes, have a countdown, or sing a silly song.

Tip # 3: Use Role Play in Hair Brushing 

Children learn best through play! Practice with a doll or let them brush your hair. As you do this, talk about how they are feeling and acting when they are brushing your hair. Are they being gentle? What can they do if they hit a knot? 

It will also be helpful if you talk to them about how you’re feeling or how the doll might be feeling while having their hair brushed. Do you feel calm? Is getting your hair brushed hurting you?

Make sure that you emphasize the positives as well! You can use real terms such as sensory issues with hair brushing, and explain what is happening.

Share with your child how good it feels to have your hair brushed, that it makes you feel clean, and that it makes you look ready for the day. 

Tip # 4: Let Your Child Do it Themselves

When you give your child control of an activity, you take away fear of the unknown, or in this case, give back control over what you are asking to be done.

This works well for children who say that you’re pulling too hard, their scalp is super sensitive, or they dread having to work out knots. By letting them brush their own hair, they are in charge of the pressure, pace and how they work through knots in their hair.

Your children may also be more willing to participate if they know that they are in control of the situation. Be on standby in case they need help! 

If the whole hair brushing process can’t be done by the child, let them participate in some aspect. That might be applying conditioner/oil. It might be that they hand the brush or comb to the person brushing. The main concept here is taking ownership in the task through active participation.

Tip # 5: Use a Wide Tooth Comb 

A wide tooth comb will slide through hair much easier, and with less resistance than a traditional brush.

Another perk to a wide tooth comb is that it doesn’t have bristles, which many kids find irritating to their scalp, and often gets caught easily in long hair. 

Amazon (affiliate links) has several different types of brushes and combs for sensitive scalps. They also have detangling brushes. Just type “sensitive scalp brush” into the search box.

Or try a comb with wider teeth (affiliate link), depending on the hair type.

Tip # 6: Hold Hair Close to the Scalp 

Whether your child has long or short hair, holding hair close to the scalp or placing your other hand on their head can help to limit the amount of tugging they feel during hair brushing.

Limiting the tugging sensation by keeping their head stabilized will also prevent activation of the inner ear, which can be alerting or cause dizziness. If they are particularly sensitive to the tugging sensation, or have poor head/neck control, they may be compensating by letting their head drop back with the slightest of tugs. 

This is particularly important for children with long hair, as brushing down the back can elicit the startle reflex.

Tip # 7: Use a Timer 

Using a timer is a fail safe tip for working on tolerance of any activity. Set the a timer to see how long your child can tolerate having their hair brushed as a baseline, then add 5 seconds once a week until you are able to thoroughly brush their hair.

A countdown timer (affiliate link) is very effective. You can use the timer on your phone or you can look for a visual timer app to add an extra layer of fun. Many visual apps have surprises at the end or turn colors as the app is counting down. 

If you do not want the added input of electronics during this calming time of day, a separate timer (affiliate link) is best.

Tip # 8: Use a Social Story 

A social story is a book created about any activity that your child has challenges with. The story talks about what’s going to happen, how it will feel, and the appropriate social responses that your child should have with the activity. Read the story to them right before completing hair brushing to maximize its effect! 

Don’t have a social story? Ask your therapist to help you create one. You can also find free social story generators online, or use a premade one. 

Bonus Tip! If a social story is too long or advanced for your child, try using a visual schedule! This is a simplified version of the social story and can be adjusted based on your child’s abilities. 

Implementing Tips for sensory issues and hair brushing

These tips can help to break any negative behaviors or emotions that may surround your child’s sensory issues with hair brushing, and give you a foundation to start a fresh routine.

Start by trying one recommendation that you think will work for your child, give it a week, and if it’s still not working, try another.

Working through hair brushing challenges takes time, and is a trial-and-error process. Hopefully you will find these tips helpful!

Looking for more resources?

The OT Toolbox has a great resource called The Sensory Resource Handbook for tackling sensory issues related to hair brushing and creating a sensory diet for the many difficulties you are your child may be facing.

One of our new bloggers has a great resource on Amazon called Seeing Your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes (affiliate link). This is a new manual for parents, therapists, and caregivers to understand, accommodate, and treat tricky sensory situations and community settings with real life strategies, tips, and understanding.

Contributor: Kaylee is a pediatric occupational therapist with a bachelors in Health Science from Syracuse University at Utica College, and a Masters in Occupational Therapy from Utica College. Kaylee has been working with children with special needs for 8 years, and practicing occupational therapy for 4 years, primarily in a private clinic, but has home health experience as well. Kaylee has a passion for working with the areas of feeding, visual development, and motor integration.

Outdoor Sensory Activities: Proprioception

outdoor sensory activities proprioception

You may have seen our Backyard Summer Sensory series that covers all things outdoor sensory activities.  Today, I’ve got outdoor sensory focusing o proprioception activities that are designed to get the kids moving with heavy work using items you’ve probably already got right in your backyard. These are easy ways to build sensory breaks into the day, get the kids moving with heavy work. You can see the other posts in the series, including backyard oral sensory activities, outdoor sensory activities for tactile sense, and outdoor oral motor sensory activities (yep, that’s possible to address in outdoor play!)

Proprioception activities for backyard sensory play, these are free and inexpensive sensory activities that provide heavy work right in the backyard.

Outdoor Sensory Activities for PROPRIOCEPTION

Try these outdoor heavy work activities to add input through the core and gross motor muscle groups for regulation and body awareness.

Amazon affiliate links are included below.

  • Hoola Hoop Jump- Place out several hoola hoops (or just one) on the ground.  Create a hopping obstacle course into the hoops. Jump with both feet, one foot, and then the other.  Place the hoops further away for more work. Try making a hopping memory game, much like playing “Simon” in a gross motor way. This activity provides heavy work and input through the lower body as kids jump and hop into hoops.
  • Hose Tug- Use a regular garden hose to incorporate heavy work by pulling the hose across the lawn.  Use the hose to water flowers, bushes, or even to spray at targets drawn with sidewalk chalk.
  • Shovel Carry and Dig- Use a garden shovel in an adult or kids’ size to shovel dirt, rocks, leaves, sticks, or mulch from one area to another.  Try filling a bucket with the different mediums and then carry them to another area of the yard.  Good old fashioned lawn work can do wonders for a proprioceptive input seeking kiddo!
  • Jump Rope Pull and Slide- This activity adds a bit of vestibular input to the heavy work of pulling a jump rope.  Use a piece of cardboard cut from a large box or cereal box to create a flat piece.  Have your child sit on the cardboard and hold onto a jump rope.  Pull them around or down slopes as they hold onto the rope.  You can also try this activity with the child pulling another individual on the cardboard.
  • Hop Scotch
  • Bean Bags
  • Corn Hole
  • Play Leap Frog with friends
  • Jump Rope
  • Fly a kite
  • Climb trees

more backyard sensory ideas for summer?  

The activities in this post are part of our Summer Sensory Activity Guide, where you can find everything you need for a summer of sensory input.  Use the sensory activities described in the booklet as a guide to meet the individual needs of your child.  The activities are not a substitute for therapy.  Rather, they are sensory-based summer activities that are designed to address each sensory system through summer play.  Activities are described to involve the whole family.  Check out the Summer Sensory Activity Guide today!

AND…that guide is actually a bonus item in the Summer OT Bundle. So if you are working with children this summer to improve fine motor skills, handwriting, sensory processing, and other skill areas, check out the Summer OT Bundle:

Proprioception activities for backyard sensory play, these are free and inexpensive sensory activities that provide heavy work right in the backyard.

More proprioception activities that kids will love: 

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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

How to Help Kids with Sensory Issues with Clothes

Tips for children with clothing sensory issues

Here, we’ll discuss the specific considerations for sensory issues with clothes. You’ll also find intervention strategies to support children with clothing sensitivities. The thing is that sensory processing issues for children can be highly complex and sometimes puzzling to those who do not have these difficulties. We see children that refuse to wear socks or shoes. Or we see children who will not put on pants in the dead of winter. Other kids can’t tolerate the seams of shorts or the fasteners of bras. How do you support individuals with sensory sensitivities? Let’s talk about strategies to address clothing sensitivities.

Sensory issues with clothes

This post addresses and discusses considerations and a few possible solutions for clothing sensitivities to provide insight and areas to investigate in order to provide a child with the best possible sensory experiences with dressing and clothing as possible. The considerations are not all encompassing, but do provide valuable information in pursuit of understanding the possible reasons for clothing sensitivities for a child.

Sensory issues with clothes

Sensory issues with clothes and other sensory challenges can interfere with school, community, and home life for children who struggle with sensory processing on a daily, hourly, or even minute by minute basis. Sensory issues can be random, sporadic and happen one time, but not another despite similarities in circumstances.

A child can also have sensory sensitivities and not be diagnosed with a disorder per se, but even sensitivities have a real impact on daily functioning. Check out these clothing red flags for common sensory issues that come up again and again.

A common sensory issue reported by parents are their child’s clothing sensitivities. This involves more than the child who always wants to wear the same shirt because it has their favorite logo on it or it is their favorite color as this is more about style preference. It’s dealing more with a child who has real issues donning clothing and refuses to wear an article of clothing based on the way it feels causing the child to cry and scream and not be able to proceed with the task of dressing. 

Using certain clothing preferences to address clothing sensitivities include sensory friendly clothing options.

All of us have separate sensory systems that help us register, discriminate, and process sensory input. When there is a clothing sensitivity, this is dealing with the tactile (touch) sense and how the information from that sense is sending information to our brain to process. These may show up as tactile defensiveness in some.

We have fabrics we like as they are cozy and provide us comfort and we have fabrics that are scratchy and prickly causing anxiety and keeping us on edge not allowing us to focus on much of anything else other than getting it off. Some individuals with serious sensory issues register this input as harmful and even dangerous making them want to flee or do anything to get that feeling away from them. An important thing to remember is never force a child to don something that they perceive as painful or harmful. A child’s dramatic responses, such as mentioned above, can make home life chaotic and frustrating.

Stating the obvious, dressing is a necessary part of daily living and clothing is required for a child to engage in school and community life and it helps for clothing to be worn at home even though it is not completely necessary there. With some children who do have intense clothing sensitivities, they find their home is a free place to go without clothes.

If you are a parent, these considerations can help you investigate and pinpoint the possible problem with clothing or dressing for your child. These considerations can give you valuable information to either share with your child’s OT practitioner or to pursue an assessment with an occupational therapist. Occupational therapy practitioners can provide interventions specifically directed for your child and their needs as every child is different and requires a skilled set of eyes with knowledge of your child and their needs to provide the best possible interventions and opportunity for your child’s successful daily life engagement.


Sometimes considering simple clothing anatomy for sensory sensitivities can be a good place to start, but there are other areas of clothing and the tactile (touch) sense that need to be explored a little more directly. We’ll look at both in this post.

Related: Sensory issues that impact fine motor skills can make fastening buttons and zippers a difficulty for many children.

Tips for children with clothing sensory issues

Sensory issues with Pants


Consider: length of shirt sleeves and pant legs. The feeling of pant legs and sleeves can cause aggravation to the child’s extremities. Maybe the sounds of fabric while walking such as when wearing denim or corduroy or even the feeling of the leg fabric rubbing together while walking is enough to irritate.

Consider: elastic waistbands vs. zippered and buttoned pants as they may work better for the child. Elastic can provide more flexibility and comfort for some children. Does the waistband roll down or bunch up or are there hidden adjustable waist band apparatuses? Adjustable apparatuses can be cut out by an adult if necessary.


Consider: if there are tags or buttons sewn into the seam of pants of shorts. A tag at the back of pants can cause irritation. These can be removed by cutting out or purchase tag-free clothing.

Consider: certain textures may be more irritating to the skin or even possibly pulling arm or leg hair. If older, shaving legs can help. If the texture feel is the difficulty, purchase clothing with more soft and natural materials.

Sensory issues with shirts


Consider: The length of shirt sleeves. The feeling of sleeves can cause a tight sensation in the arm pits or around the neck, elbows, or wrists, causing aggravation to the child’s extremities. Clothing can feel too tight in the trunk.

Consider: length of shirt tails as they can be drafty if short, especially when sitting.

Consider: if the clothes are too tight or too loose. Do they sway or shift when they move? Does the fabric bunch up in the arm pits or at the wrists from being too big? Purchase clothing with the fit that is preferred for size and pressure, maybe they like tight vs. loose.

Consider: graphics on shirts and get one-dimensional graphics if necessary therefore no sequins, gems, puffy pieces, etc. are impacting the child.

Consider: if the seams in clothing are large or thick with too much fabric inside the clothing causing discomfort. Check this before you purchase clothing items. Purchase seamless clothing or turn clothing inside out as appropriate.

Consider: the pulling of hair as a shirt is pulled over the head or being too tight of a neck hole causing irritation. Purchase button up shirts vs. overhead shirts.

Consider: some clothes may be more uncomfortable to wear due to the feel of waistbands, cuffs, or collars. Explore if they are too tight, too loose, ribbed or simply hemmed. Maybe a certain type is preferred over another. Purchase no collared clothing or lightly hemmed cuffs vs snug-fitting, ribbed cuffs.

How to help your child with clothing sensory issues

General Sensory Considerations with Clothing

Sensory issues with clothes can look different for every individual. But, there are some common similarities that make helping those with clothing sensitivities more comfortable and functional. Try these general considerations:


Consider: some clothing may be hotter or even colder to wear.

Consider: how clothes fit and adhere to the body when sitting vs. standing. Also, check regarding static cling in different seasons and purchase cling free dryer sheets to help when drying clothes.

Consider: layers of clothing to keep warm rather than wearing a jacket.

Consider: the smell of the clothing. Is the smell of the detergent, fabric softener or dryer sheet too strong for the child to tolerate? Purchase odorless detergent, softener or dryer sheets.

Consider: the color of the article of clothing, if they’ve had a bad experience with a certain color, it could be recalled for every article of clothing that color.

Sensory Socks and Shoes

Issues with wearing socks or shoes is a common concern for those with sensory challenges.

Consider: checking sock seams and the position on the toes. How do the socks fit? Are they a good size, too tight, too loose, too short, or too long? Have the socks stretched and become ill-fitting? Purchase seamless socks or wear them inside out.

Consider: if socks are smooth or have fuzz ball lent on them. Are they nylon or cotton fabric, thick or thin? Purchase socks that do not gather fuzz balls as they are washed.

Consider: if toe nails are scrapping the fabric when donning. Do the shoes “eat” the socks when walking causing them to ball up under the heel? Cut the toe nails and purchase socks that do not get pulled under the heel.

Consider: shoe comfort such as width, size, and how high the backs are. Are the shoes too tight or too loose? Purchase shoes that have an open heel.

Consider:  if the tongue is twisted or shifted. Is there anything inside that could be poking or irritating the foot?  Make sure to put laces through the slots on shoe tongues to keep them straight, if this is part of the shoe design.

Understand that shoes fit and feel different with and without socks and even with thick or thin socks.

Sensory Issues and Underwear

Consider: the seams in the underwear, especially in the crotch. Are the genitals comfortable? Purchase underwear without seams or fewer seams.  

Consider: if they fit too loose or too tight. Maybe they prefer more tightness like boxer briefs or maybe they prefer more looseness like regular briefs. Is the waistband too high, too low, too tight or too loose on the stomach? Is the hip design too high or too low?

Consider: if they bunch up when pants or shorts are donned. Does the underwear ride the groove between the buttocks when walking or moving? Do they harbor hygiene odors?

Consider: if the child has thigh sensitivity and underwear is possibly pulling leg hair such as with boxer briefs.

Sensory Issues and Bras

Sensory issues in teens can show up in different ways than the younger years. Some considerations include the need for a bra. For kids that previously have struggled with tight or scratchy sensations with clothing, wearing a bra can be difficult. Here are some things to consider:

Consider: the fit of the bra. Is it too tight and causing discomfort from the straps, rings/sliders, under band, or underwire as evidenced by skin markings and redness? Purchase bralettes or bras that do not have these features. Maybe an athletic bra would be better.

Consider: if they are sensitive to the feel of the hook closures against the back when leaning on a surface. Do the straps brush the arm as they slide off of the shoulder causing some irritation? Does the fabric feel uncomfortable such as with lace that tends to be scratchy?

Sensory Pajamas

Sleepwear can cause a lot of issues for some children. Pajamas can be tight and compressing, which can benefit other children who prefer and benefit from compression garments. Others, however, can feel too much pressure that impacts sleep. Here are some things to consider about sensory issues and pajamas.

Consider: the fit of sleepwear. Is it too tight, too loose, too hot, too cold, too scratchy, or too silky? Is the texture of the material such as fleece, silk, nylon, cotton, spandex, etc. cause irritation or does the sound of it against the bed sheets cause sensitivity?

Consider: if wearing p.j. bottoms, do the legs of the pants ride up the leg while moving in bed causing bunching and sensitivity? Do the shirt sleeves shift up the arm when sleeping making them uncomfortable causing bunching and creases that rub or mark the skin?

Consider: if buttons cause discomfort when lying on the stomach. Do collars or tags irritate? Do ribbed cuffs or seams cause irritation?


Investigate the fabric and other issues of the bed sheets and covers. Explore the sounds, feel, temperature, fuzz balls on the fabric due to washing, smell of detergent, softener, dryer sheets, static cling, etc.

There are many ways to address these sensory sensitivities. Sometimes any number of the above solutions can help. Allowing a child to shop for their own clothing and make their own choices while acknowledging and respecting their desire and need for certain tolerated textures can help with sensory issues.

But for those with more intense sensitivities the best bet for success is looking at a sensory diet tailored to their direct needs. If you are a parent, contact an occupational therapist for assistance. They are available to assess, treat, and consult regarding your child’s specific sensory needs. Often times, sensory sensitivities can be significantly reduced or even completely eliminated with proper treatment.

In the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook, we cover various options to address sensory issues in children and teens. You’ll find in this comprehensive resource, strategies to implement a motivating and meaningful sensory diet that is integrated right into day-to-day activities and tasks in order to create a lifestyle of sensory solutions.

Read more about the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook here.

How to support children with clothing sensitivities

If you are an occupational therapy practitioner, below are some activities or intervention ideas which can help support a child with their tactile sensitivities. Be sure to go through the considerations listed above to investigate where clothing sensitivities are stemming from in regards to specific clothing. This step can help with finding clothing styles and types that meet the needs of the individual child.

1. Explore a variety of fabrics on the skin by using fabric swatches – increase time as tolerated.

2. Desensitize skin with lotion rubbing prior to donning clothing.

3. Use whole body deep pressure activities.

4. Present a variety of textured materials by dressing a doll with various textured clothes.

5. Consider using an OT sensory brushing or pressure protocol.

6. Massage with a towel vigorously prior to introducing new textures.

7. Rub feet with lotion or towel prior to donning socks or shoes.

8. Provide textured material exploration with sensory bins

9. Provide textured floor mats for feet.

10. Explore textures using stuffed animals of different textures.

11. Suggest tight-fitting swim or biking shirt or shorts, spandex clothing or workout attire under clothes.

12. Use vibration to the extremities and back/neck as tolerated even allowing child to do this – sometimes the child will choose to do this themselves.

13. Use firm pressure activities such as rolling a therapy ball up and down the body (avoid the face).

14. Use a squeeze machine or body sock.

15. Roll child up in a bedsheet (not the face) like a taco.

16. Use firm pressure to the top of the head or up and down the arms/legs.

17. Give hugs.

18. Rub lotion on body prior to dressing as dry skin can be more easily irritated than moist skin.

19. Use a compression shirt.         

20. Create a tailored sensory diet. You’ll find more information on how to create a sensory diet here.

Sensory lifestyle handbook- How to create a sensory diet

Utilize the motivating strategies in the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook to integrate a sensory diet right into the daily life activities of each child, in a way that works for the whole family.

Click here to grab your copy of the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook.

Regina Allen

Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!

Virtual Sensory Room

Virtual sensory room

This virtual sensory room has been on my “to-do” list for a while. It’s a free slide deck that adds all the benefits of a calming sensory space in an online version. You can use this free virtual calming room as a sensory tool in teletherapy sessions, in the home, and in face-to-face classroom or therapy sessions. Let’s take a look at this virtual sensory room space and all of the calming tools it includes.

Virtual sensory room that is a virtual calming room space for kids in teletherapy or face to face therapy, classroom, or home.

Virtual Sensory Room

Adding sensory diet tools to an online platform isn’t always an easy concept. Especially in a virtual space, the calming benefits of a sensory room can be difficult to integrate the senses of proprioception, vestibular input, and oral motor sensory input.

Many of the free online sensory videos out there are mindfulness videos, virtual lava lamps, and auditory videos like waves or rainforest sounds. But the virtual sensory spaces sometimes omit calming heavy work input and proprioceptive feedback that offer the calming and self-regulatory benefits of heavy work.

That’s why I wanted to create this virtual calming room.

Virtual sensory room for kids

Virtual Calming Room

In this virtual calming room, you’ll find the following sensory items that kids can click on and access videos:

  • Fidget Spinner
  • Water bottle
  • Hoberman breathing sphere
  • Sensory jar
  • Plasma globe
  • Kaledescope
  • Rubic cube
  • Bubble wands
  • Lava lamp
  • Slime
  • Calming sounds headphones
  • Koosh Ball
  • Glitter jars
  • Fish tank visual
  • Online relaxing coloring activities
  • Sound machine
  • Yoga mat
  • Kinetic Sand Bin
  • Bubble wrap popping activity
  • Heavy work exercises
  • Light tube
  • Nature grounding exercises
  • Waterbeads sensory bin
  • Brain breaks
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Sequin pillow
  • Light tube
  • Kids crafts

When you click on the sensory objects in the sensory room, you’ll be directed to different online sensory tools. These include:

  • Guided meditation videos
  • Slime videos
  • Yoga exercises
  • Calming sounds videos
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Craft ideas to involve the hands in fine motor resistive work
  • Grounding exercises
  • Calming visual images
  • Relaxing vision and auditory input
  • Brain breaks
  • Calming videos

All of these are links to videos, exercises, and resources to promote calming self-regulatory input for kids of all ages. You can add these tools to a sensory diet or use them in Zones of Regulation activities.

Free sensory room slide deck

Want to add this online sensory room to your therapy toolbox? Enter your email address into the form below and you can add this tool to your Google drive. It’s just one of the many free slides available here on The OT Toolbox.

NOTE- Due to an increase in security measures, many readers utilizing a work or school district email address have had difficulty accessing resources from the delivery email. Consider using a personal email address and forwarding the email to your work account.

Free Virtual Sensory Room!

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

    Add heavy work with these heavy work exercises to incorporate many themes into therapy and play.

    heavy work cards for regulation, attention, and themed brain breaks

    Click here to grab these heavy work cards.

    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 contact@theottoolbox.com.