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.
 
Read our blog posts about creating a sensory diet on a budget and calm down corners for more information.


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! 

You can make a sensory diet in any space. Read our blog posts about creating a sensory diet on a budget and calm down corners for more information on creating a sensory diet in a specific space in the school environment.

 

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.

April Occupational Therapy Calendar

April OT calendar

If you are looking for OT activities for the month, then you are in luck with this April occupational therapy calendar! April is occupational therapy month and here, you’ll find an Occupational Therapy calendar for your therapy planning.

April occupational therapy calendar for planning OT sessions

April Occupational Therapy Calendar

Not only will you find a great calendar of activities for OT sessions, but we’ve included other therapy ideas and activities for OT month, and all of Spring!

I have a HUGE resource for you that will carry you throughout the rest of Spring with treatment ideas and activities that are designed to meet the needs of many common goal areas.  This resource is perfect for planning a month or a season of therapeutic activities for kids.

If you’ve seen the last few months’ calendars (Check them out, if you missed them: January, February, & March), then you will see that this month’s calendar is just a bit different.  

Other Spring-related activities that will go well with this activities calendar include:

I’ve found that I completely love coming up with themed activities that are designed to address many needs of children receiving (or who need to receive) Occupational Therapy services.  I’m enjoying this monthly calendar so much that I decided to take it a bit further.


For April’s calendar, I decided to provide MORE ideas, more ways to develop necessary skills, and more ways to cover many more systems of development. 


This month’s calendar is essentially going to rock your OT kiddo’s socks!

April occupational therapy calendar for therapy planning


Activities based on the Pyramid of Learning

This month, I’ve decided to create a huge resource for your OT treatment activity ideas.  

Each month’s calendar is such a valuable resource of OT ideas, and this month is no different, except that it has a TON more ideas to address many areas of deficits that typically present in kids receiving OT services.  I’ve got Spring themed activities that can be modified to meet the needs of your child.   

Williams & Shellenberger Pyramid of Learning

Each activity in this month’s OT calendar takes into account, the Williams and Shellenberger Pyramid of Learning.  

The activities are designed so that they allow for proper sensory experiences in order to adjust for the child’s needs and presenting areas of difficulty.

Based on the Pyramid of Learning, the activities are designed to meet the foundations of sensory needs in order to work on higher tasks that present as difficulties in functional skills.  

The pyramid uses a triangle illustration to depict the central nervous system at the base of sensory systems as a support and underlying tier to sensory motor skills, perceptual motor skills, and cognition.

Using the visual of the pyramid of learning in activity development, we can see how integration of the sensory systems as a part of the CNS impact development, functioning, and intellect.

Let’s take a closer look at the pyramid of learning before exploring how the activities in our April calendar cover these areas.

Base of the Pyramid of Learning

The base of the pyramid is the Central Nervous System. Above that is the second tier, which identifies the body’s sensory systems. These systems include:

  • Tactile (touch)
  • Vestibular (balance)
  • Proprioception (knowing where their bodies are in space)

Note that these three are at the base of they other sensory systems. This is an important concept covered in our book, Sensory Lifestyle Handbook.

Then comes the other sensory systems:

  • Olfactory (smell)
  • Visual (vision)
  • Auditory (hearing)
  • Gustatory (taste)

Sensory Motor Development Tier of the Pyramid of Learning

Next is the sensory motor development level. This area includes body awareness, reflex maturity, sensory screening abilities, postural stability, bilateral integration, motor planning.

These areas of development are closely related to the sensory systems. They are also essential to functional participation in essentially every functional task we perform throughout the day.

Note that there are three areas of sensory motor development on the base of this tier:

  • Postural security (confidence in maintaining certain postures to prevent falling)
  • Awareness of two sides of the body (bilateral integration)
  • Motor planning (ability to plan their movement)

Then, above those three areas are three more areas of sensory motor development. This relationship is also discussed in our book, The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook.

  • Body scheme (body awareness through movement)
  • Reflex maturity (having developed reflexes, for safety purposes)
  • Ability to screen input (knowing what sensory experiences are important to pay more attention to)

Perceptual Motor Development Tier of the Pyramid of Learning

Above the sensory motor level is the perceptual motor development tier. Perceptual motor skills rely and build on sensory motor abilities. These skill areas are smaller and more distally presented in relation to the internal systems. While built heavily on the sensory systems and motor abilities, these areas allow us to take in information about the world around us. It allows us to use that information to move and perceive what is happening in our world.

This connection is essential to function and occupational performance.

This is easy to conceptualize when you think about the areas that make up this level:

  • Eye-hand coordination (when they use what they see to guide the movement of their hands)
  • Ocular motor control (locating and fixating on something in their environment)
  • Postural adjustment (adjusting their posture to maintain balance)

Then above those three areas of motor control areas are three additional perceptual motor skill areas of development:

  • Auditory language skills (hearing and speaking appropriately)
  • Visual-spatial perception (identifying what is seen in space)
  • Attention center functions (maintaining attention to tasks)

Cognition Intellect Tier on the Pyramid of Learning

At the top of the pyramid of learning stands the cognition or intellect tier. This area begins with daily living skills and behaviour at the base of the top tier, followed by academic learning.

  • Daily living activities (such as eating, toileting, bathing)
  • Behavior
  • Academic learning

What does the pyramid of learning tell us?

The very clear visual graphic of a pyramid shows us exactly how cognitive and learning abilities are based on sensory, motor, and perceptual development. These underlying areas are essential to functioning, behaviors, or the way we act and behave in any given situation, and learning.

In order to move and participate in functional tasks, development in bilateral coordination, motor planning, and vision, proprioception, and tactile systems is necessary. In order to learn, auditory language development, oculomotor skills, the ability to screen input, and vestibular, visual, auditory, and proprioceptive input is necessary.

Every functional task could be filtered down to identify underlying areas that impact one’s ability to perform specific tasks. And the entire pyramid builds upon itself, so that each task includes all of the skills and developmental areas under it as a whole pyramid.

April Activities Based on Underlying Skill Areas

And what I like best about this month’s calendar, is that the activities can be adapted in several different ways so that the resource calendar can be used over and over again in coming months.

You’ll find many ideas in our Spring occupational therapy activities post.

When you combine the calendar with the Spring Occupational Therapy Activities booklet, you’ll discover many ways to add movement, sensory movement, perceptual movement, and learning to Spring-themed activities.

In fact, there are 109 activities in this book using all of the combinations of activities.  

This month’s calendar is a little different that the last few calendars.  I’m including a schedule of sensory activities but it does not include specifics to perform each day’s task.  

You’ll need the Spring Occupational Therapy Activities ebook in order to complete each day’s activity.  You will be guided through sensory activities that meet many different goal areas.    

This ebook will carry you through the next few months as you work on each task and it’s breakdown of variant activities.    It’s all included in the ebook:  

Get your guide to the this Spring’s Occupational Therapy activities today!  Use it all Spring long as you go through each task outlined in the book.

April Occupational Therapy calendar of activities

You will be able to grab the printable calendar by entering your email address into the form at the bottom of this post.

  1. Subscribe to our newsletter and grab your April calendar. It’s free!
  2. Buy the Spring Occupational Therapy Activities ebook.
  3. Play your way through the next few months with Spring-y activities that are broken down into several different goal areas.

FREE April OT Activity Calendar

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

    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 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.

    Spring Sensory Activities

    Spring sensory activities

    Today, we’re talking about all things Spring sensory activities. When it comes to spring and the change in the weather (hopefully), a few sensory-themed activities can be a tool for working on a variety of skill areas, all through play and sensory exploration. These ideas are just one aspect of Spring OT activities that develop skills through play.

    Today, we’re going to discuss using sensory activities to address corresponding needs. Because when it comes to sensory processing, there can be related areas that are impacted as a result of sensory information being poorly processed and resulting in functional skills and development being impacted.

    Use these spring sensory activities to help kids with sensory processing needs to address areas of concern like bilateral coordination, gravitational insecurity, tactile defensiveness, tactile discrimination and other sensory needs.
     
     

    Spring Sensory Activities

     

    For the child with identified sensory processing difficulties, an effective treatment plan needs to be established, so that the individual can more effectively participate in functional activities.

    In today’s blog post, you’ll find some activities and modifications that can be used in the home, classroom, or therapy clinic. These are Spring sensory activities to add to a therapy plan this time of year. Add them to some of the other ideas being shared this week on our website and in our newsletter to create a themed set of interventions that meet the needs of a full caseload!

    Other seasonal occupational therapy activities can be integrated with these sensory ideas. Include aspects of these Spring OT ideas to create a well-rounded lesson plan this time of year:

    For a more exhaustive set of strategies, activities, and ideas, be sure to grab the Spring Fine Motor Kit (PLUS bonus kit which covers everything you need for Spring Break) that is on sale now for just $10. You’ll be loaded up on all kinds of tools that will last all season long.

    Spring Sensory Activities

    Let’s go over aspects of play for this time of year that incorporate much-needed sensory input for various areas. We’ll break down the activity ideas by sensory system to get you started.

    Spring Proprioceptive and Vestibular Activities

    These Spring Sensory Activities are designed to improve discrimination of Vestibular and Proprioceptive Information:

    Some kids with poor discrimination of sensory input, especially vestibular and proprioceptive input, may present with poor coordination, posture, balance, attention, and clumsiness, and/or constant fidgeting.

    These kiddos may benefit from some resistive work activities.

    Try some of these Spring themed ideas to work on these areas:

    Spring Heavy Work- Heavy work can be calming as a self-regulation tool. Use these free Spring themed heavy work cards to add activity ideas. They are great for brain breaks and to use in obstacle courses or a transition activity in a visual schedule.

    Spring Sensory Stations- Our popular sensory stations printables are great to add movement, heavy work, deep breathing, and mindfulness to the classroom, school hallway, clinic, or home. Print them off, slip them into a page protector, or laminate them, and hang them in a highly trafficked area in the school or classroom. Or, use them in a quiet calm-down corner. These sensory stations offer a chance for self-regulation and sensory input for brain breaks and calming input when kids need them.

    Bunny Wall Push-ups- Cut out a pair of bunny paw prints and tape them to the wall. This is a place to hop over to and then perform wall push-ups.

    Egg Rubber Bands- Provide heavy work to the hands by wrapping rubber bands around plastic Easter eggs. Kids can try to unwrap the rubber bands and then re-wrap the eggs. Use the bands as a hand exercise for the fingers in extension and in finger flexion.

    Tug-of-War- Use a rope or sturdy jump rope to pull heavy items from one location to another. Some ideas include a basket or bin full of books or weights. Transport a stuffed animal or plastic Easter eggs in the basket or bin. Sit or lay on a therapy ball to pull the objects out of the bin. Kids can lay in supine on the therapy ball while pulling the rope, too.

    Make a Spring Trail Mix- Add in crunchy and chewy items such as dry cranberries, small, chopped carrots, fruit leather, small pretzel pieces, bunny crackers or bunny pretzels.

    Make a Spring Crash Zone- Use heavy blankets, couch cushions, and pillows to create a crash pad area. Hide fake flower tops (remove the stems) in the pillows and blankets. Kids can jump and find various flowers. Give them a specific number or specific color to locate in the jumping area.

    Leap Frog- Remember the classic leap frog game? It’s a great Spring sensory activity! Kids can jump over small items or paper lily pads. In a pinch for time? Just use paper plates for your lily pads.

    Spring Sensory Ideas for Discrimination of Tactile System

    These Spring sensory activities are designed to bring awareness to and to improve a decreased or impaired discrimination of tactile sensory input:

    A poor body scheme is common in kids with sensory processing needs.  As a result, praxis and fine motor skills can be difficult.

    Kids may seek out additional input through their hands by touching everything they see.

    Other kids can’t discriminate between light and heavy tactile input.

    Here are some spring-themed sensory activities to encourage tactile discrimination:

    Use craft sheets and draw flowers or “grass” lines with a ballpoint pen. Then, the child can use a felt tip marker to trace the lines in the craft sheet. Allow them to trace with the ball point pen, too. Using the different writing tools provides various feedback in the resistive surface of the craft sheet. This is a great pre-writing lines activity for younger kids. You can see how we used craft sheets to work on pencil control using this sensory technique in a previous activity post.

    Use a vibrating pen- Create a flower shape or egg shape with Wikki Stix. Then, use the vibrating pen to draw lines or color in the parts of the flower/egg. Use cookie cutters to encourage bilateral coordination of an assisting hand and the dominant hand. Vibrating pens provide great sensory feedback to the hands.

    Use hot glue or regular school glue to create tracing forms. Write spring words like “sun”, “bee”, “flowers”, “grass”, etc. or trace Spring coloring pages with the glue. Allow the glue to dry and then place another sheet over the hardened glue. Use crayons to shade over the raised lines. Here is an example of how we used glue to practice sight words with DIY crayon rubbings with an emphasis on tactile sensory input.

    Spring Sensory Ideas for Somatodyspraxia

    Somatodyspraxia is a common occurrence in those with sensory processing challenges.

    Somatodyspraxia is seen via frequent falling, poor posture, balance, tripping, running into or bumping into others or objects, trouble managing small items or manipulating objects as a result of poor fine motor skills, along with poor body scheme and organization.

    Kids who struggle to process tactile input and vestibular information can be challenged with praxis concerns.

    Here are some Spring Sensory Activities designed to address somatodyspraxia:

    Spring obstacle course- Make an obstacle course that requires various motor movements, motor planning, changes in body position, and organization of body actions. This can easily be accomplished with pillows, couch cushions, chairs, laundry baskets or buckets, and everyday items. Use colored Easter eggs or fake flowers to carry through the obstacle course while challenging praxis.

    Bean Bag Toss- Use several small baskets or buckets to work on motor planning with bean bags. Use visual and verbal instructions to place or toss the bean bags into the targets with either one hand or the other (or a foot by placing the bean bag on the toes!). Use simplified instructions to follow instructions. Downgrade the activity by having the child repeat instructions and steps of the direction.

    For more assistance with somatodyspraxia, add more cues, simplified instructions, visual cues, and single-step motor tasks.

    Spring Sensory Activities for Bilateral Coordination

    Bilateral coordination difficulties are common for the child with sensory processing challenges.

    This looks like uncoordinated movements in hopping, jumping, jumping jacks, kicking a ball, catching a ball, running, climbing, etc.

    This might carryover to fearfulness when challenged to complete these tasks. You may also see trouble with hand dominance or left/right discrimination.

    Here are some Spring Sensory Activities that can help:

    Play Simon Says with a Spring Theme- Encourage bilateral coordination movements and alternating motions to follow directions. Use a Spring theme by saying “hop like a frog”, “crawl like a caterpillar”, etc. Use stickers or a stamp to identify the left or right hand and foot for these actions. Use our free Spring Heavy Work cards in a Simon Says activity this time of year.

    Play Hopscotch- Draw a hopscotch board and draw lily pads or spring flowers on the board. Kids can hop onto the squares. Also try jumping with one or both feet onto the target square.

    Spring sensory Activities to Address Tactile Defensiveness

    Tactile defensiveness can present in many ways, including a refusal to touch certain materials, resistiveness to certain clothing fabrics, food preferences, or avoidance of certain materials or activities.

    Adding heavy input or slow, calming vestibular input can be helpful in some individuals.

    Try some of these Spring themed sensory activities:

    Deep Pressure- Add weights to the wrists or a weighted lap pad along with heavy work to the hands. Try using a large eraser to erase flowers drawn on construction paper. Ask the child to erase the flower completely. Try using lighter pencil strokes and reducing the amount of erasing needed. This is one way to work on pencil pressure, too.

    Flower-Push- Add proprioceptive input to a gross motor activity that provides heavy work through the whole body. Draw a flower or sun on two paper plates. Place them on the floor and ask the child to place their hands on the flower picture while they get into a push-up position. The child can push the flowers across the floor.

    Caterpillar Roll- Use a blanket to roll the child up in a log position. The child is now a caterpillar! Add slow and heavy input through up and down the length of the child, using whole hands and slow movements.

    Spring Sensory Activities to Address Gravitational Insecurity

    Sensory challenges sometimes present with gravitational insecurity. This might look like the child that has trouble being positioned off the ground, such as on a raised surface like a swing, bleachers, on an elevator, or escalator, etc. Calming proprioceptive input can be helpful.

    Here are some Spring Sensory Activities that can help:

    Add Spring stickers to a weighted lap pad or wrist/ankle weights. Make it fun!

    Flower Breaths-Try deep breathing activities such as imagining blowing a dandelion fluff across a field. Use deep and slow breaths to imagine moving those flower fluffs away. This can be helpful before participating in an activity that requires motion that can be a challenge for the child, such as when riding in a car.

     
    Use these spring themed activities to develop and address areas that are difficult for the child with sensory processing needs, including tactile discrimination, tactile defensiveness, bilateral coordination, gravitational insecurity, and other areas.

    More Spring Sensory Activities

    Looking for more ways to promote sensory activities through movement and play? The Spring Fine Motor Kit gets kids moving in just the right ways to build strong and efficient hands. When you grab the kit now through the 22nd, you’ll also get a BONUS resources full of sensory strategies to meet all sensory processing needs.

    Spring Fine Motor Kit

    Score Fine Motor Tools and resources and help kids build the skills they need to thrive!

    Developing hand strength, dexterity, dexterity, precision skills, and eye-hand coordination skills that kids need for holding and writing with a pencil, coloring, and manipulating small objects in every day task doesn’t need to be difficult. The Spring Fine Motor Kit includes 100 pages of fine motor activities, worksheets, crafts, and more:

    Spring fine motor kit set of printable fine motor skills worksheets for kids.
    • Lacing cards
    • Sensory bin cards
    • Hole punch activities
    • Pencil control worksheets
    • Play dough mats
    • Write the Room cards
    • Modified paper
    • Sticker activities
    • MUCH MORE

    Click here to add this resource set to your therapy toolbox.

    Spring Fine Motor Kit
    Spring Fine Motor Kit: TONS of resources and tools to build stronger hands.

    Grab your copy of the Spring Fine Motor Kit and build coordination, strength, and endurance in fun and creative activities. Click here to add this resource set to your therapy toolbox.

    In this BONUS set, you’ll find: Spring Visual Perception Worksheets- Print these off and slide them into a page protector. Use them to work on visual perceptual skills like form discrimination, visual closure, figure ground, and visual processing skills like tracking, scanning, etc. Use manipulative items to work on fine motor skills with these worksheets such as play dough, slime, Wikki Stix, yarn, craft pom poms, or other items.

    Spring Fine Motor and Gross Motor Activities- Add these ideas to therapy home programs to work on pencil grasp or core strength. Use these ideas in therapy warm-ups, or to add movement to a child’s day.

    Spring Themed Brain Breaks- Cut up these cards and use them to add movement and motor skills into the classroom or home. It’s a great way to re-charge!

    Spring Themed Handwriting Practice Prompts- There are two pages of writing prompts that are ONLY in list form. That means kids don’t need to write out sentences while working on letter formation, spacing and size. They can work on all of the handwriting skills they need in a short list that is interest-based, making it motivational for them. And, the list format is a quick way to sneak in handwriting practice!

    OT Homework Sheet- Sometimes, it takes extra practice to make skills “stick”. When parents help in practicing therapy activities, it can make a difference in carryover. You’ll find a done-for-you OT homework sheet to use in weekly homework activities OR for use as a home exercise program!

    Client-Centered Worksheet- When our kiddos have a voice in their therapy, carryover and goals can be more meaningful to them. Use this worksheet to come up with Spring activities that meet the needs of a child, while taking into considerations that child’s interests and strengths to make activities meaningful.

    Sensory Activities and More- All of these extras were added to the already well-rounded Spring packet that includes activities designed around each of the sensory systems. You’ll find 13 pages of proprioception activities, vestibular activities, tactile activities, oral motor activities, etc. And, they include ideas to extend the activity to include eye-hand coordination, body scheme, oculomotor control, visual perception, coordination, and motor planning.

    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.

    Auditory Attention Activities

    auditory attention activities

    Below, you will find information on how to improve attention and memory with auditory processing techniques, specifically through auditory feedback. We’re sharing information regarding an auditory processing tool and auditory attention activities to utilize auditory feedback to promote attention and memory within functional tasks. Attention to language, aspects of sound, and auditory memory skills can be impacted by auditory attention. This as well as auditory sensitivities can impact learning and functional participation in everyday tasks.

    Auditory attention activities for kids and adults

    On a daily basis, therapy providers witness the strong connections between attention and memory, and their influence on function. They’re also able to prescribe customized therapy programs that ameliorate each level of auditory processing needed to carry out a task. Activities that work multiple systems while strengthening the foundation of function help to streamline therapy and meet goals. This wholistic approach is a hallmark of the occupational therapy profession.

    Auditory Processing

    We’ve shared various auditory processing activities here on The OT Toolbox. Today, we’re chatting about auditory feedback and the part this plays in improving attention needed in learning. You can find additional resources and activities like this auditory feedback tool at the bottom of this post.

    Tips and strategies to improve attention and memory with auditory processing.

    Memory and Attention are the Foundations for Learning

    Memory and attention work together in the brain to form the basis of our cognitive abilities. Attention is the ability to process information—sometimes selectively—and memory is the ability to store that information for retrieval as needed.

    This foundation impacts everything we do, including basic cognitive tasks (such as brushing our teeth) and more complex tasks (like playing a musical instrument).

    What is auditory feedback and how does this  skill play into auditory processing and its impact on attention and memory?

    What is Auditory Feedback

    Auditory Feedback is a natural process in the human body that helps us understand and modulate sound and speech signals in real time. When we speak, our ears receive the signal, and our brains make sense of it.

    In the case of vocalizations, and to a greater extent speech, our brains modulate the productions in real time so that we can quickly adapt, ensuring our message is accurate.

    Strengthening the Foundation

    Simply using the auditory feedback system—or auditory feedback loop—is one way to ensure that memory and attention continue to work well. We do this every day by listening to sounds and speaking.

    In order to improve these skills, we need to challenge the brain in specific ways. We know that the brain is plastic; it is a living organ that changes and adapts to the needs of the body. I

    f someone stops using their left arm, the brain will strengthen connections to the right arm to compensate. Furthermore, the neural connections that aren’t being used for the left arm will start to deteriorate, which is hard evidence for the “use it or lose it” adage.

    Practical and Results-Focused Brain Training

    Disclosure: Affiliate links are included below.

    Capitalizing on the audio-feedback loop and its ability to improve memory and attention in the brain is the business of Forbrain® Bone Conduction Headphones. With these headphones, a simple task can become a multi-faceted memory and attention-boosting transformation.

    Bone conduction hearing is ten times quicker than air conduction and while using Forbrain, which includes a microphone and a dynamic filter, manipulated sound stimuli reach the brain quicker, and are presented in a way that’s naturally challenging.

    Challenging the brain is synonymous with growing the brain!

    The use of bone conduction headphones has been proven to improve therapy outcomes. One study suggests that there is a real basis for the claims that Forbrain can improve voice quality and the executive attentional mechanisms and memory. The results suggest that an auditory feedback device such as Forbrain® could be helpful in improving focus in those who have attention disorders such as ADHD, and those who have difficulties with speech production and auditory processing (Escera).

    For more information on the bones in the ears, check out this list of bone names which covers all of the bones in the body.

    Easy auditory Attention activities:

    These auditory attention activities are easy ways to to improve attention through auditory processing. These strategies can be used at any age, and depend on the need. Learners that struggle with listening comprehension will find strategies that impact attention. Younger children will benefit from quick activities such as nursery rhymes and clapping games that impact auditory attention skills at an age-appropriate level.

    It’s as simple as wearing the headphones while carrying out auditory feedback activities during therapy or during everyday tasks. All of these strategies impact auditory memory.

    Examples of activities might include:

    • Reading a book or poetry aloud
    • Reciting nursery rhymes
    • Clapping games and movement activities
    • Practicing tone and pitch while singing
    • Playing a musical instrument
    • Memorizing material for an exam
    • Performing exercises to improve posture and diaphragmatic breathing

    Forbrain isn’t just for therapists or those of us in a therapy program. If you or someone you know can benefit from the improved memory and attention abilities that Forbrain provides, read more about using a bone conduction headset and grab one of your ownn here.

    Tips and tools for better attention using auditory feedback and other auditory processing strategies.

    References:

    Escera, C. (2015). A scientific single case study on speech, auditory processing and attentional strengthening with Forbrain® . Retrieved from Agency name website: https://www.forbrain.com/uploads/editor/files/Scientific_Research_Forbrain-Carles_Escera-Summary_Report.pdf

    The Auditory Processing Kit is a tool to support learners by building skills in listening comprehension, auditory processing needs, and much more. The tools offer support to learners with hyper-responsive or hypo-responsive auditory systems. Therapists love the hands-on activities to support learning and active listening through play and handwriting tasks.

    • Listening Comprehension
    • Fine Motor Listening Skills
    • How to Improve Listening Skills Poster
    • Clap It Out Syllables Orthographic Activities
    • Beginning Sounds Letter Activity
    • Rhyming Words Activity
    • Activity Listening Activity
    • Hearing Skills Activity
    • Auditory Memory Strategies
    • What Does Active Listening Look Like?
    • Whole Body Listening Activity
    • Whole Body Listening Poster
    • Listening and Motor Skills Game
    • 2 Step Direction Cards
    • How to Support Hyper-Responsiveness of the Auditory Sense (handout and info sheet)
    • How to Support Hypo-responsiveness of the Auditory Sense (handout and info sheet)
    • Auditory Processing Tools Cards
    • Auditory Processing Speed -2 Digit Numbers
    • Auditory Processing Speed -3 Digit Numbers
    • Auditory Processing Speed -4 Digit Numbers

    Use the handouts and posters to teach about the auditory system and auditory challenges, with strategies to support individualized needs. Get your copy of the Auditory Processing Kit today.

    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.

    Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist

    Sensory processing disorder checklists

    We’ve created a sensory processing disorder checklist as a tool for sensory processing needs. Having resources like this sensory processing and self-regulation checklist will support sensory needs in individuals of all ages.

    Sensory processing disorder is a condition where the brain misinterprets sensory information so that the body responds in atypical ways. Sensory processing disorder can be broken down into different categories, but one thing is clear: interpretation of sensory input is “off”.

    Printable Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist

    Below, you will find a list of common sensory responses that might be seen with sensory processing disorder. Use this sensory processing disorder checklist to better understand responses to sensory input. It will be helpful to read this sensory processing disorder chart to get a bigger picture on this umbrella term.

    Sensory checklists for each sensory system, great for identifying red flags for sensory processing disorder.

    With sensory processing disorder, input from each of the sensory systems can be interpreted by the brain in different ways. Kids can hyper-respond or overreact to sensory input. Or, they can hypo-respond, or under-react to sensory information.

    Sensory processing disorder can be seen in children or on adults.

    These sensory processing disorder checklists are broken down by sensory system

    Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist

    Putting it all together – Let’s look at all of the sensory systems in a list:

    • Visual System (Sight)
    • Auditory System (Sound)
    • Tactile System (Touch)
    • Gustatory System (Taste)
    • Olfactory System (Smell)
    • Proprioceptive System (Position in space)
    • Vestibular System (Movement)
    • Interoceptive System (Inner body)

    Typically, dysfunction within these three systems present in many different ways.  A child with sensory difficulties may be over- or under-responsive to sensory input.  They may operate on an unusually high or unusually low level of activity.  They may fatigue easily during activity or may constantly be in motion.  Children may fluctuate between responsiveness, activity levels, and energy levels.

    Additionally, children with sensory processing dysfunctions typically present with other delays.  Development of motor coordination, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social-emotional skills, behaviors, executive functioning skills, language, and learning are all at risk as a result of impaired sensory processing.

    Sensory processing disorder checklists for responses seen to sensory input.

    Sensory Processing Disorder Symptoms

    It can be overwhelming when you start looking into various symptoms in sensory processing disorder. But if you are wondering about specific signs of SPD in your child, it can be helpful to have a comprehensive checklist of various areas that impact learning, play and functioning. 

    The comprehensive list of sensory signs and symptoms listed below are helpful to spot an issue in your child, but more so can help you pinpoint a starting point with helping your child so you can support their needs.

    Sensory Processing Disorder checklists for each sensory system

    red Flags for Tactile Dysfunction

    Tactile defensiveness, or tactile dysfunction refers to avoidance of certain textures or the seeking out of tactile sensory input. These indicators can mean a sensory issue with the tactile sensory system. Consider the sensory checklist based on the tactile system:

    Hyper-responsiveness of the tactile sense may present in a child as over-responsiveness or overreaction to tactile sensation. This looks like:

    • Overly sensitivity to temperature including air, food, water, or objects
    • Withdrawing when touched
    • Refusing certain foods because of food texture issues
    • Dislike of having face or hair washed
    • Dislikes of hair cuts
    • Dislikes of having fingernails cut
    • Excessively ticklish
    • Avoidance to messy play or getting one’s hands dirty
    • Avoidance of finger painting, dirt, sand, bare feet on grass, etc.
    • Clothing preferences and avoidances such as resisting shoes or socks
    • Annoyance to clothing seams or clothing textures
    • Resistance to hair brushing
    • Over-reactive to unexpected touch
    • Overreactions to accidental or surprising light touches from others
    • Avoids affectionate touch such as hugs
    • Avoids washing hands at the sink
    • Difficulty with clothing fasteners like buttons, zippers, and belts
    • Challenges in the shower or bathtub with soap, washcloths preferences, and soap textures
    • Refuses to use glue

    Hypo-responsiveness of the tactile sense may present in a child as under-responsiveness or under-reaction to tactile sensation. This may look like:

    • Seeks out tactile sensory input
    • Bumps into others
    • High pain tolerance
    • Stuffs food in mouth
    • Licks items or own skin
    • Not aware of being touched
    • Seems unaware of light touch
    • Startles easily when touched
    • When getting dressed, doesn’t notice clothing that is twisted
    • Tendency for self-abusiveness: biting self, rubbing self with heavy pressure, head-banging, pinching self, etc.
    • Doesn’t notice a runny nose, messy face, or messy hands
    • Puts items in the mouth
    • Lack of personal space
    • Runs into other children without noticing
    • Has difficulty maintaining space in line; bumps into others without noticing
    • Falls out of chair
    • NEEDS to touch everything
    • Uses a tight pencil grip on the pencil
    • Writes with heavy pencil pressure
    • Tears paper when cutting with scissors
    • Unintentionally rough on siblings, other children, or pets
    • Always touching others or things
    • Seeks out messy play experiences
    • Prefers to rub or feel certain textures
    • Difficulty with fine motor tasks
    • Craves touch
    • Doesn’t seem to notice unexpected touch
    • Constantly playing in the soap or water at the sink

    red Flags for Proprioception Dysfunciton

    The Proprioception Sensory System is the recognition and response to the body’s position in space with an internal feedback system using the position in space of the joints, tendons, and muscles.  This sensory system allows the body to automatically react to changes in force and pressure given body movements and object manipulation.  The body receives more feedback from active muscles rather than passive muscle use.  Related to the proprioception system is praxis or motor planning.  Individuals are able to plan and execute motor tasks given feedback from the proprioceptive system. Praxis allows us to utilize sensory input from the senses and to coordinate hat information to move appropriately.

    Hyper-responsiveness of the proprioception sense may present in a child as over-responsiveness or overreaction to proprioceptive sensation. This may include postural insecurity. This may look like:

    • Uses too little pressure when writing or coloring
    • Prefers soft or pureed foods
    • Appears lethargic
    • Bumps into people or objects
    • Poor posture, slumps in their seat
    • Poor handwriting
    • Inability to sit upright when writing or completing desk work; Rests with head down on arms while working
    • Poor awareness of position-in-space
    • Frequent falling
    • Clumsiness
    • Poor balance
    • Poor body awareness
    • Poor attention
    • Poor motor planning
    • Uses extreme force during tasks
    • Challenged by clothing fasteners ( how much force to use with fastening buttons, zippers, and belts, or snaps)

    Hypo-responsiveness of the proprioceptive sense may present in a child as under-responsiveness or underreaction to proprioceptive sensation. This looks like:

    • Uses excessive pressure when writing or coloring
    • “Jumper and crasher”- seeks out sensory input
    • Can’t sleep without being hugged or held
    • Bumps into people or objects
    • Seems aggressive
    • Grinds teeth
    • Walks on toes
    • Chews on pencils, shirt, sleeve, toys, etc.
    • Prefers crunchy or chewy foods
    • Cracks knuckles
    • Breaks pencils or crayons when writing or coloring
    • Pinches, bites, kicks, or headbutts others
    • Difficulty with fine motor skills
    • Poor handwriting
    • Poor awareness of position-in-space
    • Stomps their feet on the ground when walking
    • Kicks their chair or their neighbors chair in the classroom
    • Frequent falling
    • Clumsiness
    • Poor balance
    • Constantly moving and fidgeting
    • Poor attention
    • Uses extreme force
    • Has unexpected bruises
    • Seeks out wrestling games

    red Flags for Vestibular Dysfunction

    The Vestibular Sensory System is the sense of movement and balance, and uses the receptors in the inner ear and allows the body to orient to position in space.  The vestibular system is closely related to eye movements and coordination.  Vestibular sensory input is a powerful tool in helping children with sensory needs.  Adding a few vestibular activities to the day allows for long-lasting effects.  Every individual requires vestibular sensory input in natural development.  In fact, as infants we are exposed to vestibular input that promotes a natural and healthy development and integration of all systems. 

    Vestibular dysfunction and problems with the Vestibular Processing System can present as different ways:

    • Poor visual processing
    • Poor spatial awareness
    • Poor balance
    • Difficulty with bilateral integration
    • Sequencing deficits
    • Poor visual-motor skills
    • Poor constructional abilities
    • Poor discrimination of body position
    • Poor discrimination of movement
    • Poor equilibrium
    • Subtle difficulties discerning the orientation of head
    • Trouble negotiating action sequences

    Hyper-responsiveness of the vestibular sense may present in a child as over-responsiveness or overreaction to vestibular sensation. This look may look like:

    • Experiences gravitational insecurity
    • Overly dizzy with motions
    • Resistant to moving activities such as swings, slides, elevators, or escalators
    • Fear of unstable surfaces
    • Unable to tolerate backward motions
    • Unable to tolerate side to side motions
    • Illness in moving vehicles
    • Avoids swings or slides
    • Gets motion sick easily
    • Appears “clingy”
    • Refuses to move from the ground (i.e. jumping or hopping activities)
    • Difficulty/fear of balance activities
    • Refusal to participate in gym class
    • Refusal to try playground equipment
    • Fearful on bleachers or on risers
    • Fear or dislike of riding in elevators or escalators
    • Fearful of movement
    • Dislike of spinning motions
    • Avoids chasing games
    • Overly fearful of heights
    • Nauseous when watching spinning objects
    • Poor posture
    • Easily fatigued
    • Poor coordination
    • Low muscle tone
    • Poor motor planning
    • Fearful when a teacher approaches or pushes in the child’s chair
    • Clumsiness
    • Poor attention
    • Difficulty or fearful on stairs
    • Fearful during situations of constant motion
    • Struggles or fearful on ladders
    • An extreme dislike of high places
    • Refuses to sit on or try a bike

    Hypo-responsiveness of the vestibular sense may present in a child as under-responsiveness or underreaction to vestibular sensation. This may look like:

    • Constant movement including jumping, spinning, rocking, climbing
    • Craves movement at fast intervals
    • Craves spinning, rocking, or rotary motions
    • Poor balance on uneven surfaces
    • Constantly fidgeting
    • Increased visual attention to spinning objects or overhead fans
    • Bolts or runs away in community or group settings, or when outdoors or in large open areas such as shopping malls
    • Difficulty maintaining sustained attention
    • Impulsive movement
    • Constantly getting up and down from desk in the classroom
    • Walks around when not supposed to (in the classroom, during meals, etc.)
    • Loves to be upside down
    • Head banging
    • Hypermobile or all over playground equipment
    • Leans chair back when seated at a desk
    • Loves spinning
    • Rocks self-back and forth when seated
    • Poor posture
    • Poor coordination
    • Poor motor planning
    • A deep need to keep moving in order to function
    • Frequent falling
    • Clumsiness
    • Poor balance
    • Poor attention
    • Always in constant motion
    • Prefers being in high places

    Red Flags for Visual SYSTEM Dysfunction

    Eighty percent of the information we receive from our environment is visual.  When perception of this information is not processed correctly, it can create an altered state that influences many areas:  eye-hand coordination, postural reflexes, and vestibular processing are all influenced and reliant upon the visual system. 

    The visual system is the sensory system that most individuals rely upon most heavily for daily tasks.  Visual information is perceived by cells in the back of the eye.  These cells (rods and cones) relay and transfer light information into information that is transferred to the central nervous system.  These photoreceptors are able to perceive day time vision and night time vision, with adjustments to sensitivity of light intensity.  They are able to respond to different spectrum of color and differentiate color information.  The rod and cone cells, along with the retina, process a great deal of visual information in the neural structure of the eye before transmitting information to the central nervous system. 

    The relay of information from the eyes to the central nervous system are made up of three pathways.  Pathways project to different areas of the brain and allow for:

    1. Processing and recognition of faces/shapes/motion (the “what” and “where” of objects)
    2. Integration of information in order to coordinate posture and eye movements
    3. Oculomotor adaptation.

    Hyper-responsiveness of the visual sense may present in a child as over-responsiveness or overreaction to visual sensation. This may look like:

    • Complains of lights being too bright
    • Unable to tolerate certain lighting such as fluorescent overhead lights
    • Struggles with sudden changes in lighting
    • Challenged by bright or flashing lights
    • Colorful lights “hurt” the eyes
    • Complains of headaches in bright light
    • Complains of the “glow” of unnatural lighting
    • Distressed by light sources
    • Sensitive to light
    • Sensitive to certain colors
    • Distracted by cluttered spaces
    • Avoids eye contact
    • Trouble with puzzles
    • Frustration at the movies
    • Difficulty reading
    • Difficulty finding objects in a busy drawer

    Hypo-responsiveness of the visual sense may present in a child as under-responsiveness or underreaction to visual sensation. This looks like:

    • Attracted to spinning objects
    • Difficulty with visual perception
    • Difficulty with eye-hand coordination
    • Difficulty with reading and writing
    • Holds or presses hands on eyelids in order to see flashing lights
    • Squints or presses eyelids shut
    • Flaps hands or objects in front of eyes
    • Holds eyes at the movies

    red Flags for Auditory SYSTEM Dysfunction

    Receptors for the auditory system are located in the inner ear and are responsible for receiving vibration from sound waves and changing them to fluid movement energy.  Information is projected to the central nervous system and transmits sound frequency as well as timing and intensity of sound input.  The auditory system is integrated with somatosensory input in order to play a role in controlling orientation of the eyes, head, and body to sound. 

    Hyper-responsiveness of the auditory sense may present in a child as over-responsiveness or overreaction to auditory sensation. This may look like:

    • Startles easily to unexpected sounds
    • Dislikes noisy places
    • Overly sensitive to speakers on radios
    • Fearful of smoke detectors, overhead speakers
    • Shushes others or asks others to stop talking
    • Holds hands over ears
    • Sensitive to certain sounds such as lawnmowers or the hum of the refrigerator
    • Easily distracted by sounds and background noise
    • Hums to block out background noise

    Hypo-responsiveness of the auditory sense may present in a child as under-responsiveness or underreaction to auditory sensation. This looks like:

    • Seems to be unaware of sounds
    • Holds radio speakers up against ears
    • Doesn’t respond to alarms
    • Makes silly sounds at inappropriate times or frequently
    • Mimics sounds of others
    • Talks to self
    • Difficulty locating sounds, especially when in a noisy environment
    • Hums in order to hear the sound of humming

    red Flags for Gustatory System Dysfunction

    The gustatory system perceives input through the tongue.  Taste cells in the mouth perceive five sensations: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and savory.  The gustatory system is closely related to the sense of smell and proprioception.  How we perceive taste is deeply influenced by the sense of smell. 

    While many children with sensory needs have a tendency to chew on their shirt collars or pencils as a sensory strategy in order to seek proprioception needs, the behavior may occur as a result or as a reaction to under-responding to oral input.  Other children may seek out intense taste sensations and in that case put non-edible items into their mouth to satisfy that sensory need.  Still other children may over-respond or under-respond to certain flavors or taste sensations.  For those children, it is common to experience food refusal related to texture or taste.

    Hypersensitivity to oral sensory input may present in a child as over-responsiveness or overreaction to gustatory sensation. This looks like:

    • Dislike of mixed textures (cereal in milk or chunky soup)
    • Resistant to trying new foods
    • Avoids certain textures
    • Avoids straws
    • Avoidance of specific food or drink temperatures
    • Picky eating
    • Preference for bland foods
    • Avoids temperature extremes (unable to tolerate hot or cold foods)
    • Prefers foods that do not touch or mix on their plate
    • Use of only a specific spoon or fork or no utensil at all
    • Intolerance to teeth brushing.
    • Anxiety or gagging when presented with new foods
    • Drooling

    Hypo-responsiveness of the gustatory sense may present in a child as under-responsiveness or underreaction to gustatory sensation. This may look like:

    • Licking objects
    • Bites others
    • Chews on clothing
    • Hums all the time
    • Prefers a vibrating toothbrush
    • Prefers spicy foods
    • Stuffs food into cheeks
    • Prefers food very hot or very cold temperature

    red Flags for Olfactory System Dysfunction

    The olfactory system, or the system that enables the sense of smell, has receptors in the tissue of the nose that are connected by pathways to the brain.  Connections occur via two pathways, one being a direct route to neurons in the brains and the second being a path that passes near the roof of the mouth.  This channel is connected to the taste of foods.

    There is some evidence indicating that the sense of smell is more associated with memory than the sense of vision or the other senses.  The connection of the olfactory sense to the emotional part of the brain and previous experiences, as well as hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to smells can cause anxiety or sensory related breakdowns in children with sensory processing difficulties. 

    Hyper-responsiveness of the olfactory sense may present in a child as over-responsiveness or overreaction to olfactory sensation. This may look like:

    • Overly sensitive to smells
    • Notices smells others don’t
    • Anxious around certain smells
    • Holds nose in response to certain scents
    • Challenged in the shower or bathtub, with overwhelming preferences and disliking certain scents

    Hypo-responsiveness of the olfactory sense may present in a child as under-responsiveness or underreaction to olfactory sensation. This may look like:

    • Smells unusual items like paper or certain materials
    • Prefers strong scents

    Red Flags for Interoceptive System Dysfunction

    The interoceptive sensory system is an area that most people are not as familiar with.  This system is connected to amygdala, the emotional system, the limbic system, our emotional awareness, our feelings, and subconscious arousal.  Receptors for the interoceptive system are in our organs and skin.  The receptors relay information regarding feelings such as hunger, thirst, heart rate, and digestion to the brain.  This is the foundation to sensations such as mood, responding to the moods and emotions of others (co-regulation), emotions, aggression, excitement, and fear and in turn, promotes the physical response of our bodies. 

    Physical responses include functions such as hunger, thirst, feelings, digestion, heart rate, and body temperature.

    Hyper-responsiveness of the interoceptive sense may present in a child as over-responsiveness or overreaction to interoceptive sensation. This may look like:

    • High pain tolerance
    • Distracted and overwhelmed by feelings of stress
    • Distracted or overly sensitive to sensations of stomach digestion
    • Distracted or overly sensitive to sensation of heart beat
    • Always hungry or thirsty
    • Eat more and more often to avoid feelings of hunger
    • Unable to sense the feeling of being full; overeats or overdrinks
    • Overwhelmed by feelings of sadness, anger, happiness, etc. and unable to respond appropriately
    • High urine output
    • Use the bathroom more often than necessary to avoid feelings of a full bladder or bowel
    • Distracted by changes in body temperature
    • Distracted and overly sensitive to sweating
    • Overly sensitive to feeling ticklish or itchy
    • Overly sensitive to cold or heat
    • Overly sensitive to signs of illness
    • Fearful of vomiting

    Hypo-responsiveness of the interoceptive sense may present in a child as under-responsiveness or underreaction to interoceptive sensation. This may look like:

    • Low pain tolerance
    • Poor or low response to interoceptive stimuli
    • Doesn’t know when to go to the bathroom
    • Never says they are hungry or thirsty
    • Does not drink or eat enough
    • Difficult to toilet train
    • Never complains of being cold or hot (always wears shorts in the winter or pants in the summer)
    • Never complains of sickness
    • Difficulty falling asleep
    • Unable to identify feelings of stress
    • Unable to identify specific feelings and appropriate responses

    Sensory Checklists, explained

    There is a lot to think about here, right? Taking a giant list of common sensory processing disorder lists and knowing what to do with that list is complicated. What if you had strategies to address each sensory system’s over-responsiveness or under-responsiveness so you could come up with a sensory diet that helps kids function?

    In The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook, I do just that.

    The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook

    Sensory processing is broken down by sensory system so you can understand what you are seeing in the sensory responses listed above. Then, you can use the lists of sensory activities to help the child complete functional tasks while they get the sensory input they need to focus, organize themselves, and function.

    The sensory activities are presented as meaningful and motivating tasks that are based on the child’s interests, making them motivating and meaningful.

    You can get the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook and start building a sensory diet that becomes an integrated part of each day’s daily tasks, like getting dressed, completing household chores, school work, community interaction, and more.

    Get your copy of The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook here.

    Sensory checklists in early intervention

    In young children, sensory issues can present leading to the early intervention process. Having a sensory processing disorder checklist on hand can help relieve some of the questions parents have about development and whether a behavior or action is typical or not.

    Characteristics of sensory issues show up during these young years. You may see frustration or meltdowns due to unexpected touch.

    You may identify tactile defensiveness even in the infant years when babies pull away from heavy input of a cuddle or wrapped blanket. You may notice sensory preferences in the way of seeking out a pacifier for comfort (long beyond the typical pacifier stage). You may even identify distress with certain aspects of sensory input as listed in the sensory processing checklists above.

    A few helpful resources are listed below:

    Meltdowns– This blog post covers temper tantrums verses sensory meltdowns.

    This blog post on early intervention strategies for sensory differences covers important information for sensory needs during the infant to 5 years range.

    Sensory integration at the playground – Exploring different sensory input areas at the playground can help identify sensory challenges in young children.

    A Final Note on Examples of Sensory Processing Dysfunction

    This extensive list of sensory red flags is meant to act as an educational tool for parents, educators of children.

    As occupational therapists, we strive to support children and their “team” of parents, caregivers, family, and educators with resources and information that will serve the individual child so that they can function in everyday life tasks. 

    The purpose of this sensory processing disorder checklist is to help parents and professionals who interact with children become educated about particular signs of sensory processing dysfunction.

    A checklist is not to be used as the absolute diagnostic criteria for labeling children with sensory processing disorder. It is simply a resource to be used as a starting point when identifying distress symptoms to explore further. 

    If you have difficulty understanding your child’s sensory preferences, sensory avoidances, use this sensory processing disorder checklist as a starting point and reach out to a pediatrician and pediatric occupational therapist.

    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.

    Early Intervention for Sensory Differences

    Early intervention and sensory differences

    Our sensory system is very complicated. A lot of times when we hear about sensory, we think about our 5 senses (taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing.) This blog will take us into a deep dive of early intervention for sensory differences and the definition of different sensory processing areas. Early Intervention services provide supports for children birth through age three who demonstrate developmental delays.

    These delays could be caused by a variety of reasons, from autism, chromosome abnormalities, drug exposure, prematurity, motor impairments, language delays and more. 

    Early intervention for sensory differences

    Early Intervention for Sensory Differences

    One of the areas that is always assessed when determining if a child is eligible for Early Intervention services is the area of sensory processing. These areas include Low Registration, Sensation Seeking, Sensation Sensitivity, and Sensation Avoidance. Also addressed are the areas of Sensory and behavioral including general, auditory, visual, touch, movement, oral and behavioral differences.

    We will explore these areas in more detail throughout this blog post. Sensory diets are one of the most common and impactful ways to support children with sensory differences.

    This article describes sensory diets as “A sensory diet is a set of activities that make up a sensory strategy and are appropriate for an individual’s needs.  These are specific and individualized activities that are scheduled into a child’s day and 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.”

    There are four quadrants in a sensory profile. This visual clearly defines the similarities and differences between seeking, sensitivity, registration and avoidance.

    The infant/toddler sensory profile is a common assessment used to determine the needs of a child in the following areas If a child is over-responsive to sensory input, they would fall in the sensory seek or slow to register sensory input sections. If a child is under responsive to sensory input, they would fall in the sensory sensitive or sensory avoider sections. 

    What are sensory differences  and neurodiversity? This article explains.

    What are sensory differences?

    These areas of sensory diversity make up the term sensory differences. Beyond the four quadrants, however, there are other sensory differences to consider. These are described below.

    All of these sensory differences described are part of the neurodiversity of human life. We all are different when it comes to sensory, and we are all sensory. Just like the diversity of physical attributes, personal preferences, characteristics, sensory differences are just one more difference that makes us who we are.

    Sensory Seeking

    This area determines if a child seeks out sensory input. If a child is scored higher than most in this area, you may see them move around more, look at items that spin (such as fans or toys with wheels) be attracted to fast paced and brightly colored television shows.

    Here are some wonderful home ideas for children who are sensory seekers.

    Sensory Sensitivity

    This area determines a child’s ability to notice different senses. If a child scores higher than most in this area, you may see a child always needing a routine to stay calm, startle to certain sounds, become upset during routine hygiene activities (such as getting hair brushed or nails trimmed) and significant preferences on types and textures of foods.

    Here are some ways to support children in a controlled way, who show needs in the sensitivity area.

    Sensory Registration

    This area determines how a child responds to sensory input from others or their environment. This article by the pediatric development center explains how important registration is for a child’s functioning and learning.

    It describes registration as: “Sensory registration is the process by which children respond or attend to sensory input in their environments.  The nervous system must first notice the sensory information, once registered the memory compares it to things they have heard or seen, and thus gives new information meaning.  Children who fail to respond or have delayed responses to sensory information have diminished sensory registration.  Diminished sensory registration is often associated with one or two weaker sensory systems, such as the auditory or vestibular system.  Without sensory registration, no other learning can take place.”

    If a child scores higher than most in this area, you may see a child miss sensory input more than others do. A child in this section may miss eye contact, pay attention to only specific tones, and ignore most sounds. These children are harder to engage or seem uninterested in activities. They may need tactile, auditory and visual cues to initiate engagement in conversation or an activity.

    Here are some ways to support children with low registration.

    Sensory Avoidance

    This area determines how a child’s need to control the amount and type of sensations at any given time. If a child scores higher than most in this area, you may see a child resist playing with other children due to overwhelm, resist being cuddled when it’s not on their terms, frequently become upset if their hands are messy, have a hard time calming down in new settings and isn’t interested in trying new foods.

    Here are some tips on how to support an avoider.

    General Processing

    General Processing items measure the child’s responses related to routines and schedules. This could include daily schedules, routine schedules or task related routines including how children respond to questions, others actions, busy situations, sleeping routines, eating patterns and hygiene needs, daily transitions and other schedule related activities.

    These first/then visual boards are a wonderful tool in supporting routines and schedules.

    Auditory Sensitivity

    This area addresses how children respond to things they hear. Auditory input includes responding to their name,  how easily it is for someone to get their attention and how distracted they become in noisy settings. The brain processes the sounds in our environment and according to this article, sensitivity to sound could be a reaction to a part of our brain that pays more attention to sounds then it needs to. One article explains it this way:

    “When there is no medical reason to explain the auditory sensitivity, researchers think that the brain is not processing sounds adequately. Researchers suggest that the part of the brain that receives and filters noise and sound, the amygdala, is working differently.  The amygdala decides on how important noises are.  It decides and which sounds we should attend to and which ones to ignore. When someone experiences sensitivity to sounds, it is thought the amygdala pays more attention to sounds than it needs to.”

    Visual Sensitivity

    This area addresses how children respond to things they see, including bright objects, such as lights and toys. It describes how they respond to reflections in mirrors and their responses to objects that spin or move suddenly. According to this article our brains interpret the light we see through our eyes, and:

    “The visual system uses light to detect information through our eyes and then interprets or makes sense of that information in the brain. It works closely with our vestibular and auditory systems to help us safely navigate our environment by orienting us to where we are in relation to other objects. The ability to cognitively process information we take in through our eyes can be broken down into several categories, called visual perceptual skills. Those with trouble in one area of visual perception may present with strong skills in another area, meaning that deficits in processing of visual information can take on many forms.”

    Tactile/Touch Sensitivity

    This area addresses how children respond items that touch their skin. This includes bath/water play, getting their nails trimmed and hair brushed, touching different sensory rich objects, being messy and receiving hugs. When children have a tactile sensitivity, their skin reactors are feeling the object more intensely. According to this article:

    The tactile system, or sense of touch, refers to the information we receive though the receptors in our skin. It alerts us to pain and temperature and helps us discriminate the properties of things we come in contact with, i.e. texture, shape, size, and weight. From very early on in development this sense plays a crucial role in helping us gain awareness of our own bodies and understand everything we come in contact with. And how frustrating it must be to learn new skills when you can’t adequately feel the objects you’re using!”

    Movement Seeker

    This area describes how children move within their environment, including if they enjoy movement activities, seem accident prone or clumsy, seek out spinning and/or preferring to walking on their tip toes. Movement is how our bodies know where we are in space and how we respond to a variety of movement activities. This article explains movement seekers as “someone who has a high threshold for vestibular input. The vestibular system is housed in our inner ear, and is responsible for sending messages to our brain about the position and movement of our head. The vestibular system is activated anytime our head is tilted, upside-down, inverted, if we spin, if we run fast or run slow, when we’re on a swing or going down a slide.

    We need vestibular activation and an efficient vestibular processing system in order to maintain an upright position, feel balanced, have a full sense of our body in space and focus. Some people have low thresholds, in which they perceive vestibular activation at much higher rates (e.g. hypersensitive to movement). Others have high thresholds, which means that they need more intense, more frequent and longer duration of movement in order to register it and activate their vestibular system.”

    Oral

    This are addresses how children respond to new foods and different textures, if they tend to overstuff their mouths, how they control chewing/swallowing foods and liquids and if they tolerate their teeth being brushed. Our oral system is based on how our sensory receptors in our mouth recognize what is in our mouth. Some people have increased sensitivities for foods while others have decreased sensitivities to food. There are differences and optional interventions explained in this article:

    “We have sensory receptors in our mouths that allow us to recognize information about temperaturetexture (e.g. smooth like yogurt, hard like chips/pretzels, or a mixture of textures like cereal with milk), and taste (e.g. sweet, salty, bitter, sour). They may be over responsive or have increased sensitivity to oral input, causing them to be resistant to oral sensory experiences like trying new foods or brushing their teeth.

    Other children may have decreased sensitivity to oral sensory input and therefore seek more oral input in order to help them organize their behavior and pay attention. Our brains receive further proprioceptive input from the joint of the jaw as we bite and chew on foods with different types of resistance (e.g. a crunchy carrot or a chewy sweet/gum).  Oral sensory processing also contributes to the way we move our mouths, control our saliva, and produce sounds for clear speech.”  

    Behavioral Differences

    This area describes children’s behaviors such as how frequently they have meltdowns, if they are clingy, how hard it is to redirect them, if they are upset in new surrounds and how hard it is to help them calm down.  Teaching children how to calm down using a variety of sensory input, will benefit every child. Soothing Sammy provides opportunity for a child to create their own behavior support tool that is tailored to their specific needs. Weather they respond better to auditory, visual, tactile or others, Sammy the Golden Dog can make redirection to a calm down corner a positive experience for the child and the adult.

    Creating a sensory diet is one of the most important ways to support children with any type of sensory difference. These sensory diet cards is a must have resource if you are working with or have a child with a sensory need. 

    If you are concerned about your child, you can contact an Early Intervention provider to complete an evaluation from the day they are born all the way until they turn three years old.

    Early intervention occupational therapy services support children in all areas of sensory needs, and can help caregivers create sensory diets that will help children in a variety of situations. Visual, tactile, auditory, oral and movement interventions that are supported in a controlled environment, can help every child learn how to adapt and respond to different situations and environments.

    Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.