Creating A Home Sensory Diet

One of the most effective treatments for Sensory Processing Disorders is a sensory diet. In almost any discussion about sensory integration therapy, you will probably hear the words, "sensory diet", and immediately start asking questions...


  • What is a sensory diet?
  • What activities should I do with my child?
  • How often should I do them?
  • How do I know which ones to use and when?
  • What do I do if my child won't tolerate that activity?
  • And so much more!

    It CAN be confusing when you first hear about a "sensory diet". The best case scenario is that your child has been officially diagnosed with SPD/SID and you are working closely with a qualified Occupational Therapist knowledgeable about Sensory Integration Theory and sensory diets. If you are not, I encourage (beg) you to do so! It is just so very important to get the proper diagnosis and the proper treatment!

    If you feel that some of us are a bit reluctant to go too far explaining our home sensory diets... you are right! *grin* There is a line between sharing what WE do with our kids, and what YOU need to do with your kids. We do feel a certain responsibility, to first: Do No Harm. And that is where the reluctance comes in...

    When we do talk about this, we, us "dinosaurs", are so very careful to say, over and over, TALK to your own OT, about what activities would be right for YOUR child. Just because this activity may be calming to mine, does not mean it will work for yours.

    The dilemma comes in when there are parents whose OT's will NOT help them discover loads of activities for their children, or those parents among us who cannot get appropriate therapy due to location, or finances. Some only get school based therapy, which may be sadly lacking from a sensory integrative point of view.

    (Many schools can not provide this type of therapy with the frequency necessary due to large caseloads, limited time, and that the child's sensory issues may not be impacting him enough within the classroom to warrant treatment from an educational standpoint. But, it is something we are working on improving.)

    Will some parents try to do brushing, or deep pressure without an OT overseeing them, and actually harm their child? We hope not, and again, the warnings from us constantly... take care, ask a professional, don't take OUR word for it.

    So what to do? To deny information wouldn't be right. That is what we are here for after all. So we tread carefully, offering information with the warnings.

    Many parents who are new to this type of therapy misunderstand greatly, and think a sensory diet is certain kinds of foods, or that the only kinds of activities that can help are those done in the OT clinic. Not true.

    So, in an effort to promote clarity and understanding, but NOT to suggest that our own diets will necessarily be right for any one else's child... we talk. And so we do.

    The best and only expert on each of our children is... YOU. YOU know what kinds of behaviors you are seeing. And really, we end up combining what our OT's do at the clinic with our own observations of what is helpful at home. BE the detective with your child.

    FIRST: Study, and maybe write down through the course of a few days? What behaviors you are seeing. Most of you have already written them out, in an attempt to tell us in here, what's happening at home.

    You'll say things like...

    He spins through the house, crashing into everything! The Sensory Diet solution is: Give him something SAFE to spin and crash on.

    She mouths everything in sight! The Sensory Diet solution is: Give her more appropriate things to mouth, increase oral activities.

    He jumps all over the furniture! The Sensory Diet solution is: Give him a safe space and something to jump on. (I actually bought a yard sale couch for my son to jump on, and put huge pillows all around it, prior to the trampoline)

    See what I am saying?

    Each child is so very different, and has different requirements. But if you LOOK at what they are doing... they ARE telling you, in the only way they know how, with their behaviors, what they are needing. Take what they already DO and make it safer. More appropriate. That's the beginning of your sensory diet.

    Give 'em what they are needing, in better, safer, healthier ways. Redirect them to a safer way to get the same input. And make it fun! They'll feel better for being able to do these things for as long as they need to. And you'll be happier NOT hollering "Get OFF my couch!"

    ASK your therapist, if you have one. Say: "You say he has vestibular (low muscle tone, visual-spatial, tactile, etc.) problems. Can you give me a few examples of what to do at home." And start building from there.

    Some of our diets? Are worked right into the day. Like carrying the laundry basket or bringing in the groceries. Measuring out ingredients when we are cooking. Pulling a sibling in a wagon. Swinging. Exercising" with Mom. Moving and dancing to the Songs for Sensational Kids: The Wiggly Scarecrow.

    Offer different things throughout the day. Keep in mind, you can help them through ALL their senses...


  • Is a certain candle soothing to your child? Another alerting?
  • Does your child blissfully sit in front of the fish tank, or watch the flames in the fireplace?
  • Is a slow walk at sunset calming to them?
  • Do they LOVE to be hugged tight, or rolled up in their towel after their bath?
  • Does certain music wind them up? And other music make them sleepy or quiet?
  • Is white noise calming or irritating?

  • This is exactly what we all had to figure out, and go on figuring out as time passes and their needs change. Then, you can also work on specific issues, by adding more sensory exercises in those areas. So, we can give you a picture of a day in the life of ours... and it would be for the moment, and always changing, depending on the stresses in their lives, and what particular issues we are working on RIGHT NOW. But the most important thing, I think, is examining the behaviors and issues of your own child and beginning to work on the ways to add or decrease input that directly helps your child.

    About the Author:

    Michelle Morris is the mother of six, and parent of a child with a Sensory Processing Disorder. She is whole heartedly dedicated to promoting awareness and advocacy for families with SPD children. She has published over 30 articles supporting and educating parents about SPD.

    Michelle is right. Examples of sensory diets are only that... examples of what works for ONE child on ONE day. The diet will have some consistencies from day to day, but will also vary based on THAT day, THOSE sensory issues that exist at THAT moment in time.

    However, once you understand the sensory needs of your child based on a comprehensive evaluation and observing their behavior carefully (it is highly recommended to keep a journal for a while!), work with your OT on the types of activities and frequency the various activities should be used. What we, as parents, Occupational Therapists, and friends can best do for you is help you understand the CONCEPTS behind the diet and give you activity suggestions.

    It is best left there... work with your OT for the SPECIFIC diet, but use the activities we suggest to work from. The child's behavior will tell you exactly what they need... become a expert observer.

    As you implement the Sensory Diet, you should start to see some very significant, positive changes in your child and family life. Be diligent. Be consistent! As long as you are focusing on the right behaviors using the right solutions, based on Sensory Integration theories, you will make a HUGE difference in the life of your child.

    If you need help, ASK for it! That's what we OT's do... help you come up with solutions and activities to do at home. No matter what type of therapy you are in, it will only be as effective as you make it. Home programs are absolutely critical! Please find find the discipline to advocate for and help your child with a home sensory diet. They need it.

    Here are the best resources for activities for YOUR child's sensory diet:

    Brainworks Sensory Diet Creator For Autism And SPD - Brainworks Is The Premier Sensory Diet Creation Tool. Sensory Diets Are Designed Primarily For Those With Autism And Other Sensory Processing Disorders.

    Do you have more questions about sensory diets? The SPD Companion Newsletter Issue #5

    Issue # 005 addresses the following:

    1. Defining and understanding what a sensory diet is.

    2. Signs of high, low, and optimal arousal.

    3. How and what to observe in your child before planning his/her diet (the KEY ingredients).

    4. How to plan your child's INDIVIDUAL sensory diet.

    5. And, the critical importance of understanding the diet and daily implementation.

    Click Here for an even more in depth discussion about creating a home sensory diet

    Have You Had Any Success With A Sensory Diet?

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    Related Resources

    Sensory Room - Extremely therapeutic for kids or adults with SPD

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