Creating A Home Sensory Diet
Are you wondering how to create a sensory diet? You'll find the education and tools to do it here!
Here are the 5 areas I would like to address.
1. Defining and understanding.
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 diet.
5. And, the critical importance of understanding the diet and daily implementation.
What Is A Sensory Diet?
To continue defining and understanding WHAT a sensory diet is, I will
refer you to the sensory diet description:
No, it's not Atkins, South Beach or Slim Fast... Despite what you may have thought, this actually has nothing to do with food, fat, sugar, carbs or counting calories!
A sensory diet is, rather, a "diet" of activities and sensory input for your body and neurological system.
You may already have heard of it, had it recommended for your child, or be saying, HUH? For the latter group, let me briefly explain...
Just the same way your body needs food evenly spaced throughout the day, so does your body need activities to keep it's arousal level optimal.
Sensory diets are usually developed for individuals who need a large amount of sensory input throughout the day, however, they can be used in other ways as well. Perhaps the lethargic, disengaged, or fearful individual needs to be "woken" up throughout the day and exposed to input they may not normally receive. Then a sensory diet may be appropriate for them too.
Doctors have to figure out one's metabolism, amount of food, calories, type of food, and frequency to eat based on an individual's needs and body to keep the body functioning at it's optimal level. Someone trying to keep blood sugar levels regulated and 100 lbs overweight will eat differently than someone weighing 90 lbs who is dealing with anorexia.
Similarly, Occupational Therapists also need to figure out the amount, type, and frequency of activities one needs to function at it's optimal level. Same idea, just different "food".
Just as any diet should be prescribed and followed under the care and supervision of a doctor, so also the sensory diet needs to be "prescribed" and followed under the care and supervision of an Occupational Therapist. It requires skill, art, knowledge, and experience.
An Important Concept
It is important to understand one other basic concept. Whether we are
talking about a sensory diet for a child, teenager, or adult, the general
ideas and approach are the same. All you need to do is apply the same
methods, using the same strategy, but with different sensory activities
that are individualized and age appropriate.
Sensory diets work, whether you are
9 months or 99 years old! So, although I often refer to children, the
same can be said for adults.
High... Low... And Optimum Arousal Levels
Now, let's get more specific!
When creating a sensory diet, we are looking to bring high OR low arousal
levels to an optimal
arousal level. This will in turn increase
functioning, learning, and skill building within the best environment
OUR goal is to help our child (or ourselves) find activities
that, in themselves and/or with their timing, will bring an individual
to that optimal state of arousal. It is about meeting their sensory needs throughout the day, to keep them calm, focused, and alert enough to optimally function.
What Does High Arousal Look Like?
can't sit still, "hyper"
talks fast, loud, a lot
can't calm self down for sleep
"intense" or highly sensitive
difficulty with transitions, stress, or changes in routine
What Does Low Arousal Look Like?
hard to get going, lethargic
appears to lack interest
avoids physical activity
limited facial expressions
hard to wake up in the morning or after a nap
moves very slow
What Does Optimal Arousal Look Like?
able to focus and explore tasks, activities, and environments
able to concentrate
has appropriate and meaningful interactions with people and
maintains good eye contact
can adapt to stressful situations and changes in routines
Obviously arousal states that are high or low are not optimally effective for
accomplishing daily tasks and functional activities that include the
basics of work, rest, and play. We NEED to help our children move into
an optimal state of arousal for a greater percentage of the day so they
can learn, develop appropriately, and function at their best.
"HOW do we do this", you ask? Ah...by being VERY careful observers!!
First, we must start by paying attention to, and keeping a journal on;
what stimulation, demands, and environments excite, calm, over arouse,
and/or allows our children (or you) to best focus, learn, work, rest, or
Second, we pay attention to which stimulation, demands, or environments
are getting in the way, and which ones are helpful.
Third, we ask all kinds of questions...
... "What do we need to do to PREPARE this child (neurologically,
physically, verbally, emotionally) prior to certain activities, demands,
... "What modifications or accommodations do we need to do to help this
child successfully get through particular activities or daily routines?"
... "What are his/her activities or tasks that cause the most difficulty?"
... "What sets him/her 'off' into disruptive or unfocused behaviors?"
... "What do we do to 'wake up' the child's nervous system?"
... "What do we do to calm him/her down when over aroused?"
... "What are the child's best times of day? Their worst times?"
Your Occupational Therapist will help you determine these answers, but
any input YOU have for them regarding these questions will be extremely
helpful. For example, things you have tried, things that have worked, have not worked,
things you have noticed, patterns your child exhibits, etc.
With all of these questions in mind (and so many more), we must then set out
to put our observations in writing. Reality is often different and more
noticeable on paper! Your OT will NEED the information I will be presenting , if they are going to help you set up a specific and effective sensory
diet for you or your child.
Below you will find a form that you can copy and paste into your own
word processing program and fill out.
will be important in the creation of your child's sensory diet. It won't be
hard to create, as long as there is enough background information. We
NEED parental input on this! So, observe and write down as much
information as you possible can using the form below.
(Whether you are a parent or an OT, you can use this form as a way of
collecting and documenting a thorough history.)
Observations For Sensory Diet Planning
1. Sensory Experience/Activity Avoided Or Distressed By:
4. For How Long:
5. How Did It Interfere With Function; i.e. "work"(any learning or
developmental task), rest, or play:
6. How/Why Did The Child Stop:
7. How Long Did It Take The Child To "Recover":
8. Sensory Experience/Activity Sought Out:
11. How Long:
12. Child's Reaction During Activity:
13. How/Why Did Child Stop Activity:
14.. Child's Reaction/Behavior After Activity:
15. How Did It Interfere With Function (i.e., "work", rest, or play)
16. List any other fine motor or gross motor activities your child has
17. What reactions/behaviors does child exhibit when attempting or during
task/activity that is difficult:
18. Does your child have difficulty with transitions (going from one activity
__Yes __No __Sometimes Especially when...
19. What is your child's favorite activity? What is their least favorite
20. What demand, environment, or activity causes the most distress or an increase
in negative behaviors?
21. What is most successful in calming or alerting YOUR child when he/she
22. Other comments/observations/questions:
After filling out as much as you can, you will want to bring this
information to your Occupational Therapist. All sensory diets should be made in collaboration an OT and parental input. It should be SPECIFIC and INDIVIDUALIZED for YOUR child, and should include activities to be done on a daily basis.
Sensory Diet Behavior and Body Awareness Flash Card Deck - Super Duper Educational Learning Toy for Kids
Here are some of the questions/answers an OT should provide based on
your thorough "data". Keep these in mind as you fill out your observations.
Also, use the questions below to try different things and experiment
with different sensory input to get as much variety and information as
Sensory Activity Sought:
What Sensation Is He/She Looking For; Does He/She Get:
Alternate or Similar Activity That Can Be Used To Provide Similar Input:
What Can He/She Do At Home Or School To Give Them This Input:
Sensory Activity Avoided:
What Sensation Are They Avoiding:
What Preparation Will Help The Child Tolerate This Input:
Should It / Could It Be Replaced With Something Else? If So, What:
What Accomodations And/Or Modifications Could Be Used At Home Or School:
With answers to these questions understood, the Occupational Therapist
will/should help set all the specific, individualized ingredients for
your child's sensory diet. They will include specific instructions about:
1. A.M. nervous system preparation
2. Specific activities needed throughout the day, and how often they
should be done. (And YOU should understand the purpose of each activity
...if you are not clear about it, ASK!)
3. Activities that need to be avoided or adapted on a regular basis at
home or school to help the child succeed and/or increase function.
4. P.M. nervous system preparation
Consistency And Making It Work!
IT IS CRITICALLY IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THE NEED FOR CONSISTENCY AND
FOLLOW THROUGH AT HOME AND SCHOOL ONCE THE SENSORY DIET IS DEVELOPED!!
I can't emphasize enough, results are in direct proportion to how much
the diet is followed. Just the same as a "food diet"... the more you
follow it, the better your weight loss will be.
You too will understand and find hope with a sensory diet. You will
embrace the differences in your child, and the relief in your family's life!
Further Reading And Related Resources
Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist
- comprehensive SPD Checklist; signs and symptoms of tactile, auditory, olfactory and oral defensiveness, as well as proprioceptive and vestibular dysfunction.
Sensory Integration Activities
- Turning Therapy Into Play - Sensory integration activities are the lifeline to achieving maximum function in children with SPD.
- A sensory room is extremely therapeutic for both children and adults with, or without, sensory processing/sensory integration disorders. What should we put in it?
Surviving The Summer With SPD
- What extra challenges do parents face and what can we do to help our kids?
Have You Had Any Success With A Sensory Diet?
Do you have a story, experience, suggestions, comments or questions about using a balanced sensory diet? Share it with the readers of Sensory-Processing-Disorder.com!
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