What is a sensory diet?

A “sensory diet” is a treatment strategy used to manage children with a sensory processing dysfunction.  It includes a series of physical activities and tactile stimulus.  It has nothing to do with food.  In essence, it is a list of sensory activities that helps to keep a child feeling ‘calm’ and sensorially organized that then allows them to attend, learn and behave to the best of their ability.

When used by a therapist it is individually tailored program to be used at home and/or school, preschool or child care facilities.  It is used to help manage a child’s sensory-motor needs to allow them to learn, play, and function appropriately.  The activities in a sensory diet can be used as a treatment strategy when difficult behaviors arise, or as a management tool to avoid “melt downs” that often occur in children with a SPD.


Why is a sensory diet important?

Just like we are to eat a balanced food diet to keep fit and healthy, we also need a balanced amount of sensory information in our bodies each day to allow them to work well.  A “sensory diet” provides regular opportunities for our bodies to ‘keep in check’ the imbalance in the sensory stimulation they are lacking, seeking or avoiding, to ensure that the amount received meet the body’s required levels to function well. And just like needed to eat healthy foods daily to stay healthy, it is just as important to get the right kind, the right amount, and at the right time of day, of sensory input into our bodies to stay in equilibrium.

A specifically tailored sensory diet is established then modified over time to meet the individual child’s needs as their sensory processing changes or the environmental demands shift. Thus a “sensory diet” consists of sensory activities that help children to feel calm and organized, which then helps them to obtain an optimal state for learning, attention and behaving appropriately.

As a child learns to self-regulate sensorially through the use of a sensory diet, skills such as concentrating, sharing and taking turns will be easier to develop. This enables a child to move from depending on others to beginning to manage tasks or situations by themselves, as well as enhancing their social relationships.

How can I tell if my child has a problem with sensory processing or self-regulation?   If a child has difficulties with Sensory Processing and/or self-regulation they might:

  • Have poor attention
  • Being overly active to typical stimulus
  • Being lethargic and lack speed of activity on a regular basis
  • Have difficulties in learning and retaining learn skills
  • Be unable to comfortably manage crowds or group settings
  • Show immature social skills
  • Suffer from heightened anxiety
  • Show heightened reactivity to sound, touch or movement.
  • Be under-reactive to certain sensations (e.g. not noticing their name being called, being touched, high pain threshold).
  • Appear to mostly be in their ‘own world’
  • Have difficulty regulating their own behavioral and emotional responses; increased tantrums, emotional reactive, need for control, impulsive behaviors, easily frustrated or overly compliant.
  • Behavioral challenges/’melt-downs’
  • Be easily distracted, show poor attention and concentration.
  • Have poor motor skills; appears clumsy, has immature coordination, balance and motor planning skills, and/or poor handwriting skills.
  • Have poor sleep patterns.
  • Display restricted eating habits or is a picky eater.
  • Become distressed during self-care tasks (e.g. hair-brushing, hair-washing, nail cutting, dressing, tying shoe laces, self-feeding).
  • Love movement; seeks out intense pressure (e.g. constant spinning, running around, jumping, crashing in objects/people).
  • Avoid movement-based equipment (e.g. swings, slides etc.)
  • Appear floppy or have ‘low muscle tone’, tire easily and is often slumped in postures.
  • Performs tasks with too much force, has big movements, moves too fast, writes too light or too hard.
  • Have delayed communication and social skills, is hard to engage in two-way interactions.
  • Prefer to play on their own or has difficulty in knowing how to play with other children.
  • Have difficulty accepting changes in routine or transitioning between tasks.
  • Have difficulty engaging with peers and sustaining friendships.
  • Have tantrums that last for longer than typical
  • The high number of tantrums or behavioral episodes per day is more than typical
  • Is difficult to discipline
  • Typical behavioral strategies are ineffective.
  • Social/emotional issues, difficulty making friends
  • Avoidance of activities that children typically enjoy (play in sand)
  • Abusive/rough play to self or others
  • Unusually high or low energy level
  • Unusual eating habits, picky eaters

NOTE FROM THE OWNER:  I personally recommend the “Out of Sync Child” and the “Out of Sync Child has fun” by Carol Kranowitz.

Things you can do with your child at home now