When people hear the word “diet” they think about better eating habits and a healthy lifestyle. Similar to food based diets, where one eats specific kinds of foods at specific times of the day, a sensory diet incorporates special activities throughout the day to help a child with sensory, attentional and/ or self-regulation issues manage better.
Consider people who shake their legs while sitting at their work stations or university students who exercise as a break from studying- they are engaging in sensory activities to either stay awake or to calm down. Depending on a child’s nervous system and sensory needs, they too may benefit from a sensory diet; a diet of activities and/or equipment used throughout the day to help them function at school and at home.
A sensory diet includes individualized sensory activities that are intended to be used throughout the day to help children focus. It may include inputs, such as deep pressure (e.g. massage), movement (e.g. jumping), touch (e.g. fidget toy), sound (e.g. music), visual stimulation (e.g. lava lamps), and smell/taste (e.g. peppermint candies), in addition to changes to the environment (e.g. quiet room).
A Sensory Diet can assist your child:
- To manage their attention, organization, and self-regulation
- To better tolerate sensations (e.g. touch, sounds)
- To facilitate smoother transitions
Who would benefit from a sensory diet?
Children with sensory processing disorders may have difficulty understanding, interpreting, and reacting to sensory information. Consider children whose challenging behaviours (e.g. yelling) or anxiety may arise when getting dressed because the sensation of seams on their socks feel itchy and unbearable. Or consider children who frequently bump into walls and appear to be “clumsy.” Lastly, consider children in the classroom who kick their legs while seated, fidget, and get up from their desk frequently. All of these children may benefit from a sensory diet with individually tailored sensory activities to help them maintain an organized and attentive state, as some of these children may be seeking input, while others are avoiding input.
Who can design a sensory diet for my child?
A registered occupational therapist with a background in sensory integration is most suitable to create a sensory diet. As an initial step, an occupational therapist may conduct an assessment to identify the child’s potential sensory needs. Once an occupational therapist has a solid understanding of the child’s sensory systems and their impact on day to day function, activities for a sensory diet with the “right” kinds and amount of inputs may be recommended.
A sensory diet is one treatment approach for children who are struggling with daily activities. To see if a sensory diet is right for your child, contact the clinic to learn more about how we can help.