Sensory Diets: What are they? Who needs them?

Just as our bodies need food throughout the day, the same is true for our bodies needing necessary sensory input.  Typically our bodies are able to meet our needs by activities naturally throughout the day.  Things like swinging your legs while sitting in a chair, chewing gum, humming, eating crunchy snacks, taking a bathroom break to walk around, drinking cold water, or stretching are all ways our systems regulate.

However, children with sensory processing disorders (SPD) often cannot meet their sensory needs through these tasks.  As such they need a “sensory diet”.  These can be done anywhere and are great for home programs to help a child reach and maintain an appropriate level of arousal throughout the day.

The ingredients of a good Sensory Diet…

1. Propioception – This is the sensation for our joints and muscles and includes activities for lifting, pushing and pulling heavy objects.

Activities include:

  • Pillow Play! Firmly press on the child’s arms, legs and back with pillows making a body sandwich while allowing for smiles, laughs, and most of all, social engagement.  Don’t’ forget to give breaks…
  • Off to the Store! Although busy at times, take the time to allow your child to push a cart in the store starting, stopping, and navigating corners.  Kids love it and it helps their propioception .
  • House duties! Get you child and get to work.  Having them help to push and pull a vacuum or transfer laundry from the washer to dryer are great ways to involve them.  No task is too big, just be sure to monitor it or you’ll have more work “cleaning up” after them in the end!
2. Vestibular is the sensation we get from movement

Activities include:

  • Playground time! Not only a social activity, but playgrounds naturally entertain children as they run, jump, swing, and dig in the sand.
    • Don’t forget: Rolling down hills, or hanging upside down too!
3. Tactile is the sensation of being touched

Activities include:

  • Get out the Soap! Putting liquid soap or shaving cream on a table allowing your child to make swirls, handprints, and squishing it in their hands is the goal!
  • Take your shoes off! Being barefoot while playing in the sand, grass or even on the carpet is a way to introduce new experiences for the feet.
  • Dress up time! Playing dress up not only promotes creative and imaginary play but also allows for a child to experience the way different clothes “feel” as some are soft like satin while others rough with texture.
4. Auditory is the sensation of what is heard or how we listen

Activities include:

  • Nature time! Go outside and take it in. Listen for cars driving by, helicopters, wind in the trees, or other children playing.
  • Music time! The TV music channels are great for this as they are themed for different music.  Slow and relaxing – go for classical. Get up and boogie, go for Toddler time. Dinner time, smooth Jazz is great. Nice thing is, some have words and others don’t and that’s good to have in the background while targeting other activities (e.g. book reading).
5. Visual is the sensation of what is seen

Activities include:

  • Be an investigator! Turn the lights down and get out the flashlights.  Playing with these or with light up toys while dark really stimulates the visual system – and its fun too!
  • Hide the clutter! Just like adults, children get confused and distracted with “clutter” so put things away and you’ll both be visually calmer J
6. Smell is the sensation of smelling something

Activities include:

  • Oils, oils, oils! Smells like vanilla and rose are generally calming while peppermint and citrus are generally alerting.
  • Cooking together! Cooking with kids are a great opportunity for them to smell things as vinegar, flour, cake mixes and even chocolate all smell so interesting and alert the sensory system.
7. Taste is the sensation of tasting something

Activities include: 

  • Let’s make faces! Tasting things that are sour, sweet, salty, or even spicy alert the mouth as flavor brings everyone happiness.

Get messy! Playing with food often leads to kids tasting food.  Just don’t’ put a lot of expectations about eating food, its all about play in this activity!

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