A sensory diet is a planned activity program designed to meet an individual's sensory needs. It is based on the theory that every person needs a certain amount of activity and input in order to maintain an alert and calm body which can cope with the environment around them. A sensory diet can be a powerful tool for behavior management. The sensory system is made up of several different systems which include: visual (sight), auditory (hearing), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), proprioception (sensations in the muscles and joints), vestibular (movement), and tactile (touch) systems. Most sensory diets focus on providing input to the proprioceptive, vestibular, and tactile systems.
The senses never work in isolation. Each sense works together with the others to form a clear picture of what we are doing. It is important to provide a diet that includes tactile, proprioception, and vestibular input each time.
A child maybe sensitive/defensive to sensory input and/or sensory seeking depending on the type of input and the environment. A child might tolerate input one day and resist it the next. That is way it's important to provide input to each system everyday.
First, write down your child's daily schedule. Note classes or times that are difficult for your child.
8am Get dressed and wash face 8:30am Eat breakfast 9am Free time 9:15am School 9:30am Homeroom 10:00am Math Has a difficult time paying attention in math. Often is disruptive in class. 10:45am Speciality (Gym, Art, Music) 11:30am Lunch 12:00 Recess 12:30pm Writing 1:15pm Reading Has a difficult time staying seated. 2:30pm Library 3:00pm Schools out 3:30pm Snack at home 3:45pm Free time 5:00pm Dinner 6:00pm Homework 7:00pm Free time 8:00pm Get ready for bed *Can't calm down before bed. Usually falls asleep closer to 10pm. 8:30pm Bed
Look at the schedule and your behavior observations. It is often helpful to get input from teachers as well. Remembering a sensory diet helps a child have appropriate attention/focus, arousal level, and ability to cope and adapt to the environment around them- provide sensory input right before areas of need. For instance in the example above: before math, reading, and bedtime.
If a child is having difficulties with attention and focus and is overaroused try these calming strategies during their sensory break.
- Blowing (bubbles, cotton ball across the table)
- Sucking (water from a water bottle or through a straw)
- Heavy work (jumping jacks, trampoline, sit-ups)
- Resistive putty
- Therapeutic brushing
- Lotion massage (deep pressure and joint retraction)
- Gum or other resistive foods
- Weighted vest
- Slow linear movment (back and forth on a swing or rocking in a chair)
- Squishing the child between two pillows for deep pressure
- Warm liquids (apple cider)
If a child is having difficulties with staying alert and is underaroused try these calming strategies during their sensory break.
- Sour foods
- Heavy work (trampoline, scooter board, jumping jacks)
- Cold liquids
- Fast rotary movements (swing) and unexpected movements
- Fast energetic music (music, Wii)
Using these tips. You should be able to begin to create a sensory diet. Remember vigirous propriceptive input can last up 2 hours in the sensory system and vigirous vestibular input can last 4 to 8 hours. The other sensory system have a shorter duration a matter of minutes or as long as the child is engaged in the activity.
Consult a special education teacher or occupational therapist if you have further questions or concerns when creating a sensory diet.