Sensory Diet

May 29, 2013

Once a parent understands Sensory Processing (see this post for a full explanation), the next question is often “what do I do with my or my child’s sensory needs?” An OT will usually answer, “it depends on the individual.” Every person explores, feels and senses their environment differently.  For example, when I am unable to focus on my work, often times I will play calming music in the background and that helps me become more focused. For others any type of noise in the background can be very distracting.

To help figure out what is calming/alerting for you or your child, your occupational therapist will usually establish a sensory diet.  A sensory diet is something that can be embedded in your daily routine and help the individual get through tasks/transitions that can be very difficult. For example; if a child has difficulty getting dressed in the morning and complains about the feeling of the material or doesn’t like certain textures on their skin, the therapist might suggest an activity that would help the individual transition into the non-preferred activity (such as getting dressed). An example of one of the activities might include wrapping the child up in a blanket like a burrito and giving deep squishes to help desensitize the skin before putting clothes on. It could also help decrease the child’s anxiety about getting dressed as being wrapped up tightly can give a calm and safe feeling (again, every individual is different). Occupational therapists work with the family to help establish a diet that works for the child and family. Below is a list of tools, most of them are divided into calming, alerting or organizing activities. Please take note that these are suggested activities and may not be calming/alerting for your child; as I mentioned before every person processes information differently.

Activities that may be found in a Sensory Diet:

 

 Alerting Activities: Alerting activities help the undersensitive child to increase hypo-responsiveness to sensory stimulation. Stimulation activities include:

§  Applying lotion with stimulating scents (peppermint, citrus scent).

§  Jumping activities (jumping jacks, jumping on trampoline, hop scotch, jumping on bed/furniture).

§  Bouncing activities (therapy ball, beach ball, peanut ball).

§  Eating crunchy food (raw vegetables and fruits, nuts, crunchy cereal, toast).

 

 

 Calming Activities:

Calming activities should be used to help the oversensitive child decrease hyper-responsiveness to sensory stimulation. These activities are characterized by slow, linear movement or comfort. They include:

§  Deep pressure activities (being sandwiched in between 2 pillows; being rolled in a blanket pretend to become a burrito; pushing against the wall with hands, back, and head; clamping hands in each other and squeeze; pushing down on a hard surface with extended arms and flat hands…).

§  Slow rocking (in the arms of an adult, in rocking chair, placed in a blanket held by 2 adults, in a hammock).

§  Taking a warm bath/shower.

§  Applying lotion with calming scent (lavender, chamomile, vanilla).

§  Sucking on hard candy, lollipops, or pacifier.

§  Holding a cuddle toy (stuffed animal, favorite blanket).

§  Manipulating a fidget toy.

 

 

 

 Organizing Activities: These activities help regulate the child’s responses. Organizing activities use resistance and/or rotational, upside down movement. They include:

 

§  Eating chewy foods (chewing gum, eating peanut butter, chewy fruit bars, dried fruits, fresh bagels).

§  Hanging activities (hanging arms of monkey bar, or chinning bar, hanging of adult’s elevated arms).

§  Pushing activities (pushing furniture, heavy grocery and/or laundry bags).

§  Climbing (on play structures, furniture, trees).

§  Bouncing activities.

§  Digging in resistive mass (theraputty, sand, mud, rice).

§  Sitting on an air cushion, peanut ball.

§  Participating in rough play (tug of war, roughhousing).

§  Upside down movement (somersault, cartwheel, hanging off trapeze).

 

By: Laura Anderson MS, OTR/L

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