What is a Sensory Diet?

Aug 11, 2021 | 0 comments

Written by Christina – Occupational Therapist

Why does occupational therapist emphasise a sensory diet to be implemented on a daily basis for children with sensory difficulties?

(Growing early minds, 2021)

Our sensory system consists of eight senses which are:

Olfactory (smell): Our brain’s ability to interpret smells.
Visual: Our brain’s ability to interpret what we see.
Auditory: Our brain’s ability to interpret what is heard.
Gustatory (taste): Our brain’s ability to interpret what we taste.
Tactile: Our brain’s ability to interpret what we touch.
Vestibular: Our brain’s ability to interpretation information relating to movement and balance.
Proprioception: Our brain’s ability to interpret where our body is in space.
Interoception: Our brain’s ability to interpret the messages from inside our body

A sensory diet is a plan of specific neurologically-based activities that support a child’s ability to remain in a functional state of alertness and arousal.  To keep our brain alert, focussed and regulated, we all need certain amounts and types of input and activity required each day.

Every child has different sensory motor preference. For example, a child with decreased awareness of proprioception requires more deep pressure input to their proprioceptor neurons in the muscles, tendons and ligaments which we do through ‘heavy work’ activities such as carrying books for the teacher or bear walks down the hallway.

Your Occupational Therapist will assess your child for sensory and sensory-motor challenges and build a sensory diet around areas they need to improve on, or integrate better if they are over-responsive to a certain sensory input.

What information does my OT need in order to create a sensory diet for my child?

  1. Observe sensory motor preferences – What behaviours are you seeing in your child that are different to others? Do they really like climbing? Are they clumsy? Do they avoid moving altogether?
  2. Observe sensory preferences – Does your child avoid certain sensory input or become distressed by it e.g. your child may scratch or become annoyed with tags and seams in their clothing, they may not like to eat mushy or green foods etc. Or maybe they really seek out other types of sensory input e.g a fluffy toy or hanging upside down

How will a Sensory Diet work?

Increasing repertoire – You OT will advise you a series of activities to do with your child between therapy sessions. Start by completing one sensory diet activity per day suitable to your child’s daily routine. Then slowly increase your repetition and number of activities you can complete each day. Notice how your child feels after the activity – are they calmer or more alert.

Inserting sensory input preceding an event – Once you notice the effect these activities have on your child you can begin to use these before events that you know will distress your child e.g. you need to take your child to the shopping centre but know that they become overwhelmed so you provide some deep pressure activities before leaving the house and occasionally throughout the trip to keep your child calm.

Growing early minds. (2021). Sensory Processing Differences – The ultimate guide. https://growingearlyminds.org.au/tips/sensory-processing-disorder-the-ultimate-guide/

Jereb, G. (2021). Traffic Jam in my Brain. https://sensorytools.net/collections/workshops

Kid Sense. (2021) Sensory Processing. https://childdevelopment.com.au/areas-of-concern/sensory-processing/4