What is a Sensory Diet?

Aug 11, 2021 | 0 comments

Written by Christina – Occupational Therapist

What is sensory diet? And why would an Occupational Therapist prescribe a sensory diet for children with sensory differences?

(Growing early minds, 2021)

Our Sensory System

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

How an OT Sensory Diet Works with Children

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.

Tips for Creating a Sensory Diet for your child

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.

A Sample Sensory Diet

Work with a Child Occupational Therapist to Create a Sensory Diet

A child or paediatric OT can help you to identify the sensory-seeking behaviours to develop and design sensory-based activities for your child’s sensory diet. Contact our Occupational Therapists in Parramatta to discuss sensory diet for your child.

Growing early minds. (2021). Sensory Processing Differences – The ultimate guide.

Jereb, G. (2021). Traffic Jam in my Brain.

Kid Sense. (2021) Sensory Processing.