What is a sensory diet and how can they help?

Children Speakin

Sensory Diets were first developed by occupational therapist Patricia Wilbarger and are often recommended by occupational therapists to help children: 

  • Remain focussed throughout the day (eg. at school or kindergarten)
  • Regulate their emotions and avoid meltdowns
  • Manage difficult situations
  • Remain alert and present in their current situation
  • Handle transitions
  • Go to sleep and sleep well through the night.

A sensory diet is a personalised set of sensory activities prescribed by an occupational therapist that match up with the child’s unique sensory needs. Sensory diets can be viewed similarly to a balanced food diet. Just as we all need vegetables, protein and fruit to obtain adequate vitamins and energy, we also have our own unique sensory requirements. For example, an adult who seeks movement input may go for a jog in the morning to enable them to concentrate effectively whilst at work during the day. With a regular and balanced sensory diet, a child can function at an optimal arousal level and respond more appropriately to everyday situations.

To have an effective sensory diet it is integral to have the right sensory “ingredients”! At Kids at Max, our occupational therapists can determine your child’s sensory preferences by getting them to complete an interview and questionnaire. This includes determining what sensory inputs a child seeks, is sensitive to, avoids and is unresponsive to.

The main sensory areas include:

  • Auditory
  • Movement
  • Oral
  • Smell
  • Visual
  • Touch

For example, some children find oral inputs to be soothing and may often be observed putting non-food items in their mouth, such as pens or clothing. As your occupational therapist will tell you, this indicates that the child would benefit from having activities that involve oral inputs (eg. blowing bubbles, using an electric toothbrush, eating crunchy foods) at regular intervals throughout the day as a soothing strategy.

Components of a sensory diet can include the following aspects:

  • Deep pressure touch which provides weight to the muscles and joints and has been found to be calming and increase concentration. This can be provided through firm massages and weighted blankets.
  • Auditory inputs such as using noise cancellation headphones, whistling or listening to favourite songs.
  • Movement activities, particularly activities called heavy work activities, where a child is pushing or pulling against their muscles, such as jumping on a trampoline or playing tug of war.
  • Visual inputs such as bright and interesting objects (eg. lava lamps, mobiles or coloured light-bulbs) or providing regular opportunities to reduce visual stimuli (eg. putting down blinds, wearing sunglasses, removing posters from walls).
  • Smell stimuli such as incorporating oil diffusers or scented candles and determining which scents are soothing or alerting for a child.

It is important to be consistent and as with any diet, it can take time for changes in a child’s functioning to be evident.
If you feel a sensory diet could beneficial for your child, please call Kids At Max on 03 9702 4447. Kids At Max is an occupational therapy clinic based in Bentleigh with a reputation for supporting families and assisting children to reach their full potential.

© 2017 Kids At Max