I’m sure we’ve all heard of the term sensory diet and its benefits for your child’s intervention approach, but what does it mean?! Is it a genuine diet? Am I feeding my kids gummy bears? Help!
A ‘sensory diet’ is an intervention strategy used to manage your child’s sensory processing dysfunction, otherwise known as our sensory-motor integration.
As the structure of a food diet, a sensory diet is a list of activities and tasks that help our children feel emotionally regulated and sensorily organised throughout their day. As a result, this allows them to attend to tasks, learn new concepts and execute activities to their fullest potential!
When your Occupational Therapist prescribes your child with a specifically tailored sensory diet for either the home or school environment, you’ll typically see a range of sensory and physical-based activities to be completed.
The overarching goal of a sensory diet is to prevent sensory overload and emotional overload by meeting our body’s sensory needs. Some individuals may feel overwhelmed throughout the day and need to regulate themselves to a calmer state. A sensory diet can be utilised as an effective treatment strategy or preventative tool in advance of known challenges.
Similar principles apply to a sensory diet, like when we try to have a balanced food diet. The less processed and sugary foods we eat, the better! Equally, when we provide our bodies with an appropriate amount of sensory information, we encourage regular opportunities for a child to remain in a balanced sensory state, managing the stimulus they are lacking, seeking, or even avoiding.
Across time, your child’s sensory diet should be modified as new sensory needs are established due to shifting environmental demands and sensory processing changes.
Just like many intervention approaches, there are underlying foundations that are required to ensure the effectiveness of a sensory diet. These include:
- Attention and Concentration – sustained effort is required to complete the task without distraction.
- Executive Functioning – higher cognition thinking and reasoning skills to create and change activities when needed.
- Planning and Sequencing – using multi-step sequencing skills to achieve the desired outcome.
- Sensory Processing – accurate processing of sensory stimulation.
- Receptive Language – comprehension of the spoken language.
- Compliance – the ability of the child to follow through with requests.
So, now that we understand what a sensory diet is and the skills required, how do we know whether my child will benefit from it? Your child may demonstrate some of the below observations, which will indicate whether a sensory diet is necessary:
- Seeking physical movement
- Appears to be registering little to no sensory information in their environment, e.g., looks tired, lethargic or vague.
- Demonstrates restlessness during group time or in busy environments
- Seeking rough play
- Limited understanding of personal space
- The trouble with the bedtime routine and or sleeping
If your child fits one of the above criteria, contact one of our OTs to enquire!