Sensory Diet: An Introduction

When I first heard the phrase “sensory diet” I thought I was going to get a list of foods that I should or should not feed my daughter based on her sensory profile. Would I need to throw out the gluten? Eliminate dairy? Learn all the various names of sugar so I could tell when it was added into foods? I had never had much success with diets personally, but I knew I would need to follow along with any recommendations from her Occupational Therapist (OT). I’ll admit I was a little relieved when I found out that a sensory diet has almost nothing to do with food.

It turns out that a sensory diet is a list of activities recommended to help your child get the sensory input they need in order to stay regulated throughout the day. A sensory diet is not one-size-fits-all, and should be developed to meet the individual child’s needs. It should include activities that can be incorporated into regular playtime.

At 20 months old, my daughter’s first sensory diet consisted of activities that gave her plenty of proprioceptive input as well as some calming activities. Her sensory diet was broken down into those two subheadings: Calming Activities and Heavy Work (Proprioceptive Activities). From there I worked with her daycare teachers, inclusion companion, and other therapists to ensure that her sensory needs were being met throughout her day, regardless of whether she was on the playground, in the classroom, or at home with me.

Most of the activities on my daughter’s sensory diet required little to no equipment – most things could easily be found around the house or the classroom. The diet we were given by her OT provided some suggested activities that recommended the use of specific equipment like weighted blankets or the disc-o-sit. Stay tuned for reviews of our personal experiences with some of these items over the next couple sensory-diet related posts.

As for food? Well, food actually is a part of my daughter’s sensory diet for oral input – crunchy foods like apples and pretzels are staples for her.

As my daughter has gotten older, I have found ways to help her learn through movement which you can see here.

You can find other great suggestions on activities to help your sensory seeker and/or avoider have fun in a book that I continue to find useful, The Out of Sync Child Has Fun.

Readers – what has your experience been with sensory diets? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.