What is a Sensory Diet? Did you know that a balanced diet of sensory activities is just as important as a balanced diet in kids? It’s true! A sensory diet is a commonly-used tool among therapists and can be implemented for many reasons.
Whether you need to stop negative behavior in its tracks or prevent it from occurring in the first place, a sensory diet is a great tool to have in your arsenal. Today, you’ll learn what a sensory diet is, what it consists of, and what it can do for you and your child.
What is a Sensory Diet?
A sensory diet is a compilation of sensory activities intended to impact a child’s behavior positively. Sensory diets are commonly used in therapy to give children the tools they need to be successful at school, in their homes, and beyond.
Sensory diets are custom-tailored to each child according to their individual needs. Consequently, a period of trial and error is necessary when planning a new diet. The good news is that with the right sensory diet, you can significantly improve your child’s life.
There are seven major categories of sensory activities to choose from:
- Heavy muscle work
- Oral motor
Sensory activities can provide input to one or more areas simultaneously. Creating a well-rounded sensory diet that encompasses all five of these categories is essential. Luckily, occupational therapists are expertly trained to guide you through the process and recommend the best sensory input ideas that work for your family.
Sensory Diet Examples
If your child’s sensory diet doesn’t include the right sensory input, you won’t see results. Luckily, there is no shortage of sensory diet options out there. Here are some examples of sensory activities in each of the five major categories:
Heavy Muscle Work
In order for a sensory activity to fall under heavy muscle work, a child must use their body to push or pull. Heavy muscle work sensory activities are ideal for children who struggle with managing big emotions or staying calm. This is because heavy muscle work activities require a child to pay close attention to their body.
Here are some examples of heavy muscle work activities in a sensory diet:
- Pushing a wall
- Playing tug-of-war
- Big bear hugs
- Settling down under a weighted blanket
- Pushing a ball across the floor and up the wall
Oral Motor Sensory Activities
Oral motor sensory activities are designed to strengthen the muscles in the face, which helps with speech, saliva control, and feeding problems. This means that any sensory input activity that requires a child to use their mouth muscles qualifies as an oral motor sensory activity.
Here’s a quick look at what oral motor sensory activities might look like:
- Blowing bubbles or a whistle
- Chewing on oral tubes
- Drinking water from a straw
- Puffing up cheeks
- Sucking on hard candies
Tactile/Touch Sensory Activities
As the name suggests, tactile sensory activities include sensory input that deals with physical touch. Tactile sensory activities help acclimate children to certain textures they might be averse to. They also help to develop a child’s fine motor skills, which are essential for feeding, grasping, and writing.
There are many types of tactile sensory activities that can help your child:
- Playing in a sensory bin
- Molding play dough
- Rubbing textures against skin
- Playing blindfold games, like pin the tail on the donkey
- Drawing letters in sand
Vestibular/Movement Sensory Activities
Vestibular or movement sensory activities give the sensation of a change in direction. Through vestibular sensory input, children can become acclimated to movement activities. This type of sensory input is also ideal for hand-eye coordination, posture, spatial orientation, and muscle tone.
Some of the most popular forms of vestibular sensory input include:
- Playing tag
Alerting Sensory Activities
Alerting sensory activities include actions that require quick changes in body movement. These types of sensory activities stimulate a child’s senses and prime their brain for learning. Alerting sensory activities are especially valuable in helping children with attention deficits or who can’t stay awake during learning time.
Here are some examples of alerting sensory activities:
- Jumping jacks
- Running in place
- Arm circles
Auditory Sensory Activities
Auditory sensory activities rely on sound input. Children who constantly make noises or have trouble quieting down are great candidates for auditory input. However, even children who don’t display these symptoms can benefit from auditory input.
Here are some ways that auditory input can be implemented:
- Listening to music
- Playing with toys that make noise
- Playing instruments, such as beating on a drum
- Listening to white noise
- Snapping, clapping, or stomping
Visual sensory activities include activities that require children to look closely at objects. Visual sensory input helps children improve focus while fostering a deeper understanding of the world around them. In other words, it helps a child’s eyes and brain to more effortlessly work together.
Examples of visual input include:
- Watching educational television
- Flashlight play
- Playing with a fidget spinner
- Looking out the window
How a Sensory Diet Can Make a Difference?
Sensory diets create an easy-to-follow system that enables you to give your child the sensory input they need. This means that when you encounter sensory-seeking behaviors, you’ll have specifically-tailored remedies to prevent or stop unwanted behavior.
Sensory diets are also valuable for a child’s mental, emotional, and physical wellness. When implemented properly with a licensed occupational therapist, you can help your child harness new skills that lead to a better quality of life.
The Bottom Line
Implementing a sensory diet into your child’s routine can have a seriously positive impact on many areas of your child’s life. From mitigating meltdowns to improving fine motor skills, sensory diets have their fair share of surprising benefits. Making smart decisions is one of the most important parts of being a parent, and starting a sensory diet is never a bad idea. With the help of a licensed occupational therapist, you can craft a sensory diet that is perfect for your little one. Reach out to an occupational therapist to get started today.
Dr. Mary Elizabeth Dean is an Author, Teacher, and Entrepreneur. She has degrees in science, a master’s degree in business administration, and a doctorate in education.