A sensory diet may sound more complicated than it is. A sensory diet is really just a schedule of activities and experiences that provide the specific types of sensory input that your child needs.
From a parent’s perspective, I will guide you as best as I can to demystify what a sensory diet is, why it’s important, and how you can identify a child’s needs. I’ll share some specific sensory diet ideas and examples that you can use to help the child.
How to Make a Sensory Diet for Your Child
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a sensory diet for a child. Every child is different and will have their own unique set of sensory needs. They may need a specific type of activity at specific moments during the day.
Step 1 – Observe your child
The best way to figure out what your child needs is to observe them and see what makes them feel calm and focused, and what seems to overstimulate them or make them feel agitated.
Once you have an idea of the types of activities and experiences that your child finds helpful, you can create a sensory diet plan.
Also consider more difficult times of the day or a non-preferred activity, like a specific class. Make sure to assign a preferred sensory activity before that specific transition.
Step 2 – Identify your child’s sensory needs & habits
In order to create a good sensory diet, you need to look at a full day and see their usual habits, behaviors, triggers, etc. You can use these questions to help you:
- Is the child a sensory seeker or a sensory avoider?
- Are there specific times of day where they get overstimulated (they may act out, retreat, etc)?
- Any differences between weekday and weekend behaviors?
- Are transitions a difficult time for the child?
- Specific triggers that presently affects the child (ie: crowds, change, waiting, sounds, etc)
Step 3 – Identify possible sensory activities
Now that you have studied the child’s overall needs, you may have already observed some activities or tools that help the child cope with different situations. Some kids may retreat in their bedroom for a snuggle as a time out. Others may act out by jumping on the bed or the couch.
It’s important to note these as well as the child may already be communicating their needs with their own actions. Here’s a list of possible activities/tools/events:
- Loves to swing, they may even do it as a rocking motion
- Seeking the sensation of water
- Enjoys being wrapped in a blanket
- Plays with fidgets
- Seeks being upside down (ie: head down below the couch)
- Stares at flashing lights
- Likes crunchy snacks
- Craves cuddles and hugs
These are just a few examples of things that may indicate some of the child’s preferences.
Seeks tactile (touch) sensations, you could try these:
- Play dough
- Sensory bins (rice, beans, water)
- Textured toys or blankets
Enjoys deep pressure (like hugs), you could try these:
- Weighted blankets or plush toys
- Wrap in a blanket
- Bean bags (that create a sensation of a hug)
Craves movement, these are things you can try:
- Running, jumping, swinging
- Songs with movements
- Movement breaks
- Hanging upside down on the edge of the couch or bed
- Cushions or stools that move
Seeks visual stimulation, you could try these:
- Colorful or neon lamps (lava lamps)
- Sensory lights
- Spinning toys
Prefers auditory stimulation, you could try the following:
- Play a musical instrument
- Listen to music
Seeks oral(mouth) sensations, you could add the following:
- Crunchy snacks
- Blow bubbles
- Suck on a straw (thick smoothie helps!)
- Chew toys
Step 4 – Create and test the sensory diet
It’s important to note that I wrote “test” the sensory diet. You will have to evaluate as you go if the sensory diet is helping the child. The child will also change and grow. Their needs will change as time goes by and as new things arrive.
You can download the FREE sensory diet template below to get started. Start simple and work your way up. Maybe just try a few strategies at key times to start.
Once they are working well, add a few more throughout the day. As an example, you could do early morning, before dinner, and before bed to start. (if those times are difficult). See some sensory diet examples below.
Sensory Diet Examples
Sensory Diet Example A
Annie is 10 and prefers to be by herself. She has Autism Spectrum Disorder and is nonverbal. She often seeks movement and loves hugs. Annie’s parents provide her with a daily sensory diet to help her feel more comfortable in the world.
Some of the things that are included in Annie’s sensory diet are:
– A weighted blanket to help her feel more grounded and calm
– Deep pressure massage several times a day
– Listening to calming music before bedtime
– Chewing on crunchy foods or gum to help her focus
– Swinging in a hammock or rocking in a chair to soothe her nervous system
– A daily walk outdoors to get fresh air and movement
The goal of her sensory diet is to provide the right amount of input to her nervous system so that she can feel calm and regulated throughout the day.
Sensory Diet Example B
Thomas is 8 and he is a natural seeker. He loves to move and explore his environment. When Thomas feels under-stimulated, he becomes antsy and has difficulty focusing. To help him stay on task, his occupational therapist recommended a sensory diet that includes lots of opportunity for movement throughout the day.
Here are some examples of activities Thomas might do as part of his sensory diet:
– Taking a walk outdoors after dinner
– Playing on the monkey bars during recess
– Jumping on a trampoline before bed
– Dancing to music before dinner
– Doing yoga or stretching to start his day
– Sleeping with a heavy blanket
By including these types of activities in his day, Thomas is able to stay focused and calm when he needs to be.
Sensory Diet Example C
Charlotte is 6 and needs a lot of movement throughout the day to help her stay calm and focused. She also loves to eat her crunchy snacks and chew on her pencils. Here are some sensory diet examples that have worked well for her:
– jumping on a mini trampoline for 5-10 minutes first thing in the morning
– fidgeting with a stress ball or piece of putty while sitting at the table during meals or during schoolwork
– having a crunchy snack before a difficult or stimulating event
– getting outside for a 20-30 minute walk or run after school
– playing an active game indoors or outdoors for at least 30 minutes before bedtime
I hope these sensory diet examples above are helpful. Also consider creating a visual schedule once your have a sensory diet that is effective. You can also go through a few questions below that may answer some of your questions.
Why is a sensory diet important?
A sensory diet is important because it can help your child regulate their senses. The diet can help your child by providing the right mix of sensory input that they need to help them stay regulated and focused.
How can a sensory diet help your child?
A sensory diet can help your child in many ways. It can:
- Help them focus and concentrate
- Help them stay calm and regulated
- Help them avoid meltdowns or tantrums
- Help them sleep better
- Help them feel more comfortable in social situations
When do we need to adjust a sensory diet?
You may want to consider adjusting a child’s sensory diet if:
- The child is no longer responding to the activities in the same way they did when the sensory diet was first put into place.
- The child has started to display new or different behaviors.
- There have been changes in the child’s life that may impact their sensory needs, such as starting school, moving to a new house, or having a baby brother or sister.
- The family has noticed that the child is struggling more with regulating their senses than they were before.
In the end, the best way to identify your child’s needs in order to create their sensory diet is to observe them. See what types of activities or experiences seem to help them stay focused and regulated.
An occupational therapist, Patricia Wilbarger, proposed the concept of sensory diets in 1995. It is my advice to talk to the child’s occupational therapist or other healthcare professional for guidance on creating a sensory diet that is tailored to the child’s individual needs.
Please note that this is not intended to be medical advice. If you have any concerns about your child’s development, please consult with a doctor or occupational therapist.