By: Heather Campbell
The first time I ever heard the phrase “sensory diet” I was sitting in an IEP meeting for my child. I thought they must be crazy if they believed this would work. Didn’t they understand that trying to get my child to eat different types of food was not easy? He would eat Orange Chicken and Pot stickers all day, every day, but adding new or different foods, especially at school, was just not going to work. Little did I know that a sensory diet actually had nothing to do with food, but everything to do with activities that would get my son more sensory input throughout the day. Now this was something I could get behind.
Sensory diets are completely individualized. Some diets include physical activities and accommodations to get students alert, moving and awake. For other students, sensory diets help them come down from sensory overload and help them to feel calm and offer a sense of relief.
The only way to determine which activities will work best for children is through trial and error. Through observation, you will be able to determine which sensory activities the child naturally leans towards in trying to self-regulate.
Even before we had a Sensory Diet set up for my son, his first grade teacher was aware enough of his needs that she created sensory integration activities for him. She placed a small piece of a material similar to fake grass on his desk, allowing him to run his fingertips through the grass. She was aware that he received a lot of sensory input through his hands and feet, so this was the perfect solution - and she saw results immediately.
Activities for students who need sensory integration could include:
- Yoga poses – holding the position for at least 10 seconds
- Heavy work activities (lifting, pushing a broom, carrying books from one classroom to the next, pushing a vacuum)
- Swinging on a swing
- Jumping Jacks
- Bouncing on a Yoga ball
- Wall push-ups – Have the students stand with their feet placed approximately one foot away from the wall with their hands positioned on the wall at shoulder height. Students will then slowly press their shoulders toward the wall while providing resistance through their arms and shoulders.
- Spending time in a Sensory Sack
- Rocking in a chair
- Being “squished” by objects
- Using a Weighted Blanket – this also gives the same feeling as being squished
Once you get into the routine of consistently incorporating the activities of the Sensory Diet, the effects could last for hours. Consistency has been the most important, but also the most difficult part of the Sensory Diet. For my son, he was very specific with how the activities needed to be completed for him to receive the most sensory input. If there was anyone different from the Special Education teacher during the first years of trying the Sensory Diet, it wouldn’t work. He wanted to be pushed on the swing a very specific way, and if he climbed into the ball pit, he wanted the plastic balls piled on him in a certain manner. At our house, we didn’t have as difficult of time because he was more likely to just do what he needed.
At home, he uses a weighted blanket, as well as a sensory sack. It is not unusual to find him curled up on the couch, without his head even poking out of the sensory sack. This gives him a sense of being in his own world for just enough time to refresh and refocus.
Over the years, children will be able to communicate when they need a sensory break, leading to them being able to self-regulate. As with my last blog post here.
Self-regulation has been the goal with my son the entire time. Both my husband and I, as well as his teachers, have taught him how to communicate when he feels his body start to tense, and the need for a break to slowly creep.
If I had one piece of advice for anyone thinking of starting Sensory Diets for a child, student, family member or anyone else, it would be to just jump in and do it!
There will be times that it works better than others, and there will be activities that work one day, and not the next. You need to have a whole toolbox of resources at your fingertips in order to help at that specific moment. I am far from being an expert, but I am a mother, teacher and advocate for students with Sensory Processing Disorder, and other special needs and I won’t stop until others are aware of what they need.
If you would like more information on Sensory Processing Disorder, or how to incorporate a Sensory Diet into your classroom, please don’t be afraid to reach out and let us know how we can help.
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I got the mermaid tail from them to try for a sensory item and my son actually loves it he loves how it feels on the inside textures are big for him he loves put his feet in the very bottom it’s like it gives him compressions in a way
I love all of those ideas especially the weighted blanket
As both a teacher and a parent of a child with dyslexia and sensory processing disorder, I have seen first hand what a difference having the proper sensory diet can make. Having and implementing some of these objects/activities can make a major difference in a child’s functioning and ability to learn. Some days I wouldn’t know what to do without having our classroom sensory toy box, and calm down tent. I love pairing the sensory diet with the brain balance system by Dr. Robert Melillo.
Such a great post! I have a feeling that my third daughter may need something like this, as she gets these bursts of sensory seeking behavior. I’ll definitely be mentioning this to her pediatrician at her next appointment.
My little guy LOVES the swing. Every time we go to Occupational Therapy he runs straight for it! I need to invest in one for the house.