By: Lindsey Biel OTR/L & Nancy Peske

What is a sensory diet?

Just as your child needs food throughout the course of the day, his need for sensory input must also be met. A “sensory diet” (coined by OT Patricia Wilbarger) is a carefully designed, personalized activity plan that provides the sensory input a person needs to stay focused and organized throughout the day. Just as you may jiggle your knee or chew gum to stay awake or soak in a hot tub to unwind, children need to engage in stabilizing, focusing activities too. Infants, young children, teens, and adults with mild to severe sensory issues can all benefit from a personalized sensory diet.

Each child has a unique set of sensory needs. Generally, a child whose nervous system

is on “high trigger/too wired” needs more calming input, while the child who is more “sluggish/too tired” needs more arousing input. A qualified occupational therapist can use her advanced training and evaluation skills to develop a good sensory diet for your child—or you!—but it’s up to you and your child to implement it throughout the course of the day.

The great news is that the effects of a sensory diet are usually immediate AND cumulative. Activities that perk up your child or calm him down are not only effective in the moment; they actually help to restructure your child’s nervous system over time so that he is better able to:

  • tolerate sensations and situations he finds challenging
  • regulate his alertness and increase attention span
  • limit sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behaviors
  • handle transitions with less stress

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