What is a sensory diet and what activities can you recommend?

Just as your child needs food throughout the day, their need for sensory input must also be met.

A “sensory diet” (coined by OT Patricia Wilbarger) is a carefully designed, personalised activity plan that provides the sensory input a person needs which helps people stay focused and organised throughout the day.

Just as you may soak in a bath to unwind, children need to engage in stabilising and focusing activities too.

Infants, young children, teens and adults with mild to severe sensory issues can all benefit from a personalised 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. Whereas, a child who is more “sluggish/too tired” needs more arousing input.

A qualified occupational therapist can use their advanced training to develop a good sensory diet for your child or yourself!

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 or her down are not only effective in the moment. They actually help to restructure your child’s nervous system over time so that they are better able to:

  • tolerate sensations and situations they find challenging
  • regulate their alertness and increase attention span
  • limit sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behaviors
  • handle transitions with less stress

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By: Lindsey Biel OTR/L & Nancy Peske

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