By: Brycen Raybon MS, OTR/L
Sensory diets are a common term thrown around in the occupational therapy realm, but what are they? To put it simply, they are a variety of activities that are individualized and provide sensory information for a child to aid in their ability to participate and engage in all types of environments. Sensory input ranges from bouncing on a trampoline to playing with finger paints and has a variety of impacts on the sensory system.
Some children struggle to understand and process the world around them, and a sensory diet serves to help the child interpret that input and respond in an appropriate manner. The primary goal of a sensory diet is to assist the central nervous system to get into an organized state and do so in an efficient manner.
What makes up a sensory diet?
A sensory diet is comprised of tactile touch input, proprioceptive or muscle/joint input, and vestibular or movement input. Each of these senses releases neurochemicals that serve to calm or excite the body. A sensory diet is typically created by an occupational therapist and is arranged so that the activities release specific neurochemicals to aide in the regulation of the child.
Meals, Snacks, and Diets
Sensory diets are incorporated throughout the day through sensory “meals” and sensory “diets.” A sensory meal is a pattern of each of these types of inputs combined. The occupational therapist provides several types of activities that promote each type of input and arrange them in an order that will most benefit the child’s central nervous system. The goal of these meals is to be a preventative approach so that the child’s body is organized and prepared for all activities of the day.
Sensory meals are provided 2-3 times a day, typically lasting from 10-20 minutes. Along with a sensory meal, sensory snacks can also be provided throughout the day. Sensory snacks are brief versions of the meal which lasts from 3-5 minutes. These snacks should be regularly incorporated 2-3 times daily to keep the child regulated and in the “just right” state for learning and interacting with their environment.
Where do sensory diets happen?
Sensory diets can take place in a variety of settings. They can take place in the clinic, on the playground, in the school, or anywhere where the child can move around! We love to participate in sensory diet activities at Communikids since we have all types of unique and exciting equipment.
Sensory diets can also be adapted and altered so that they can easily take place in the home or school setting. For example, in the clinic, we may use the rock-wall for proprioceptive input to the muscles and joints, yet in the home or school, bear walks and crab walks can be substituted for a similar type of sensory input.
Sensory diets are unique to each individual and situation and contain activities that can be completed in all types of settings. While sensory diets include many fun and entertaining activities to incorporate throughout the day, the diets are built to be weaned off of. As the child becomes better able to regulate themselves in an environment and tackle new opportunities with ease, sensory diets and snacks can slowly start to decrease.
These specialized sensory diets are a wonderful tool and, when used consistently, can help your child to engage in the world around them. They can allow for the child to be at the “just-right” level for learning and communication regularly! For more information about sensory diets or the occupational therapy services we offer at CommuniKids, contact us today!