Strategy

Sensory Diet

Sensory Integration Activities, Sensory Integration Therapy

UDL 3.4

A “Sensory Diet” is a daily schedule of activities that are rich in the sensations that support an optimal arousal state. A person whose sensory processing causes functional difficulties throughout the day, can find a "just right state" with an individualized sensory diet. The concept is to bathe the nervous system in the neurotransmitters created by these sensations to proactively keep it on an even keel, and ready to cope with sensory stressors that may present themselves. It is not a reactive strategy to mediate a meltdown or distress response to a situation or stimulus. Sensory diets can take a variety of forms in the school setting, including sensory breaks with specific activities and making modifications to daily routines to embed more opportunities for the right kind of sensation. Sensory diets are highly individualized and should only be implemented with the participation of an occupational therapist or other professional who has solid experience in sensory integration theory and practice. Careful attention should be paid to the sensory needs of the student to select specific activities, and close monitoring of his/her preferences and responses should guide implementation over time. If sensory diet activities are not chosen and implemented with care, it is possible to cause an adverse reaction or for the intervention to be ineffective. When a sensory diet is effective, it can change the quality of life for the student struggling with sensory processing difficulties, as well as increase his/her school participation.

Implementation Tips

Seek Support from your OT
It can not be emphasized enough that a sensory diet should only be implemented with the support and supervision of an occupational therapist or other professional who has experience in sensory integration and sensory diets. There are many subtleties to nervous system responses to sensory stimulation, and trained eyes can be on the look out for problems and head them off, as well as maximize the benefit of a sensory diet.
Checklists
The use of standardized checklists for teachers and parents can help pinpoint what the student’s particular sensory processing style and needs are.
Child-Centered Focus
Sensory integration interventions in general have a strong child centered focus. Adults should make options for sensory activities available and provide structure for the schedule, but student preferences are an important ingredient in a successful outcome.
Parent Involvement
Parents should be included in building a picture of the student’s sensory processing style and planning the sensory diet. They should also be kept posted about what activities are being used, with what level of success.
Consistent Implemetation
Adults should be aware that it takes some time and effort to implement a sensory diet, and if it is not likely that there would be consistent follow through a different intervention may be more appropriate.

Examples

Students who are Over-Aroused
For students who are over-aroused, have fluctuating arousal or are “sensory defensive” (extremely startled/distressed by a sensation such as noise, touch or movement): While everyone’s nervous system reacts differently, in general, the sensations that tend to be the most calming and organizing are firm deep pressure and slow sustained heavy muscle work. sensory diet activities that provide these types of “sensory inputs” include wrapping up an a piece of stretchy fabric (i.e. lycra spandex), pushing or pulling against resistance, carrying something appropriately heavy, etc. Other soothing sensations include slow rhythmic rocking, soft rhythmic music, dimmed lights and neutral warmth.
Students who are Under-Aroused
For students who are under-aroused: Alerting stimuli include rapid movement, sudden impact, and spinning. Sensory diet activities that provide these types of inputs include jumping on a trampoline, jumping jacks, a few spins on a swivel chair, swings. In addition sudden or unpredictable sound, music or movement, bright light or colors, and cold are stimulating.

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