A Sensory Diet 

My understanding of Sensory Processing. 

We all explore the world via our senses. The brain has a filter system that allows us to only pay attention to what is most important at that time. This filter may not work in the same way for some people. They may experience things differently,  as I always say: “My child sees the world differently.” This may lead to a ‘sensory overload’ due to experiencing many sensations all at once. In our case, a ‘sensory overload’ manifests itself as a ‘meltdown,’ where items are throw, hitting out, screaming and unable to cope with the current situation. We remove Lou to a safe and calm place, she has a ‘calm tent’ where she can access cushions,  blankets and her calming sensory toys.

As we know the senses are:

▪ Sight

▪ Sound

▪ Smell

▪ Taste

But there are also senses related more directly to movement:

▪ Vestibular – sense of balance and position of the head.

▪ Tactile – sense of touch.

▪ Proprioception – our sense of body position, pressure, movement.
There are people who are ‘Hypo’ (under sensitive) and be seen as a ‘sensory avoider. ‘ on the opposite side, some people may be ‘Hyper’ (over sensitive) or seen as a ‘sensory seeker.’ In my experience, Lou is on the whole a ‘seeker’ – although has some ‘avoider’ tendencies, e.g dislikes showers, swimming and having hair brushed amongst others!

What is a Sensory Diet? 

A sensory diet is a planned scheduled activity programme that is designed to meet a child’s sensory needs. This can change over time as the child’s behaviour changes. The application of the sensory diet is used both as a treatment strategy and also to prevent behaviour challenges. A sensory diet is important just as it is to have a balanced food diet, we need a balance amount of sensory information to allow our bodies to function. The sensory diet with aid a child to self regulate their behaviour, emotions and attention.

The benefits of using a balanced sensory diet are:

▪ To handle changes/transions with less stress.

▪ To reduce sensory seeking and avoiding – in particular unwanted behaviours.

▪ To help increase attention, alertness and emotions.

This sensory checklist from ‘Raising a Sensory Smart Child,’ © Biel & Peske, 2005,

Will allow parents to see what specific areas can be worked on in terms of sensory diet experiences, this can be found here:

www.sensorysmarts.com

(Click ‘Sensory Checklist.’)

In terms of this checklist in our personal experience:

Touch:

Lou on the whole, for touch is a definite avoider, she particularly dislikes clothing seems, and takes her socks off moments after having them on! She wears leggings and soft T-Shirts everyday. Lou is not a fan at all, of the shower, having her hair washed or brushed. Although, the exception to touch is that she is a seeker in terms of messy hands,  face, others parts such as legs. In materials such as glue, paint, lotion, sand etc. She thrives on these type of activities.

Proprioception: (body sense) 

Lou is a seeker in all movement, such as rough housing, jumping, climbing, etc. She is a risk taker and thrives on impulsive and risky actions, for example, jumping off steps at height, she literally has no fear! Lou prefers dry, crunchy foods,  she isn’t keen on soft textured or runny foods,  especially sauces.

Vestibular: (movement sense)

In terms of balancing, riding equipment, spinning, climbing – especially stairs, Lou is a definite seeker. She enjoys being lifted up in the air and twisted down so her head is facing the floor! She also enjoys bring twirled around by an adult.

Listening/Auditory:

Lou comes across as loud, she talks loudly and will create her own sounds to mask other louder sounds, for example, when Moo was a tiny baby crying, the hoover, motorbikes passing by,  etc. She isn’t keen at all on sudden unexpected noises, and can hear sounds far away that I can’t even hear! E.g aeroplanes,  grass cutters, if Lou has been in a loud environment with a lot going on, she may try and escape, e.g a sports hall, or hold in her sensory overloads until she reaches the safe place of home and will often have a meltdown. Lou made sounds whilst she ate even from 6 months old, when she first started eating sold foods, this came out as humming. She still does this humming and now sings whilst concentrating at an activity and when eating.

Looking/Vision: 

Lou has a ‘thing’ about screens, e.g an ipad. She used to be more into the TV but lately she gets absolutely absorbed in the ipad, in fact this is the only time she isn’t moving or talking! Lou has been interested in colours from an early age, she enjoys watching her gel droppers, rainbow projector and goes to sleep with her bubble tube on, which projects changing colours onto her ceiling. Lou dislikes the dark, she will always have a light on somewhere at bedtime, or she can’t settle.

Taste/smell/oral comforts: 

Lou smells everything – play dough,  new toys, books etc. She will notice a change in perfume and often says: “what’s that smell?” It may be a new air freshener or that something is cooking. Lou will chew on toys, and will try and get Moo’s dummy to chew on! She now has a safe Chewigen bracelet and necklace if she has the need to chew. These were from: http://chewigem.co.uk/

Sensory diet activity ideas:

Touch/deep pressure:

Swaddling

– Bear hugs

– Massage with or without lotion

– Joint compressions

– Therapy brushing

– Jump on cash pad – can always be homemade with sofa cushions and pillows.

– Hand fidgets

– Mixing cake ingredients

– Vibrating toys – we have a vibrating neck cushion.

– ‘Messy play:  Finger paints, glitter glue, soapy foam/shaving foam, whipped cream, custard play.  Spaghetti cooked or dry, rice dyed with food colouring, sand play, play dough,  Gelli Baff, Magic Snow, Gak, clay.

– Helping with gardening

Cornflour, water and pink food colouring
Sand painting – mixed with PVA glue and paint
Foamy sand – sand mixed with water and washing up liquid
Cooked Spaghetti play
Coloured rice – using pink food colouring
Soapy foam (Olaf) bought from a supermarket, gentler than shaving foam for children’s skin. As both Lou and Moo have dry skin.
Vibrating neck cushion, Lou likes to use around her arms or waist
‘Fiddle toys’ from Learning SPACE, including stretchy men, dinosaur, butterflies, stretchy Spaghetti, etc

Movement/Proprioception:

– Rocking – in arms, rocking horse or chair.

– Running, marching, dancing, jumping.

– Bunny hops, wheelbarrow walk, animals walks.

– Monkey bars

– Climbing stairs

– Climbing ladders

– Trampoline jumping

– Use a ‘Sit and Spin.’ Or other spinning toy.

– Therapy ball – we have a ‘Peanut ball.’

– Swimming

– Brain Gym and Yoga exercises

– Balloon tennis

– Hopscotch

Using her Peanut ball, independently or it came with ideas for exercises with children. 


Listening/Auditory: 
-Listening to favourite music

– Calming (classical music)

– Bang pots and pans

– Musical instruments

– Listening to outdoor/nature sounds (have a phone app)

– Singing, humming, blowing whistles

– White noise (phone App)

– use headphones or sound cancelling headphones

– Use a safe space with quiet and low light – ‘calm tent’

Music session with mummy, exploring the instruments

Looking/Vision: 

– Lava lamps, bubble lamps

– Coloured light bulbs

– Toys in opaque containers

– Look at photos

– Look at picture books

– Look at nature – fish tanks, farm, zoo, seaside

– Games and activities that develop visual skills,  mazes, dot-to-dot, I Spy, etc.

‘Rainbow in my room’ projector from Learning SPACE
Bubble tube from Learning SPACE, I filled with Distilled water. Includes some fish and balls to put inside tube. Changes to various colours and projects onto ceiling.
Gel droppers which are inside the ‘calm tent’ 

Smell/taste/oral comforts: 

– Essential oils and scented candles

– Smell flowers

– Smell herbs and spices

– Blindfold smelling game

– Explore tastes: sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter

– Eat frozen, cool, warm foods

– Bubble blowing

– Use an age appropriate ‘Chewy’

Banana scented dough

A lot of Lou’s sensory equipmemt and toys came from ‘Leaning SPACE.’ Ordered online here: http://www.learningspaceuk.co.uk/

The products are reasonably priced and we received a prompt delivery, I will be ordering more for Christmas this year!

Through starting to use the sensory diet approach for the past month, I’ve already noticed that whilst absorbed in these activities, Lou is calmer and focused. She will often create her own opportunities, even if I haven’t provided them. For example, she will find a wet chalk outside and rub it into the concrete slabs to feel the texture on her hand. She is also always seeking for water play, she fills the sink and will explore soap – I do have to keep an eye on this as she does like to flood my bathroom!
It may be easier to put sensory diet ideas and activities into a chart of plan to clearly see whats to be worked on. Examples can be quite simple:

Source: Google search: ‘sensory diet plans.’ 

Or a little more detailed:

Source: Google search: ‘sensory diet plans.’ 

I am currently working on a sensory diet plan for Lou over the next few weeks as she transitions from ending Pre School to the 6 week holidays, in preparation for starting ‘big school,’ in September!

Thanks for reading 🙂

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10 thoughts on “A Sensory Diet 

  1. This is really interesting and gives me some great ideas. I had always assumed that ‘hypo’ sensitive people sought more sensory input because they felt things in a less pronounced way? Will have another little research! My son definitely seeks all sensory things to do with touch. He needs pressure and likes things like ice packs and has to touch things to his face and mouth all the time. He hates movement though and avoids that. Thanks so much for sharing such an interesting post with #SpectrumSunday

    Like

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