How to create a Sensory Diet that actually works
Click here to listen to podcast
Click here to start the Free Sensory Series: Crash Course
I am going to be sharing lots of tips on how to take your child’s sensory diet to a whole new level!
So let’s get started with what exactly is a sensory diet???
A sensory diet is a program of sensory activities set up to meet your child’s sensory needs and keep them regulated and calm throughout the day.
So no sensory diet does not have anything to do with food unfortunately, but more so sensory activities directly related to our senses and typically when making a sensory diet I focus on the more important senses so not as much smell or taste, but on what I consider to be the 4 major senses:
#2 Hearing (also known as auditory sense)
#3 touch (also known as our tactile sense)
#4 vestibular/proprioceptive sense (also known as the Balance/Body Awareness sense) sooo important!!!
Technically those are 2 different senses that aren’t typically considered to be major senses but are actually 2 of the most important senses in the Occupational Therapy world and just an easier way of looking at those and what I personally like to call them are instead of Vestibular simply the Balance sense and instead of Proprioception I call it the Body Awareness sense so if you think about Body Awareness is a huge part of Balance or our ability to stay upright so as you can see Balance & Body awareness are extremely intertwined and very much so related so that’s why for these purposes I’m just going to look at them as one so
For a lot of our Kids with decreased Balance & Body Awareness, this effects sooooo many different areas. Most daily activities relies on balance & body awareness like getting dressed in the morning and putting on pants is going to be so tricky if you are trying to stand on one foot with decreased balance and then trying to put your foot into the hole with decreased body awareness all at the same time.
Imagine what you would feel like if you felt off balance all the time like you were going to tip or fall over. What this does is puts our kids bodies and mind into a fight or flight mode because their minds are unconsciously just more hyper alert and working overtime trying to keep their bodies upright and balanced and coordinating whatever tasks they're doing .
That is why when you are making your child’s sensory diet it’s so important to add deep pressure into your child’s sensory diet to help meet their balance & body awareness needs
.....and get them out of that constant fight or flight mode and as I always say this is for all kids even if you think your child has okay balance and body awareness this tip I’m about to share is for everyone and hopefully after I say this it will feel like everything kinda clicked and makes sense now so...
Reason #1: So the reason Deep Pressure is calming for everybody and why you hear everyone talking about it all the time is because it helps us feel grounded aka helps kids feel more balanced getting their body out of the fight or flight mode.
Reason #2: Deep Pressure improves balance & body awareness because if you think about if you squeeze your wrist right now you are much more aware of exactly where your wrist is in space aka body awareness so adding deep pressure throughout your daily routine is so helpful when it comes to the Vestibular & Proprioceptive sense aka Balance & Body awareness.
Here are some ways to add deep pressure all throughout the day not just when kids are having meltdowns or dysregulated...
The goal of adding deep pressure in constantly throughout the day is to be one step ahead of them to prevent meltdowns and dysregulation.
So here are some examples...
Deep Pressure Massages in the mornings or before bed
Wall Push Ups when they wake up
Inversion Activities like hanging upside down off the bed is another surprising one that provides deep pressure if you try this out i promise you’ll feel that deep pressure.
Stress ball to squeeze and fidget with during class.
Water bottle with a straw that they have to suck and actually can get some good deep pressure that way throughout the day.
Thick smoothies with a straw for them to drink (that deep pressure in their mouths is another good one that can be super calming if you think back to when your child was a baby and sucking their thumb and wanting to put everything in their mouth to suck was so comforting to them)
It’s all kind of related just how a deep pressure massage is calming to us. That is why I call this my golden rule of therapy that deep pressure is calming. So the goal of this is to add lots of deep pressure input throughout they day especially during the times they are most dysregulated.
So back to the major senses we need to focus on when making our sensory diet just a little refresher we have Vision, Hearing, Touch, and Balance-Body Awareness.
So one of the biggest mistakes of making Sensory Diets that I see all too often is that “Ohh my child’s a sensory seeker so they just need lots of sensory input as much as I can give them to keep them regulated”...when a lot of times this is SO FALSE.
Kids are usually a combination of sensory seeking and sensory sensitive.
Yes there are a lot of kids who crave sensory input, but a lot of times too much visual input or auditory input can be overstimulating. So some examples of seeing if your child falls into this sensory combo is one way by letting your child play in a sandbox or dirt or in paint for some tactile-touch input and seeing if they get hyper after or if they are more calm after. Like another sneaky one I see all the time are kids who are very loud and very vocal and parents think they are auditory seeking. However, when it comes to sounds other than their voice like too much background noise or loud voices they actually get dysregulated and might have tantrums or start bouncing off the walls not because they are craving sounds but because they are actually auditory sensitive.
To see if your sensory seeker is actually sensory sensitive - investigate and look to see if AFTER visual, hearing, or touch input leads to them being - > more dysregulated like difficulty focusing, more hyper, having meltdowns & tantrums, etc or if they are more calm and relaxed after the sensory input which remember is the goal of effective sensory diets.
So when you start investigating and watching your child throughout the day these results just might surprise you. You can also take a quick quiz on my website befreeot.com just search under the tab The Sensory Series which is pretty much a Sensory Diet Generator and it can help you figure out your child’s sensory combo whether that be sensory seeking + auditory sensitive + touch sensitive or another sensory combo.
So last few tips when you are making your child’s sensory diets:
Tip #1: Try to set them up for success especially during transitions
Example: Give them noise cancelling headphones when they get home from school and let them spend time somewhere with lights dim and not too much sensory stimuli (so like during the morning or when they get home from school if your child is visually sensitive turn off any harsh bright white lights in your house and try to keep the lighting dim you know try to set the mood calm or if your child is auditory sensitive maybe giving your child your child some ear plugs for walking through the hallway at the end of the day. I work in a school and it gets loud and busy and is even a lot for me which personally I am auditory sensitive and get overwhelmed when theres too much sounds going