How do I create a sensory diet?
Occupational therapists will typically complete a sensory profile and assessment to determine what will be the best supports for an individual’s sensory diet. They will work with the child, their family and their teachers to determine what will be the best supports to put in place. This will vary depending on the individual’s needs and also the environment and equipment that is available. There is no one size fits all and everyone’s needs are different.
If you are reading this article as a parent in the UK, I can complete an online sensory profile to help you to understand your child’s sensory needs. More information is available on the sensory assessments page. If you are outside of the UK, you may wish to contact a local occupational therapist for support.
Training for sensory diets
To be able to create successful sensory diets, it is important that you understand the senses, regulation and sensory response types. My online training covers each of these topics in short easy to digest videos. There are worksheets which will help you to understand the needs of your own children so you are confident in choosing the best sensory supports for them. The fully training considers precautions and risks. If you want to deepen your understanding, you can also join my monthly group coaching.
The following books have great information which can be used to help to create and implement a sensory diet:
- Success with Sensory Supports – Kim Griffin – more information here
- A Buffet of Sensory Interventions: Solutions for Middle and High School Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders – Susan Culp
- The Kids’ Guide to Staying Awesome and In Control: Simple Stuff to Help Children Regulate their Emotions and Senses – Lauren Brunker
- The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder – Carol Stock Kranowitz.
Problems with sensory diets
Sensory diets are a good way to introduce the idea of supporting arousal. However, in reality they can be restrictive. It may be that the individual needs support at 9am, but their sensory diet doesn’t have a slot until 10am. Or, that they are working really well and attending at 10am so may not need the strategy at that time.
The ultimate aim is to help the individual to regulate sufficiently to be able to participate. So, prescriptive sensory diets may not be reactive enough or flexible enough to support regulation in the real world.
You can consider a sensory lifestyle instead of a sensory diet!
There is more of a shift toward thinking about a sensory lifestyle. This means thinking about how to embed sensory regulation strategies through the individuals’ day, week, and month. It means making lifestyle changes which automatically include supports. The sensory opportunities are automatically embedded throughout the day.
Sensory Activity Schedules
Another way to structure the use of sensory supports is by using a sensory activity schedule. This structure has been created by Christine Mills throughout her PhD project. Sensory activity schedules include the same type of activities in sensory diets. The primary different when the sensory supports are schedules to be used. Sensory activity schedules link the activities to when a specific task or activity occurs, rather than to a specific time of day.
This is a really helpful structure to use when timetables change through the day. For example, if the child struggles with maths, their sensory activities happen before and after maths to support regulation through this lesson. Or, if the child finds PE dysregulating but it only occurs 1-2 times a week, they use their sensory activities on the days that PE happens.
A final thing to consider
It’s also helpful to have a quick support that can be used at unexpected times, as the world is unpredictable and things don’t always go to plan. So, find one or two things that can help to quickly increase or decrease the individuals’ energy at times when it might be needed. Have them in your back pocket just in case!