What is a sensory diet?
A sensory diet is a list of sensory activities that child completes at certain points throughout the day to help with their regulation. The sensory activities might include movement, a calm break, or a visual display. There are some examples below.
A history of the sensory diet
The concept of a Sensory Diet was first officially published by Patricia Willbarger in 1995 in an article by the American Occupation Therapy Association. A the same time occupational therapists Mary Williams and Sherry Shellenberger explored the idea of using sensory strategies to support regulation in their book How Does Your Engine Run?
The authors suggested that our bodies need sensations in the same way they need food. Sensations can help to both increase and decrease arousal. At its simplest, arousal is how awake or alert or how tired you are. It supports attention and focus. We explore arousal further here in this post.
Sensory inputs can help to support arousal. For example, if you’re energy is low, going for a run might help to increase your arousal. Or, if you’re stressed and your arousal is high, a hot drink might help to calm you down.
Sensory diets are way to structure the sensory inputs which help to support the child’s arousal across the day. Each one will be unique to the individual child. They should ideally be created after an assessment by an occupational therapist.
What does a sensory diet look like?
A traditional sensory diet will include a timetabled list of activities to be used throughout the day. They will include a mix of sensory strategies which help to support the individual’s arousal. Traditionally they also included allocated timeslots for activities.