Sensory Diet

sensory diet

A sensory diet is not just for kids! A sensory diet can be individualized to many different ages to help support regulation needs. But, what is a sensory diet? A sensory diet is a set of activities that is designed to meet the specific needs of an individual. Therefore, the goal is to provide a structured and predictable sequence of sensory experiences throughout the day. This helps to assist with an individual’s ability to regulate their sensory systems and respond appropriately to their environment. Sensory diet activities are determined based on specific sensory needs. All activities are carefully chosen and scheduled into an individual’s day to assist with regulation of activity levels, attention, and adaptive responses. All the systems working together provides the body with the “optimal level of arousal”. A sensory diet includes a combination of activities and utilizes many of our senses.

Your 8 Senses

Firstly, we all have a unique sensory system. Just as no two people are the same, likewise, no two sensory diets are identical. Basically, throughout the day, all the sensory systems are working together to perceive and process sensory information coming from our environment and even inside our bodies. There are actually 8 senses that are in the body that make up our sensory system. The five basic sensory systems include: visual (sight), auditory (hearing), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), and tactile (touch) system. In addition, the other three “hidden sensory systems” impact how we experience our bodies in space and they include the vestibular, proprioception, and interoception systems.  

Our bodies and minds instinctively know the varying sensory input we receive throughout our day. Therefore, individuals will naturally seek out a variety of sensory input to help regulate their bodies. However, for some individuals this might not come automatically, and support to perform these strategies may be necessary.

Sensory Diet Activities for All the Senses

  • Visual – scavenger hunts, I Spy, painting, puzzles, mazes, adjust the lighting
  • Auditory – headphones, clapping games, musical instruments, white noise
  • Olfactory – scented play dough, create smelling bottles, avoid scented soaps/lotion/perfume
  • Gustatory – chewing gum, vibrating toothbrush, drinking from a straw, creating taste bottles
  • Tactile – heavy work activities, textured activities, vibrating activities, squeezing activities
  • Vestibular – swinging, spinning, bouncing, rolling, rocking
  • Proprioception – crawling, bear walks, climbing, monkey bars
  • Interoception – yoga, breathing exercises, temperature activities, social stories

Also, some things to watch for that may indicate an individual needs assistance with regulating their various sensory systems include:

  • Emotional overreaction
  • Hyper-attention or inattention
  • Difficulty with transitions
  • Sleep issues
  • Impulsivity
  • Poor social interactions
  • Resistance to textures/food/clothing

Despite being aware of what to look for and exploring different sensory activities, children or adults may still be struggle to regulate their bodies. An occupational therapist can help design a sensory diet that is appropriate for an individual’s needs.

Finally, for more information regarding sensory diet and various activities, explore the OT Toolbox.