The Sensory Diet

One of my sons struggles with sensory processing disorder.  His occupational therapist just gave me a really helpful worksheet on what they call the “Sensory Diet.”  It’s a list of activities and the various categories they go in, to help your child habituate to different types of sensations or sensory input.  If they eat from the diet daily, and in a balanced way, it can really help them function better.   If you target the problem area(s), they can become more balanced.  I’ll reproduce it here, in condensed form…

ALERTING

crunching, bouncing, spinning, twirling, touching, jumping, rolling

ORGANIZING

chewing, blowing, hanging, pushing, pulling, lifting

CALMING

sucking, pushing, pulling, lifting, rocking, swaying, cuddling, rubbing, patting

If you examine the above lists and their categories, it is easy to see why children behave the way they do, and why they like what they like (or not).  How many moms naturally calm their babies by rocking, patting, or cuddling them?  What does the infant itself do, but suck?  How many children twirl their hair, tap their fingers, or need to jump and run around in order to help themselves focus at school?  Why are things like eating, chewing gum, or cleaning a room relaxing, but for their reorienting or organizing effects?  Clearly these types of activities are built into our biology.  We tend to satisfy our own needs (or our brains) without second thought.  

But a sensory-imbalanced child needs help.  They need to help their sensory “appetites” by retraining them to want what they actually need (instead of avoid it), to accept what they don’t like (instead of resist it), and to moderate what they already like (so they don’t “overdose”).    When these types of activities are instituted in a regular and balanced way, they really do retrain the child’s nervous system so they are more focused, accepting, adaptable, and skillful.  Here are some practical examples of activities that incorporate the above categories.

ALERTING

  • eating chips, pretzels, popcorn
  • bouncing a ball
  • bouncing ON a ball, or someone’s knee (“ride the horsey”)
  • playing helicopter or pinwheel
  • ring around the Roses
  • duck duck Goose
  • spinning in a spinny chair
  • counting how many times you can spin before falling down
  • playing a finger-tapping game (repeating rhythms)
  • banging a drum
  • hopscotch
  • log rolls down a hill
  • barrel rolling (inside a soft tube ball, or with your body over a line of children on the floor)
  • tickles

ORGANIZING

  • gum-chewing or snacking on a chewy food (bagel)
  • blowing bubbles
  • using whistles, kazoos, recorders
  • blowing through a straw (in chocolate milk, to make soap suds in a bowl, etc)
  • monkey bars
  • pushing a big ball around the floor, rolling a tire or inner tube
  • climbing stairs or ladder
  • pushing a walker or First Steps toy
  • lifting a chair or table to a new place
  • pulling out buckets of toys (heavy), going through them
  • reaching high for things on a shelf, crayons in the middle of the table
  • listening to classical music like Mozart
  • tapping one’s head in gentle rhythms
  • hanging over/on the back of a chair, tipping oneself back in it

CALMING

  • lollipops, jolly ranchers
  • rolling a ball back and forth while sitting on the floor, or a toy truck on a wood floor
  • rocking chairs
  • swaying from one foot to the other
  • gently shifting weight back and forth while laying on a belly ball
  • rocking a doll or pretend baby
  • hugging
  • rolling up in a blanket

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