The first time people hear, "sensory diet", they might think food is involved; it's not. Diet has four different meanings, according to Merriam-Webster. In the sense it is used here, diet means, something provided or experienced repeatedly.

When sensory is added to this definition of diet, it means, a program of sensory activities that kids perform during the day to ensure they're getting the input their bodies need. A lot of times a sensory diet or sensory integration is used with children who have SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) or with a child who has autism.

Studies show, however, that a sensory diet could be effective for all children in the early stages of development.

What Does A Sensory Diet Look Like?

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Sensory diets have a wide range of activities. These activities are geared to target the eight sensory systems. Sight, touch, hearing, taste, smell, balance, movement, and feeling. If a child struggles in a particular area, the activities can be adjusted to suit their specific needs. If a child has SPD, an occupational therapist may be involved.

While not all children will utilize the same sensory diet, one thing that all of them must have in common is fluidity. Children in pre-school, for example, may be having a grumpy day or days when they are exhausted. Some activities might not go as planned. Having the activities be easily inter-changeable can help with that.

Some common sensory diet activities, according to Kid Sense Child Development include but are not limited to:

  • Physical: Wheelbarrow walking, animal walking (bear walking, frog jumps), trampolining, and using swings
  • Tactile: Play with play-doh, gloop/slime, kinetic sand, shaving cream, bird seed, or rice.
  • Visual: Using dot-to-dots or mazes to narrow visual attention.
  • Auditory: 'White noise' or favorite music on an electronic device with headphones.
  • Oral: Chewable toys, gum, or eating chewy foods.

Would My Child Benefit From A Sensory Diet?

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Sensory Processing 101 recommends a sensory diet for various reasons. Some of those reasons include if a child:

  • Can't settle or seems overly active
  • Needs to touch everything
  • Doesn't care for a hygiene routine; brushing hair, bathing, brushing teeth, trimming nails
  • Jumps on furniture
  • Seems to daydream a lot
  • Is tired a lot
  • Chews on things or puts their fingers in their mouth often
  • Is a space invader
  • Has trouble sleeping
  • Frequent tantrums

Young children can struggle with exhibiting appropriate behavior, staying alert, and keeping themselves in control without the proper exposure to sensory input. Thinking about a sensory diet on adult terms; parents that suddenly snap at their child, for example. Most times this is not out of true anger; it is a response to overstimulation.

When a parent has a child or children continuously repeating a behavior, or excessive shouting is taking place, they might yell at them out of nowhere. Overstimulation occurs when someone is facing too many sensations at one time. In a parent's case, it may be too much noise.

So, if adults can become overstimulated, imagine a small child who is in the prime of their development taking on all these new sensations. It can be quite overwhelming for them, possibly causing a full-on meltdown.

How Early Can You Start A Sensory Diet With A Child?

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Children start learning about the senses from the moment they are born. In order to take on a sensory diet, though, they have to have some emerging developmental skills.

  • Language (emerging): Children should be able to understand what it is they are being asked to do, or rules/instructions of an activity.
  • Follow directions (emerging): Children should be able to follow two and three-step directions. Some multitasking of simple tasks as well.
  • Attention and Concentration (emerging): Children should be able to focus enough to get short activities completed.
  • Reasoning skills (emerging): Able to move from one activity to another.

These skills are just the basics of what children should be able to accomplish in order to implement a sensory diet. As children grow, they may need more advanced skills to complete certain activities.

What Happens When A Child Doesn't Get Proper Sensory Integration?

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It may seem odd that movement and sensory processing affects a child's ability to do things like read and write, but it does. If a child's brain has an insufficient amount of sensory integration, they have a harder time taking on many forms of higher learning.

Sensory Integration provides information to a child about their body, and everything in the world around them. Every second, more and more sensory information goes into their brains from their eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and touch, ready to be made sense of. This can create a lot of opportunities for error. In fact, many people struggle with sensory integration on some level, says Integrated Learning Strategies.

No one has perfect sensory integration. Some people do it well, while others have much more complex issues. And, of course, there is everyone in between. Learning how to process all the sensory input coming at them means a child's brain needs to be able to distribute everything accordingly. They can only do this with proper sensory integration.

Sources: Merriam-Webster, Wiley Online Public Library (Studies), Kid Sense Child Development, Sensory Processing 101, Integrated Learning Strategies