What is the sensory diet? A “sensory diet” (coined by OT Patricia Wilbarger) is a carefully designed, personalized activity plan that provides the sensory input a person needs to stay focused and organized throughout the day. In the same way that you jiggle your knee or chew gum to stay awake or soak in a hot tub to unwind, children need to engage in stabilizing, focusing activities, too. Infants, young children, teens, and adults with mild to severe sensory issues can all benefit from a personalized sensory diet.
~I made a post a few days ago on my Breastfeeding mama talk page stressing about some issues I have regarding my three year old son. I had mentioned a few of his quirks, to name a few: Whenever I cook food and he smells it he gets really upset and yells, “my nose my nose don’t like it!” He has a list of about 20 foods he will eat and absolutely refuses to try anything new, doesn’t allow me to sing songs he will cover his ears and scream, “Stop!” He has a bad temper, a new one he started is he HATES being put in his carseat and throws the hugest fit, recently he refused to walk over a large design on the floor at the airport, he is scared of elevators, ect… I was feeling down on myself as a mother and many woman gave me many supporting words of encouragement and advice. It gave me motivation and courage to tackle his issues head on rather than sit and feel sorry for myself. Someone had mentioned the sensory diet and gave me a couple of examples.
One example as you see in the video below is putting dry rice and beans in a bowl and hiding toys inside I hid letters. For the first few minutes he dug right in and started taking the letters out one by one with a huge smile on his face. This is the first time we tried this. He then later on got his play doctor scissors and would use the scissors to pick the beans up one by one and put them on the plate. Then he put some in a small tupperware container put the lid on it and started shaking it like a maraca. It was a fun little activity for him and it lasted about 25 minutes. He stayed focused the whole time.
Each child has a unique set of sensory needs. Generally, a child whose nervous system is causing her to be hyperactive needs more calming input, while the child who is more underactive or sluggish needs more arousing input. A qualified pediatric occupational therapist can use her advanced training and evaluation skills to develop a good sensory diet for your child (or for you, if you’re an adult with sensory processing disorder). However, it’s up to you and your child to implement it every day.
The effects of a sensory diet are usually immediate AND cumulative. Activities that perk up your child or calm him down are not only effective in the moment; they actually help to restructure your child’s nervous system over time so that he is better able to:
- tolerate sensations and situations he finds challenging
- regulate his alertness and increase his attention span
- limit sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behaviors
- handle transitions with less stress
This one little activity with the rice and beans and hiding toys inside may seem miniscule, but for me it was a giant step into tackling his issues head on as his mother. I can’t fall apart I need to be there for him. He is the one struggling, he is the one going through it first hand. It is my duty as his mother to be strong and not be selfish and make it about me. I will be trying more of these activity’s and will share our journey in his sensory diet. I also think that a lot of people are going through similar issues with their kids. Doesn’t necessarily mean that your kid has to be diagnosed with something to try sensory diet activity’s. My son has not been labeled with anything right now I’m viewing his issues as being terribly three. But if you do have a kid with special needs I think talking about it with other people will have a positive impact on your situation. I went from feeling like a helpless mother to a mother who is going to be strong and tackle our issues head on. Rather than feeling sorry for myself or my son I will take whatever action in my power to help. Now whether him playing with rice and beans will have any positive impact on his issues, I could not say for sure, but I do know one thing it isn’t hurting him.
~Kristy Kemp (creator of breastfeeding mama talk)