Sensory Diets

Several blogs ago we discussed sensory processing disorder.  We described our various senses, particularly the lesser known vestibular, tactile, and proprioceptive senses.  We also discussed common symptoms that may be present in children with sensory processing disorder.  Now, lets take a look at some common treatment options for children.

Many times, after an occupational therapist has evaluated and determined that a child does indeed have a sensory processing disorder, a “sensory diet” is created.  A sensory diet is a schedule of very specific exercises or activities, which are performed daily to promote attention, organization, and to help calm or stimulate a child.   The goal of a sensory diet is to achieve self-regulation.  Self-regulation occurs when a child is able to monitor their behavior, and most importantly, CHANGE behavior based upon the demands of the task at hand.  This is a very high level skill that many children will need assistance with.  To make this goal attainable, I first like to teach children an age appropriate vocabulary to describe their sensory state.  One of the most common methods OT’s use to teach sensory skills and vernacular is the Alert Program.  The Alert Program likens sensory states to a speedometer on a car.  If children are over-aroused, or “hyper” their engine is running too fast.  Conversely, if the child is under-aroused, or inattentive their engine is running too slow.  Of course, if a child is attentive and focused then their engine is just right. By giving children the ability to identify their sensory state, we give them the ability to change their sensory state in an effective and socially acceptable method.  This is where the diet comes into play.  An OT will carefully select exercises and activities to help change a child’s sensory state to a more desirable range.   Exercises will have the right frequency, intensity, and duration to change behavior.  It is really a win-win situation when parents, teachers, and caretakers teach children to regulate on their own.   Check back soon for more sensory strategies.

Stensaas A. & Calder, T.  (2008), Sensory Diet Fun Sheet, Greenville, South Carolina.