The Sensory Bounce Therapy Blog:
Sensory Processing, Motor and Social Skills Resources
for Parents of Special Needs Children

Selecting Just-Right “Ingredients”

What goes into a sensory diet determines what your child gets out of it

Therapy for autistic child
Does everyone get the same “ingredients?”
A sensory diet is not a ‘one size fits all’ situation, although there are some common basic ideas on how to set up and use one. However, it’s important to tailor the activities to the individual child, as well as adjust them as the child’s needs change. Additionally, a sensory diet often includes modifications to the child’s environment to arouse or calm him (for example, dimming the lights to promote a calm state).
A sensory diet consists of…
an individualized plan, designed by the OT for your child, with detailed suggestions for:
– morning routines designed to prepare your child for a successful day 
– specific activities to provide your child throughout the day (what to do, and how often to do it)
– specific activities to avoid or adapt, and how to adapt them for your child
– accommodations to discuss with your child’s teacher
– evening routines designed to prepare your child for a good night’s rest
Note: It is often helpful for your child to have a visual schedule for her sensory diet’s daily routines. This helps her follow multi-step instructions, as well as indicates the order to do the activities.
Break time
Ideally, a sensory diet schedules a break to perform sensory activities every 45 minutes to 2 hours. Usually the child will start with a break every 45 minutes or so, and work up to every 2 hours, but it depends on the individual child’s needs and age. Some may need to take breaks at shorter intervals than 45 minutes, too.
The activity break usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes (its effects last, sometimes for hours); again, depending on the child’s needs.
At break time, the child is usually given a choice of sensory activities, often using pictures of the different activities. Your child will repeat the activities a set number of times at each break session.
Typical order of activities in a sensory break
The activities generally follow this order: 
1) “Heavy work” — gross motor activities that provide vestibular or proprioceptive input
2) Activities that provide tactile input
(Vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile are the three senses that are most often affected in children with SPD, so it makes sense to start with them.)
3) Then the therapist addresses other senses (sound, smell, taste, sight), as well as other issues (such as difficulty sitting still in class, fine motor skills, eating, etc.), depending on your child’s specific processing challenges, age, and situation.
Back on task
When break time is over, your child resumes the activity he was working on prior to the break and you or your OT will note if the activity improved his focus or not. The diet may need to be adjusted if no improvement, or not enough improvement, is seen.
What are examples of sensory diet activities to do at break time?
You already know at least 101 of them! Remember the posts on 101 fun sensory activities to do with your child (links below)? Any/all of these activities can be used as needed to calm or alert your child. Of them, probably the most commonly-used are as follows, beginning with physical activities which work the large core muscles (gross motor activities). 
Useful for vestibular sensory input:
– Wheelbarrow walking
– Walking like an animal (jump like a frog, lumber like a bear, walk sideways like a crab, etc.)
– Jumping on a trampoline
– Riding a bike or scooter
– Swinging on a swing, sensory swing, or hammock
– Tumbling on the ground, play wrestling, having a pillow fight, jumping or crashing into pillows
See this post for more ideas.
Useful for proprioceptive input:
– Using a weighted blanket or lap pad, bear hugs, massaging, rolling up in a blanket, making a pillow sandwich (all these provide deep pressure)
– Wearing a heavy (size and weight appropriate only, please!) backpack while moving around
See this post  for more ideas.
Useful for tactile input:
– Playing with hands-on sensory mediums such as sand, play dough, silly putty, etc.
– Playing with ‘messy’ textures, such as slime, gak, foam, shaving cream, finger paint, etc.  
See this post  for more ideas.
Useful for visual input:
– Reading alone using flashlights, or using flashlights to follow along when being read to
– Solving mazes and ‘find the difference’ picture puzzles, finding hidden pictures in larger pictures
See this post  for more ideas.
Useful for oral input:
– Eating crunchy or chewy snacks
– Using chewable objects 
See this post  for more ideas.
Useful for auditory input (or input-blocking):
– Listening to music with a fast or slow beat, depending on whether your child needs to be alerted or calmed
– Using sound machines to replace or block out noise
– Using noise reduction headphones for a respite from a noisy/distracting environment 
See this post for more ideas.
Sensory diet cards: putting the choice in your child’s hands
You will notice that very often your child knows what she needs, what input her body is craving. So allow her to choose an activity from sensory diet cards which you put together, or download. Each card has an activity or a tool written or pictured on it. You would pre-select a few options for her to choose from. Kids love to make their own choices rather than be told what to do. 
Another reason cards work well is that when we’re in the middle of dealing with a sensory crisis, we can’t always think of a helpful activity immediately. The cards give us options literally at our fingertips. This practical solution is not just for your figurative backpack, but for your real-world bag as well.
The more ownership your child takes, the better the diet will work. Learning for himself what works, and what he needs to do to make it work, empowers him and teaches him independence. Choosing for herself teaches her how to self-regulate her energy level, focus, and behavior; how to realize what she needs and how to go about getting it. As children learn these skills, they learn others as well, such as social skills, concentration, taking turns, managing transitions, etc. 
Looking ahead:
You will be surprised and delighted by the difference a sensory diet makes in your child’s life. In the next three posts, we will discuss sample sensory activities appropriate for different age groups.
What activities do you like to do with your child? How old is your child? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, let me know there or via email what other topics you would like to discuss or hear more about. 
Feel free to share or quote from this blog (with attribution, please, and if possible, a link), and to repost on social media.
I look forward to hearing from you!

All the best,

About Miriam:
Miriam Skydell MS, OTR/L is a pediatric OT with 30 years experience and a strong commitment to empowering every child and every family with the skills, confidence and emotional stability necessary for a meaningful, independent life. In addition to her Masters degree from NYU (1986) and membership in the AOTA (American Occupational Therapy Association), Miriam is a licensed Interactive Metronome®,  HWT (Handwriting Without Tears®), and TLP (The Listening Program®) provider.

Miriam performs preschool screenings, contracts experienced OTs, PTs and STs to schools, helped implement the HWT curriculum, and lectures extensively for parent and support groups and at teacher conferences for public and private schools throughout New Jersey. Through her private practice in Fair Lawn, Miriam Skydell and Associates, established in 1995, Miriam has helped countless children with a wide range of diagnoses improve functional living skills, manage the impact of sensory processing dysfunction, and meet their individual potentials.