Although it sounds like a method of eating, a sensory diet is actually a set of activities for sensory-seeking kids. The goal of this type of diet is to provide structure and calming activities for a child who may have problems with everyday stimulants in the environment. This type of diet helps children learn to cope in circumstances that may be overwhelming.
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Sensory Processing Disorder
Kids who are sensory seeking may suffer from sensory processing disorder (SPD), a condition in which the body is able to take in information through the senses but the brain may interpret the information incorrectly. Children with SPD may react negatively to environmental stimuli that may not affect others. For example, some children with SPD become overwhelmed at group events where there are too many sights, sounds and smells. According to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, many children with SPD live in a sensory-seeking mode that may be misdiagnosed as ADHD.
Motor and Vestibular
Some kids who are sensory seeking may need to practice activities that will meet their needs for sensory input and which may calm them down. Some types of activities that kids can do on a sensory diet to meet vestibular input include bouncing on an exercise ball, jumping on a trampoline, swinging, spinning or rocking in a rocking chair. Additionally, other movement activities that require the use of large muscle groups include pushing or pulling heavy objects, wearing a weighted backpack, raking leaves or doing push-ups.
Other activities on a sensory diet involve increasing sensory input for kids through the use of their senses, such as hearing, touch, smell, taste and vision. Some examples of activities on this type of a sensory diet include tactile activities such as playing with raw beans or rice, playing with molding clay or with sand. Auditory exercises include listening to music or white noise, while visual exercises may involve searching for pictures on a map or sorting objects by color.
You may need to work with your doctor or an occupational therapist to develop a sensory diet if your child is sensory seeking. A professional therapist can devise a diet that has the types of activities specific for your child’s needs and will be the right length of time to keep him engaged. Often this involves an evaluation of your child’s behavior for the therapist to determine the right type of sensory diet. Additionally, the therapist may have certain tools for sensory activities that she will use and she may tell you what types of exercises you can do at home.