‘Fill your cup’ they say.
‘Look after yourself’.
Éxercise is great for your mental health’.
Think about the ways you look after your day to day wellbeing.
Do you write lists when you feel overwhelmed?
Do you go for a run when you need to clear your head?
Do you have a cheeky Friday arvo wine to give yourself a pat on the back after you survived another week of mum life?
These little actions are implemented pretty seamlessly. You’re meeting your needs.
We all have sensory needs and require sensory input to meet these needs. The thing is most of us are able to subconsciously ‘fill our cup’ throughout the day without giving it much thought. This however is not an easy task for some individuals with sensory processing disorders or autism. Hence why a sensory diet can be a useful intervention strategy to support emotions, focus and regulation.
What is a sensory diet?
Essentially it consists of implementing activities throughout the day that assist in keeping your child calm and regulated, it provides the sensory input that they require to stay focused and organised.
A sensory diet is designed specifically for your child by an occupational therapist with input from family and teachers. Aspects like timing, frequency, intensity and duration of different sensory inputs are decided and then implemented into home and school life. Incorporating a schedule of sensory input (diet) into day-to-day activities assists with daily regulation.
A sensory diet can be used to address the following challenges;
-Poor social interactions
-Sensory seeking behaviours
Benefits… There are many benefits to implementing a sensory diet and having a sensory diet checklist for your child.
-Assists with sensory needs
-Helps them to feel less anxious
-Helps support focus, attentiveness and interactions
-Assists in helping them to feel more in control
-Reduces sensory defensiveness
-Helps to create calmness when feeling overwhelmed
No sensory diet will look the same as we all have different sensory needs; it’s about finding out what type of sensory strategies and input is required during different times of the day.
Simple activities that may have a significant impact in your child’s behaviour throughout the day, key word being ‘may’. It doesn’t necessarily mean you add a few sensory activities and bam all is well in the world – behaviour challenges gone, and regulation is restored. It is an approach to support and ease day to day emotions and sensory overload. What works on one day might not work on the next (exciting right, what a spontaneous ride) so it's important to have a range of sensory activities up your sleeve to cater to the vibe and mood of each day.
I totally understand that this can seem so overwhelming- “ just have a range of activities constantly up your sleeve” the blog lady says….. how simple. Don’t get caught up in this though it could be as simple as sucking on some ice, blowing some bubbles or having 5 minutes on a swing. Short frequent bursts or sensory input that can have a huge positive impact on behaviour throughout the day.
6 easy and fun sensory diet activities to try at home
Jumping is an effective action for those that are craving some vestibular and proprioceptive input; our senses that are associated with body movements and sending signals to our brain. The sensory benefits of jumping are massive, it’s a great gross motor outlet, can alert kids that have an under responsive system and can improve self-regulation.
So, you think jumping and trampoline often comes to mind! Yes, that is a great way to get some jumping action in. But not everyone has one and sometimes a trampoline just won’t cut it. Especially if you have a child like mine, too smart for their own good. As soon as she catches on that I am encouraging her to do something for a purpose the fun immediately is taken away from it. So, it's handy to have some other jumping activities in your sensory diet tool kit!
-Jumping in and out of a hula hoop
-Draw a hopscotch on the driveway with chalk
-Tape on the ground to encourage jumping to each line
-Jumping on the bed (perhaps a no no in some houses, it is in mine haha)
-Jumping over stuffed animal toys
Pushing and pulling
Pushing and pulling are great heavy work activities to gain some proprioceptive input. You're at the grocery store and your child is running wild and you just know it's going to end badly. Getting them to help load the trolley with heavy items or push the trolley is a good strategy to use to try to diffuse their over reactive behaviour. This heavy work activity can stimulate their sense of proprioceptive input and meet their sensory needs with little effort. Consciously adding activities like this that consistently tune in to sensory needs can assist in organising and calming their systems.
There are many ways in which pulling and pushing can be achieved at home but an easy one is to simply fill a washing basket or box with some heavy items. Load a washing basket with potatoes and add some ribbon or string to pull “I wonder how many laps you can do around the house while you are pulling that”. Fill a large box with some books. “There are 20 books in there. Can you push the box around the house and make sure there are 5 books on everyone’s bed?” Little games and activities like this can have a calming effect on busy minds.
Ice is a great option to use to engage a child’s tactile sense. Touching and feeling sends messages to our brain about how we are feeling. Giving opportunities to engage in this sense can help cut down inappropriate ways that some children try to get their tactile senses met.
Sensory play is a great way to tune into this tactile seeking need, think shaving cream, paint, sensory bins, coloured rice, sand…all of which can be quite messy and not a simple ‘go to’ on a busy day. A super easy way to tune into the sense of touch is with ice. You could simply store some ice cubes in the freezer and have a range of tools ready to go. My kids love when I hide things in ice cubes and they use pipettes and/or syringes to inject water on the ice to help it melt, or they use craft wooden hammers to help smash it. Perfect because it's easy to set up, pop it on a tray and even if it does create some mess, it’s just water!
Blowing bubbles is a fantastic calm down tool. It encourages the use of deep breathing which is perfect for calming down our minds and bodies. Blowing is a proprioceptive activity and can be very calming for those who are easily overwhelmed by sensory stimulation. Definitely useful to have a supply of bubble wands as a sensory diet activity (hello Kmart 50c wands). But there may be times where your child doesn’t want to blow bubbles for the 345th time, luckily there are many other ways in which can encourage this oral seeking action.
-Using a straw to blow pom poms across the dining table
-Blowing bubbles in a cup of water
-Blowing up a balloon
-Using a straw to blow sensory sand around
The rhythmic movements of bouncing are a great stress reliever and increases both proprioceptive and vestibular function. It’s a good way to release feelings through movement and cater to sensory needs. As mentioned previously, as soon as my daughter catches on that a task or action has a therapy benefit the interest for it disappears. With this in mind to create bouncing movements into a sensory diet you could have your child sit on a peanut ball or yoga ball while they are watching TV. Simply leave it there and more often than not when they are having some time out to watch their show, they are likely to choose to sit on the ball, rather than the floor or couch and bouncing will just happen naturally.
I am a playdough enthusiast! So many amazing benefits for play but a main one being its calming and stress relieving effects. All that squeezing and tactile play can be extremely therapeutic and it's so cheap and easy to make!
Simply combine in a bowl 2 cups of plain flour, 4 tbs cream of tartar, 1 cup of salt, 2 tbs cooking oil and 2 cups or boiling water. Mix and you have your own magic blend of calming happiness. I add essential oils to mine as well (often lavender) to maximise on the calming effects.
To incorporate this into a sensory diet you do not have to plan a big playdough session with all the tools and gadgets! Simply whip it out “Hey I wonder how many playdough balls you can make in 5 minutes; do you think you could then connect them all together?”.
An occupational therapist will undertake a sensory diet checklist and together you will develop sensory input activities to incorporate into your child’s day. There are many different types of activities that can give your child the sensory input they seek and these are just a few to show you how simple and easy it can be.
Just like we eat balanced foods throughout the day to keep us feeling fit and healthy, or petrol is used to keep a car running, batteries needed to keep things working; We also need a balanced amount of sensory information to work well.
A sensory diet can assist children with autism in managing behaviours, self-regulation and easing overwhelming feelings and anxiety.