Sensory diets are a carefully designed set of activities, often created by occupational therapists (OT), that support an individual's sensory needs and aim to help with sensory processing challenges. Essentially, it is a set of 'prescribed' personalised sensory activities that meet an individual's needs. Not everyone can have access to an OT, so here is a guide and checklist you can use to better understand a child's sensory profile and match them with activities that may support them.
Sensory Processing Disorders in Children
It is estimated that 1 in 6 children have issues with sensory processing and sensory integration, and approximately 98% of children with autism have difficulties with sensory processing. Typically, there are 4 types of sensory issues that children can experience;
Sensory Modulation - the brain either under- or over-responds to information
Discrimination and Perception - the brain struggles to interpret sensory information or give meaning to the information
Vestibular Functional Difficulties - where a child has problems related to the vestibular system and coordinating the two sides of the body
Praxis Difficulties - difficulties in how the body plans and makes motor movements that it has not done before
Most aspects of a sensory diet focus on supporting children with sensory modulation difficulties.
Good sensory modulation means that you can regulate the degree to which sensory stimuli influences and affects you. Children with difficulties with sensory modulation aren't able to do this efficiently, and therefore can either under- or over-feel various sensory input.
If the brain over-responds to sensory stimuli, many children will display avoidance behaviours. The input they are receiving is simply too much and therefore they want to avoid it to avoid sensory overload.
If the brain under-responds, children will often display seeking behaviours. They will seek out extra sensory input in order to balance and regulate their senses.
Children can have a balance of avoidance and seeking behaviours, often varying on the sensory system. Some children, for example, may avoid lots of sounds but seek out visual input.
The Sensory Checklist
This checklist is taken from the book "Raising a Sensory Smart Child" . You can work through the checklist and answer the statements with either "seeks", "avoids", "mixed" or "neutral". By the end of the checklist, you will have a good idea on what type of sensory challenges a child is experiencing.