Coined by OT Patricia Wilbarger in 1984, a sensory diet essentially entails the adjusting of sensory input to suit an individual's specific sensory needs. This is done by utilising suitable sensory products and activities that together form a sensory strategy to target and accommodate those needs. For children, these activities are commonly incorporated into play. Having the correct sensory diet in place improves occupational performance and aids the functioning of sensory processing systems, as well as helps to develop key faculties, such as gross and fine motor skills.
To best understand the sensory diet, it helps to compare it to a regular diet. A regular diet should be balanced, with a mixture of different foods; in this sense, a sensory diet is no different. What's more, just as with a regular diet, one person may require extra or less of a certain food group due to their individual needs- the same can be said for our sensory diet due to our individual sensory needs.
Who Needs to Think About Their Sensory Diet?
Whilst children are usually focused upon when discussing our sensory diet, we all have sensory needs that require the right type and amount of sensory input, and many of us engage in sensory strategies whether we realise it or not. Something as simple as fidgeting when we're uncomfortable, tapping our fingers when concentrating, or soaking in a hot bath when wanting to unwind are all actually sensory strategies.
What Problems do Sensory Diets Target?
Sensory diets combat a whole host of challenges through targeted sensory input. These include; impulsiveness, poor attention span, over-reactiveness, emotional extremities, meltdowns, aggressive behaviour, sensory-seeking and sensory-resisting behaviour, difficulty socialising, problems sleeping and resistance to certain textures, amongst others.
Whilst adults should look after their sensory diet, it's true that children's necessitate more care and attention. Over-excitable children require calming input, whereas under-stimulated children need more alerting sensory input.
How do Sensory Diets Differ?
As well as minor differences in sensory diet based on age and personality, individuals from special populations and with certain conditions require even further tailored diets due to their specific sensory needs. For example, a sensory diet for somebody with ADHD will look different to the sensory diet of an autistic individual, which will in turn differ from the sensory diet of somebody not from either of these special populations. As sensory diets are incredibly individual, and tailored to each person, no two are the same; special abilities then vary these even further.
A sensory diet is therefore most beneficial to a person with sensory issues, with two of the special populations who benefit most being the aforementioned ADHD and autistic populations, although several others abilities are also prominent.
- A sensory diet for ADHD; those with ADHD commonly experience impulsiveness and hyperactivity, and lack attentiveness. Consequently, their sensory diet should target these specific areas.
- A sensory diet for autism; as autism is a developmental disability with life-lasting effects, having a solid sensory strategy in place is crucial. And whilst autism covers a large spectrum, and is consequently experienced differently by those with the condition, key issues autistic individuals face are communication and socialising, and so their sensory diet should reflect this.
Fulfilling a Sensory Diet with Sensory Strategies
By using the right sensory activities and products, you can create a sensory strategy to accommodate specific sensory needs, which will greatly alleviate sensory difficulties. See this post from The OT Toolbox for more sensory diet activity ideas. Sensory activities tailored to individuals with Autism and ADHD specifically are also available.
Alongside sensory activities are a whole host of sensory products which also provide sensory solutions. Utilising the right sensory products is therefore a key part of building a sensory strategy, and can be used individually, or as part of a sensory room. Sensory rooms provide a complete multisensory environment, and as such have proven incredibly effective in alleviating difficulties in those with sensory issues.
For individuals with autism and ADHD specifically, the multisensory environment a sensory room creates is one of the most effective sensory strategies possible. The softened lights and projected images filter unnecessary sensory information, allowing individuals to organise information and communicate successfully; providing an excellent sensory diet for autism. Similarly, the use of vibration, focused lighting and sound control improves concentration, enabling clear thinking, speech and orientation (again by filtering out superfluous sensory output), providing an ideal sensory diet for ADHD too. By encouraging relaxation and focus, sensory rooms can tremendously help those with ADHD, enabling them to succeed in their education without distraction. Some of the most popular sensory products, fibre optics, bubble tubes and aromatherapy facilitate all of the above.
For more information on setting up a sensory room, or regarding which sensory products would provide you with the best sensory strategy, please don't hesitate to get in touch with the team at Experia. We are leaders in the field of multisensory solutions, and will be more than happy to help you explore your options. Check out our blog too for additional information and resources on all things multisensory!