Youthrive Integrated Therapy Services

Youthrive Integrated Therapy Services

By Jessica Turner Occupational Therapist at Youthrive


There is significant misconception with what a sensory diet actually is due to the term “diet”. Sensory diets are not actually a nutritional diet for your child. Sensory diets are developed for children with sensory processing difficulties which impact on their daily functioning. Sensory processing difficulties happen when a person recognises, organises and responds to sensory input in a different way than others.

Sensory diets are a specific set of exercises and multi-sensory activities put into a person’s day to help them participate in activities of daily living. These diets can include deep pressure (proprioceptive input), movement, noise, tactile and oral input to meet your child’s sensory needs. A sensory diet is designed to give a person the right amount of sensory input in their day to help them maintain a “just right” state of arousal and tackle any challenges they may face. Sensory diets, similarly to nutritional diets, need to be balanced and require the correct combination of sensory input to achieve optimal performance.

What are the benefits?

Sensory diets are deigned to improve a person’s participation in daily activities. By getting the right amount of sensory input in a day, a child can maintain an optimal state of arousal and is no longer constantly in the “fight, fright or freeze” state. Managing a child’s sensory needs and maintaining and optimal state of arousal for longer periods results in the following benefits:

  • Improved emotional regulation. Your child will be able to identify and express their emotions more clearly, identify and implement strategies to emotionally regulate. Furthermore, they are less likely to overreact to minor problems or situations throughout their day.
  • Focus and follow instructions. Your child will be better able to ignore distractions and pay attention to verbal instructions.
  • Developed independence in self-care activities. Your child will be able to cope better with the sensory challenges associated with self-care activities, including the feel of different clothing and noise of the toilet flushing.
  • Improved attention in learning activities.
  • Increased engagement in social groups and play activities.
  • Increased tolerance to some sensory experiences e.g. wearing clothing, teeth brushing, going to busy shopping centers, and eating different foods.

It is extremely important to consider your child’s daily sensory needs and help them to self-regulate to be able to engage in play, learn and have fun.

When should parents or carers incorporate a sensory diet?

Parents typically identify differences in their child’s behaviour, which may be due to sensory processing challenges. A child’s difficulties in sensory processing generally becomes clearer during child development, when they are exposed to difference experiences and even when they start school. Your child may cover their ears to block out loud noise, cry and fight during teeth brushing, constantly climb over furniture or seem more active than others, or be an extremely fussy eater – gagging and becoming distressed at even the sight of food.

Warning signs your child may experience sensory processing challenges are:

  • Sensitivities to noise such as covering their ears or showing signs of being distressed by loud noises
  • Your child may constantly pull away from hugs and become upset with others are touching them
  • Significant distress during grooming, including, teeth brushing or hair brushing
  • Picky eating
  • Appearing clumsy, constantly bumping into things or falling over.
  • Putting inedible things, including rocks, household items and paint, into their mouths
  • Having extreme tantrums on a regular basis

If a child is suspected of experiences sensory processing difficulties you should seek assessment with an Occupational Therapist. Following formal identification of sensory processing issues your therapist will help in developing and implementing a sensory diet tailored to your child.

Sensory diets can be implemented when your child is having regular daily outbursts, difficulty engaging in school work, poor sleep and struggles to get to sleep at night, struggles to interact with their peers, refuses to complete daily tasks or is regularly distressed by sensory input. Sensory diets are incorporated into family routines and become a way of life for families.

What are some sensory diet activities?

Sensory diet activities can include multi-sensory activities with specific noise, visual, touch, movement, deep pressure or oral input. Examples include:

  • Listening to favourite music
  • Wearing sunglasses to avoid bright light
  • Swinging on a swing
  • Riding a bike, running or walking.
  • Completing an obstacle course
  • Squishing playdoh
  • Using fidget tools
  • Rolling on a therapy ball
  • Massage
  • Burrowing in cushions
  • Eating crunchy and chewy foods
  • Blowing bubbles

How does a sensory diet help a child’s development?

Parents of children who have successfully incorporated sensory diets into their daily routines have reported significant improvements in their child’s self-worth. Children are able to engage in the classroom, develop their independence in activities and manage their emotions more effectively leading to improved self-worth which is crucial for their overall health. Additionally, many parents of children with sensory processing challenges can feel lost and even helpless in how to support their child. Parent’s state that by improving their understanding of their child needs helped them be able to independently meet their child’s needs and support them in their daily wellbeing which is the most important thing.