If you have ever researched sensory processing difficulty, you have probably seen the term sensory diet. At first glance you may assume you are going to have to change your child’s entire diet to improve these difficulties. However, a sensory diet has nothing to do with food. In reality it is a daily “diet” of activities to help regulate your child’s body to be able to participate in their daily activities. Everyone needs a variety of sensory input throughout the day. Sometimes children find ways to get the sensory input their bodies need in ways that may not be deemed appropriate. A child who needs sensory input from movement may suddenly start running around their classroom, while a child who is seeking deep pressure input may jump on and off the furniture or crash into walls repeatedly. A child needing oral sensory input may chew on their clothing or bite a friend. Often children who have trouble with sensory processing are not doing these things in an attempt to misbehave; instead it is the only way they know how to obtain the input their body needs.
As adults, we perform activities throughout the day to regulate our sensory systems without even realizing why. When we are stressed or overwhelmed we may find ourselves participating in “calming activities” such as taking a walk outside or stretching. When we have trouble getting moving in the morning or hit an afternoon slump, we may perform “alerting activities” like getting a cup of coffee or turning on music. We have learned what activities work to change our body states when needed. The activities completed in a sensory diet are designed to help the child maintain a “just right” state and in turn minimize or prevent the actions that are often perceived as bad behavior. Those actions are often simply a result of a child’s inability to regulate their sensory systems throughout their day. When sensory diet activities are completed regularly throughout the day, they provide appropriate types of the sensory input that the child’s body needs and allow the child to fully participate in his/her occupations of childhood.
-Lauren Goodson, Occupational therapist