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What is a sensory diet?

By Kate Kelly

At a Glance

  • A sensory diet is a treatment that can help kids with sensory processing issues.

  • It includes a series of physical activities that are tailored to sensory needs.

  • An occupational therapist can create a sensory diet.

A sensory diet is a tailored plan of physical activities and accommodations designed to meet a child’s sensory needs. This type of treatment has nothing to do with food. The goal is to get kids in a “just right” state. 

What does that mean? For kids who tend to get overstimulated, a sensory diet will include activities that help them come down from an overloaded state and feel calm. Kids who feel or seem sluggish will do activities to help them feel more alert. 

Having the right sensory input helps kids pay attention in school, learn new skills, and socialize with other kids. But not all kids are able to recognize when they’re not in a “just right” state. Using a sensory diet regularly can help kids build that self-awareness.

Usually, an occupational therapist designs a child’s sensory diet and uses it during therapy sessions. The more kids practice, the better. So parents and caregivers should use the diet at home, too. Teachers can also do some of the activities in school.

Adults with sensory processing issues may benefit from the types of activities in a sensory diet, too. But typically a sensory diet is a plan used to help kids who are struggling.

Dive deeper

What a sensory diet looks like

A sensory diet is tailored to meet a child’s specific needs. The activities included depend on the sensory issues the child has. For example, if a child is sluggish (occupational therapists call this low arousal), a sensory diet might include a routine like this:

  • Doing 20 jumping jacks

  • Bouncing on a therapy ball 20 times

  • Holding a Zen bug yoga pose for 10 seconds

The plan would spell out how many times to repeat this circuit of activities and how long each session should last. (The effects can last for hours.) It would also include how many times to do the routine throughout the day.

Plans vary by child. Other common activities are somersaults, log rolling, hopping up and down, and push-ups. A sensory diet might also involve sensory “experiences.” These are things like using fidgets or chewing crunchy foods throughout the day.

Download a sample sensory diet and worksheet .

More ways to help at home

A sensory diet is just one way to help kids at home. There are lots of other strategies you can try. One is “heavy work activities.” These are tasks that push or pull against the body.

Many chores involve heavy work — like sweeping, dusting, vacuuming, and lifting and carrying grocery bags. Heavy work can help kids get into a “just right” state, so having them do certain chores can be a real plus.

Heavy work activities can also happen at school. If it’s not a formal accommodation, talk to the teacher about working it into the school day.

Learn more about heavy work , and discover other strategies to try at home .

How to help at school

There are lots of school supports that can help with sensory processing issues. Some focus on self-regulation skills. These may be written as accommodations in a student’s IEP. They might also be part of a sensory diet created by the occupational therapist.

Even if they’re not part of a formal plan, you might want to try some of the strategies to see if they help. Having a footstool under the desk or using a fidget during class may give enough sensory input to help students be calm and focused.

Discover classroom accommodations for sensory processing issues .

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom