Sensory Diets for People on the Autism Spectrum
What is a sensory diet?
To make it very simple a sensory diet is scheduled activities that meet the needs of a person on the autism spectrum. The important part is finding a good balance of activities throughout the day to keep the person engaged at a level optimum for learning and moving throughout the day. Sensory diets can be for anyone of any age. It can be as simple as chewing gum at work to help you concentrate. How many of you have taken a hot shower first thing in the morning? This is part of a sensory diet. You need that hot water hitting your body to wake you up and get your body going and your blood flowing. These are examples of how you are meeting your sensory needs without even realizing it. Similarly, we want to create a day of structured activities that will help the person with self-regulation. The more complex the person is the more structured activities they will need to self-regulate and soothe their sensory needs. A sensory diet has nothing to do with food!
How do I create a sensory diet?
A sensory diet is unique to each individual. What works for one, may not work for another. Some activities will calm while others will stimulate activity. I have found it best to work with an occupational therapist (OT) to come up with a sensory diet. It is important to find the “right diet”. Those that are easily overstimulated need a diet to help them calm down. Those that seem lazy, sluggish or sleepy need more stimulation to help them feel alert. If you do not have access to an OT you can create your own diet. Remember that some activities won’t work for your child. Don’t be discouraged Swap out the activity for another. Find what fits best for the individual. Sensory diets should contain several activities and last 10-15 minutes. The effects usually last for hours. For example, if the person needs arousal because they are sluggish have them do 20 jumping jacks, 20 toe touches, and jumping up and down 20 times. Once you have created a diet that works, do it two-three times a day as needed.
Examples of sensory diet activities include but are not limited to:
• Jumping up and down
• Push ups
• Yoga poses
• Heavy work like sweeping, mopping, washing dishes, vacuuming, cleaning windows, etc.
• Animal walks (walking like a crab, dog, elephant, monkey, etc.
• Bouncing on a trampoline
• Bouncing on a therapy ball
• Rolling (downhill, forward roll)
• Push ups
• Sit ups
• Rolling on a therapy ball
• Using stretch bands
• Weighted blankets and vests
For more information and templates visit How to Create a Sensory Diet