Using A Sensory Diet To Improve Self Regulation

Using A Sensory Diet To Improve Self Regulation

The “sensory diet,” according to Wilbarger & Wilbarger (1991) is the type and amount of sensory input a person receives throughout the day. An effective sensory diet helps a person feel calm, alert, and organized so he or she is ready to learn or respond appropriately to activities at home and school. If the child has poor self-regulation, the ability to attain, maintain, and change levels of alertness, adults can assist them in choosing activities that will help them achieve the right level of alertness. The following is a list of a variety of activities that can be performed in order to provide an adequate sensory diet.

Sensory Processing Activities

  • Vestibular Input:
    Messages from the vestibular receptors, located in the inner ear, provide sensory information about movement and the body’s relation to gravity. It is essential for organizing the body and brain for efficient daily functioning

    • Swinging on various swings and in various positions (i.e. on stomach, back, sitting, kneeling, standing)
    • Rocking in a rocking chair
    • Riding a bike, skateboarding or skating on roller blades
    • Riding a scooter down a ramp or a sled (cardboard box, etc) down an inclined plane
    • Going down a slide
    • Twisting on a Sit-n-Spin
    • Going to an amusement park and riding the rides
    • Jumping rope and jumping jacks
    • Bouncing on a ball or hippity-hop
    • Jumping on a trampoline
    • Jogging around the block, running games such as Red Rover, relay races, etc.
    • Slinging: a device made out of a heavy weight plastic bag filled with a cup of water and shiny objects attracts the eyes. Holding the ends of the sealed bag, one in each hand and swinging it in various directions helps connect the eyes to the brain for better reading performance.
  • Proprioceptive Input:
    Messages from the proprioceptors in muscles let the child know what position his body is in without the use of vision, as well as the amount of force required to produce desired movements. Proprioceptive input is the most important kind of sensory input because it can produce a calming or alerting effect to organize the body and attain an appropriate level of attention for the various activities he/she must perform

    • Any heavy work or play activity which provides resistance
    • Wilbarger brushing protocol as prescribed and supervised by a trained therapist
    • Carrying a heavy back pack
    • Doing chores, carrying groceries, taking out trash bags, pulling and pushing the vacuum cleaner, pushing a lawn mower, stacking heavy materials, sweeping and raking leaves
    • Wrestling and Tug-o-war games
    • Wheelbarrow walking on hands with legs held by another person
    • Squeezing playdough, silly putty, exercise bands, stress balls, hole puncher
    • Jumping or crashing onto large pillows or mattress
    • Hanging on a trapeze or monkey bar
    • Punching and pushing a punching bag
    • Crawling through a worm (cloth) tunnel
    • Moving furniture or other heavy objects around the house by pushing, pulling or lifting
    • Climbing, hiking or biking
  • Tactile Input:
    All children benefit from a variety of tactile experiences. The tactile system provides information pertaining to 1) protection which defends the body from potentially harmful sensations, and 2) discrimination which informs the body about what part is being touched as well as the size, shape and texture of the object it is touching.

    • Find hidden objects (i.e. pieces of a puzzle or board game or small toy) in a variety of mediums such as rice, sand, beans birdseed, shaving cream, clay
    • Allow the child to assist with cooking by mixing cookie dough, meat loaf with his hands
    • Cut a hole in the top of a shoe box and place different objects inside the box/can to locate and identify without looking
  • Oral Motor Input:
    There are neurological connections from the cranial nerves to the parasympathetic (flight/flight/fright) nervous system, the brain’s reticular activating system, and the brain’s limbic system (emotional system). This may explain the effect oral input can have on calming, organizing and focusing a person (Scheerer, 1992).

    • Chewing on bubble, gum, caramels, tootsie rolls, licorice, gummy bears, beef jerky, plastic straws, rubber tubing, etc.
    • Crunch on potato chips, pretzels, raw carrot or celery sticks
    • Drinking liquids through a straw (note the thicker the better, such as milk, shakes or smoothies)
    • Encourage the child to eat lemon, peppermint, salty, tart, and spicy foods/snacks as tolerated
    • Blow whistles with moving parts, use a straw to blow up balloons, blow a cotton ball or wad of tissue paper across a table
    • Suck popsicles, hard candy or suckers
    • Massage the gums and palate using a washcloth

Disclaimer: Some of these activities may not be appropriate for all children. The information on this website is for educational purposes only and is not intended to take the place of individual therapy, nor primary medical care. This information is to be used for reference only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease, nor be a substitute for specific individual therapy. If you have medical concerns, contact your personal physician.