A sensory diet is a carefully designed, personalised activity plan that provides sensory input to a child or adult who needs to stay focused and organised throughout the day (Occupational Therapist Patricia Wilbarger). It is developed by an Occupational Therapist specifically according to person’s sensory needs and abilities. It is developed to achieve particular goals considering child’s preferences, limitations, and available resources.
Activities such as deep pressure massage, pushing-pulling, sucking hard candy or fruit, hand push-ups, rocking, swinging, running, obstacle courses are some of the generalised examples.
A child with low arousal (under-aroused) levels needs alerting activities, whereas a child with high arousal (over-aroused) levels requires calming activities. Due to sensory reactivity or modulation issues, a child may have poor self-regulation and emotional regulation skills (Schaaf & Roley, 2001). Personalised sensory diet helps to improve attention span and concentration levels hence improving the quality of life and academic achievement.
Due to slow information processing, any instruction or command given will take the time to process the information and then respond. The child will answer correctly to what has been asked, however, it may take a little time and hence person has to be patient.
The purpose of the sensory diet is to provide sensory “tune ups” throughout the day so that child keeps on getting input needed for information processing correctly. The activities recommended in a plan should have long lasting effect on behaviour as diet is the group of alerting, organising and calming tasks.
What is Sensory Integration?
As first described by Ayres (1972), sensory integration is defined as “the organisation of sensory information for use” (p.1). It is a neurological process that enables us to make sense of our world by receiving, registering, modulating, organising, and interpreting information that comes to our brains from our senses.
Recently Ayres Sensory Integration© trademark denotes the adherence to the core principles of Ayres original theoretical framework. This copyright distinguishes it from other often applied clinical practices. Mailloux, Roley, and Glennon (2007) have been working on Ayres Sensory Integration Fidelity tool which is correlated to trademark.
Occupational Therapist's Role in Planning Sensory Diet:
Sensory Diets are planned by Occupational Therapy practitioners who use sensory integration therapy for intervention purpose. They are mostly trained in Sensory Integration which enables them to work precisely with children and adults having mental health issues. Due to the better understanding of child’s sensory processing difficulties and requirements they can formulate reliable and achievable goals along with intervention strategies. All the activities are aimed at enhancing the child’s ability to participate in the day to day chores within the school, home and community.
OT efforts to discover child's strengths and areas of weaknesses as he assesses sensory challenges (e.g.- touch, smell, vision, movement, hearing) and motor difficulties such as poor body awareness, handwriting difficulties, right and left discrimination and then plans activities according to child’s needs and abilities on discussion with child, parents or caregivers following the client-centred approach.
Sensory Checklists: Occupational Therapists carry out clinical observations in structured and unstructured environments, follow sensory checklists and use the standardised assessment tool called as Sensory Integration Praxis Test (SIPT), SPM, and Sensory Profile. The OT should be trained and certified to administer SIPT assessment.
Follow-up: After a period of time therapist re-analyses effectiveness of intervention Plan. Activities are changed as the child able to accomplish the "just right" challenge. Activity modification and task gradation while measuring the outcome of the intervention is an important part of therapy plan.