The Sensory Diet

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

There is such a thing as the "sensory diet" but don't get fooled by the name. It doesn't involve discovering foods that will help your child overcome sensory processing disorder (SPD). A sensory diet is a series of exercises and activities designed specifically for your child to help manage SPD symptoms.

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

SPD is "a condition that exists when sensory signals don't get organized into appropriate responses"A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure and other impacts may result if the disorder is not treating effectively." [1]

Sensory Diets

Every person has unique sensory needs. Some need calming activities and some need extra sensory input. Most people have different needs at different times. Sensory diets take these needs into account and use a variety of activities to help the child stay on an even keel throughout the day. These diets combine different activities that are usually easy to implement at home or at school.

Some examples of activities include:

Body awareness - lifting, pushing, pulling

  • Carrying a backback

  • Jumping on a trampoline or jumping up and down

  • Pushing a vacuum cleaner, carrying books or other objects, raking leaves, push-ups

  • Lifting items (use items appropriate for ages - lifting should be without straining)

  • Popping bubble wrap

  • Wrapping your child up in a blanket

Movement and balance - spinning, swinging

  • Swinging on swings on the playground

  • Rocking in a rocking chair

  • Spinning on a chair

  • Playing airplane

  • Handing upside down from playground equipment

  • Somersaults

  • Roller coasters that go upside down

  • Rolling down a hill

  • Merry go rounds

  • Cartwheels

  • Running or skipping

Touch - light and deep touch including touch sensations in the mouth

  • Drinking carbonated water

  • Playing with messy, gooey substances such as fingerpaints, glitter glue, shaving cream

  • Using Play-Doh or modeling clay

  • Eating frozen foods and foods with different temperatures

  • Walking barefoot on different surfaces such as grass, sand, dirt

  • Making crafts and items with many different textures

  • Sewing

  • Cooking

  • Reading texturedbooks

  • Tracing shapes on your child's back and letting him guess the shape

Hearing and listening

  • Sit outside and listen to the sounds of nature - try different places such as the woods, the beach, a country street, a city street

  • Use CDs or apps to listen to different sounds

  • Play games such as "name that sound"

  • Listen to music

  • Play a musical instrument

  • Use items that have different sounds, such as vacuum cleaner, washing machine

Seeing and interpreting visual input

  • Add or simplify visual stimulus on the walls of your child's room or around your house

  • Use neutral or soft color paint on walls for children who become easily overstimulated visually

  • Notice if your child becomes overstimulated by certain colors and lessen those colors in his environment

  • Stringing beads

  • Playing matching games

  • Playing "eye spy" games

Smell and taste

  • Use scents for calming or arousing - vanilla, rose are calming scents; peppermint and citrus are arousing scents

  • Make a game of putting items in a paper bag and guessing what it is based on the smell

  • Keep your child's favorite scent with you on outings to help him or her calm down

  • Have your child eat something with a strong taste - such as peppermint or citrus - before trying a new food

  • Have your child close his or her eyes and eat a piece of food, then guess what it is based on the taste

  • Have your child help with cooking and baking

  • Add texture to a food your child likes, such as adding granola to yogurt


[1] "About SPD," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, SPD Foundation

"Sensory Diet," Date Unknown, Sarah Scharfenaker and Tracy Stackhouse, National Fragile X Foundation

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.