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A Diet That Does Not Include Food

2 min read

In my profession as a Registered Dietitian I found the term “Sensory Diet” a bit odd.  My first impression was, “so there is a type of nutrition regimen for SPD?” which was incorrect. (However, adequate nutrition therapy for children CAN help with sensory processing, which I plan to write about in a future blog post). The “diet” really stands for “something provided or experienced repeatedly” as we all tend to do when on a nutrition diet.

The best definition on Sensory Diet comes from the book, “The Out-of-Sync Child” by Carol Stock Kranowitz, MA. She states in her book a “Sensory Diet” is a “planned and scheduled activity program that a therapist develops to meet the needs of a specific child’s nervous system. It’s purpose is to help the child become better regulated and more focused, adaptable, and skillful.”  

Just as the main food groups provide daily nutritional requirements for all of us, a daily sensory diet fulfills the tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive nourishment a child with SPD needs but does not know how to get on their own. It includes a combination of altering, organizing, and calming activities.

Examples of Alerting activities:

  • Crunching dry cereal, popcorn, chips, crackers nuts, pretzels, carrots, celery, apples, or ice cubes.
  • Taking a shower
  • Bouncing on a therapy ball or beach ball
  • Jumping up and down on a mattress or trampoline

Examples of Organizing activities:

  • Chewing granola bars, fruit bars, licorice, dried apricots, cheese, gum, bagels, or bread crusts
  • Hanging by the hands from a chinning bar
  • Pushing or pulling heavy loads
  • Getting into an upside-down position

Examples of Calming activities:

  • Sucking a pacifier, hard candy, frozen fruit bar, or spoonful of peanut butter
  • Pushing against walls with the hands, shoulders, back, buttocks, and head
  • Rocking, swaying, or swinging slowly to and fro
  • Cuddling or back rubbing
  • Taking a bath

The best thing about these examples is they are easy to perform at home. Here are some quick guidelines to follow:

  1. Set up specific times during the day for a structured sequence.
  2. Supply the activity that your child wants to do since that is a big sign your child needs it.
  3. Let your child direct the play by watching for nonverbal signals and verbal cues to continue or stop. Example – if your child says “more!” or appears very relaxed, then continue with the activity. However, if your child says “stop!” or whimpers it is time to cool down.

A great way to know what individual activities your child needs for their individual SPD, it’s always a good idea to have an Occupational Therapist (OT) who specializes in Sensory Integration (SI) do a complete evaluation.  Here are some resources for you to find a local OTSI in your area:

  • Your local early intervention program if your child is under age three
  • Your local school district if your child is three or older
  • Private, nonprofit mental health and social service organizations
  • A multidisciplinary teaching hospital for a full evaluation
  • The Occupational Therapy Department of your local children’s hospital
  • www.SPDFoundation.net which posts a free, online directory of local OTs and other experts
  • www.devdelay.org which offers a directory for a small fee

 Reference: 

1. Kranowitz, Carol “The Out-of-Sync Child”, Penguin Random House LLC (2005)


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