What is a sensory diet?
The term ‘sensory diet’ could be mistakenly associated with food, cooking and recipes. However, in its application in assisting children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), a sensory diet refers to activities that support the functional needs of a child on a daily basis.
According to Patricia Wilbarger, M.Ed, “A sensory diet is based on the principle that individuals require a certain quality and quantity of sensory experience to be skilful, adaptive, and organised in their daily lives.”
As adults, we will unconsciously increase or reduce stimulants to regulate our own sensory diet. For example, adults struggling to focus at work may stretch their legs or make a cup of coffee. Children with ADHD need similar assistance in organising their environment, to feel mentally and physically at ease.
What does a sensory diet involve?
A sensory diet will change dependent on the needs of a given child. Sensory experiences may include activities that support visual or auditory functions, motor skills, or concentration and cognitive thinking.
Activities that form part of a child’s sensory diet will align with their development goals, and those goals identified by the child’s parents or family. There are a variety of reasons a sensory diet might be a useful part of ADHD therapy, for example:
* Fostering healthy sleep routines,
* Reducing sensory defensive responses,
* Helping a child focus in class or at school,
Occupational therapists, educators and health professionals may plan a sensory diet that takes into account varying parts of a child’s day. For example, closing blinds in the early evening to promote restorative sleep, or limiting time spent in front of smartphone devices and screens before bedtime.
How can families integrate a sensory diet?
When planned with the help of healthcare professionals, a sensory diet will consider a child’s changing environment – at home, in school or within the wider community. Integrating a sensory diet may involve changes or modifications to a child’s surroundings, suggestions for new playtime activities, and scheduled social interactions.
Routine activities are understood to help form a beneficial sensory diet for children with ADHD. These activities may include:
* Changes to diet and nutrition; where required,
* Time to play on the playground before school starts,
* Regular breaks throughout the day to improve concentration,
* Rigorous physical exercise after school; such as trampolining,
* Deep pressure massages to help settle before sleep.
Proprioceptive input and sensory diets
Proprioceptive input refers to sensations from joints, muscles and connective tissues; that help to create a physical awareness of the body. Children with ADHD can experience proprioceptive input with functional movements such as lifting, pushing, pulling and jumping.
Children of varying ages and stages will require different types of proprioceptive input, as this brain process plays an important role in regulating responses to external stimuli:
* Toddlers and pre-schoolers; benefit from push and pull movements such as wheeling their strollers or carts. This age group can also understand the effects of body weight by wearing small backpacks, lightly filled with toys or clothes.
* School-age children; benefit from the sensation of jumping! Have your child jump on a trampoline, as this releases ‘feelgood’ serotonin from in brain, regulate moods and anxiety, and aids in peaceful sleep.
* Teenagers and young adults; benefit from heavy lifting. Have your teenager safely train with free weights, or ask them to unload groceries from the car. New types of proprioceptive input can also be planned as part of a wider sensory diet, with the help of professionals.
For more information about effective therapies for childhood ADHD, visit: www.adhdaustralia.org.au