What is a sensory diet?
A sensory diet is a set of activities, and/or accommodations, that can help an autistic person regulate their sensory system. This can be in the form of a schedule or timetable to help meet needs proactively at set times or as simple as a problem and solution list from a sensory perspective.
This is a powerful tool that can allow an autistic person to manage in environments that are often distressing by identifying what might help them regulate in that moment or by giving certain stimulation in advance to allow someone to feel less anxiety throughout the day so they can deal with stressful stimulation better later on.
It typically includes a combination of activities that provide sensory input to reduce anxiety, improve behaviour and focus, and promote positive social interaction. Activities can include things like playing with various textures, calm breathing exercises, massage, deep pressure, and sensory integration activities. These activities can help autistic people to better cope with their environment by providing them with the necessary sensory input to stay regulated. They can be adapted to suit the individual’s needs, depending on their sensory sensitivities. For example, someone with a hypersensitive auditory system might benefit from wearing noise-cancelling headphones, while someone with tactile hypersensitivity might need to focus on activities like writing or drawing. Therefore sensory diets can be an effective way to help autistic people manage their sensory processing challenges and develop better regulation skills.
Sensory diets are usually made by Occupational Therapists who specialise in sensory integration. It would be ideal if you can get a sensory OT’s input as they have the training, experience, and knowledge to successfully identify what senses might be over or underestimated. However, wait-lists for a sensory OT are currently long and so it might be that while seeking one out you start this process yourself. This may mean you get it wrong. Part of discovering what works can sometimes be trial and error and I recommend you join our Facebook group which has thousands of other parents who might be able to offer pointers for specific things. Here’s a link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/bristolautismnetwork/
Here’s a useful website that allows you to generate sensory diet activities for each age group: https://sensominds.com/blogs/news/what-is-a-sensory-diet-with-examples-free-template
Understood.org has some useful templates to make your own: https://www.understood.org/en/articles/sensory-diet-treatment-what-you-need-to-know
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