Sensory Diet

My son will turn 4 next month. One of our daily struggles has been scratching. He will scratch himself until he bleeds, until he has huge red welts and it doesn’t seem to bother him in the least. This is something he’s done since birth.

He does have very sensitive skin. Early on, we discovered he was allergic to Dreft, Pampers, and several soaps and lotions. Once we figured out what worked for his skin and it did nothing to stop the scratching (though the horrible rashes disappeared), we moved on to his diet. We tried removing all artificial colors and preservatives. We tried going entirely natural and organic only to discover that too did nothing to stop the scratching.

When we began Occupational Therapy, we brought this up to our therapist and she had us fill out some forms, answer some questions about the way he responded to certain stimuli, the way he sought out or avoided different sensory stimuli. At our next appointment, she gave us something called a sensory diet to try.

We’ve got something of a routine down now and it has done wonders with his scratching. It hasn’t completely stopped, but I have been able to shift his focus when he starts scratching. We have gone from scratching all the time to only scratching when he is overloaded, tired, or nervous. The improvement has been leaps and bounds ahead of what I had expected.

Our sensory diet might not work for every kid on the spectrum – each child is different and this is something that should be undertaken with guidance. I am fortunate to be a stay at home mom – this means that he and I can spend the time it takes to do this diet with consistency. There are days we miss – if we have something to do or someplace to be – and on Thursdays, which is our Therapy Day (we do ot and speech back to back).

In the morning, after we work with potty training, as I get him dressed, I brush him using the Wilbarger techniques. He doesn’t like deep pressure or joint compression, but he will let me bicycle his legs.

After breakfast, or about 8 am if he’s having a non-breakfast day, we do a vestibular activity – either jumping on his trampoline or doing an exercise routine – and some heavy work.

After lunch, or about 12 if he’s having a non-lunch day, we do something quiet and work with his fine motor skills and speech. We string beads or work with his food pecs or play a matching game.

Around 3pm, or earlier if he’s rocking too much, we do another round of vestibular activity. Sometimes we chase bubbles, play catch, jump on the trampoline (if we didn’t do that in the am), or something else that involves being active.

In the evening, after dinner and before bath time, we work with his theraputty in three weights, light, middle, and heavy. He loves to pull it, smash it, and pull it again. Then we’ll have bathtime and settle in for the evening. As I’m getting him ready for bed, we brush again and get ‘jammified’ and, hopefully, get some cuddle time in.

I brush him when he seems overstimulated or when he asks me to. And it works for him. It doesn’t work for everyone and is something you should be shown how to do before you do it.

This works for us. The decrease in scratching has been a huge relief. I no longer have the urge to tape mittens on his hands.

Some examples of the things we do:

– jumping on the trampoline
– yoga stretches
– playing catch with large or small balls
– marching
– carrying a backpack with toys in it around the house
– putting red and yellow discs into a connect 4 game
– stringing beads
– pulling theraputty
– finger painting with Color Wonder paints
– digging through rice or beans for lollipops
– coloring
– using Play-doh factory presses
– squishy toys
– ‘feeding’ a piggy bank
– playing with Jello using straws to suck it up and blow it out.

There are several other things – these are just some examples of the things I do with my own son.

Examples of Sensory Diet Activities


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