Using a Sensory Diet

Recently, my son started waking up in the middle of the night, getting fussy at odd times, and just generally being more moody than usual. It was a drastic enough change that I sat and looked at what was going on. Something had changed beyond just decorating for Christmas.

Having him in school has cut down our time to work with his sensory diet. Evenings can get to be a bit of a hectic mess. Our occupational therapist suggested upping his heavy work. So far, it seems to be doing wonders for him. Increasing his productive activity level, especially in the evenings, has worked so far.

It may not be true for all kids, but this is what is working for mine. All I can give is my own experience and hope that it is something someone else can use down the road.

When my son starts rocking, we try to shift his desire for that motion input into what I call productive activity and get out his trampoline which he loves and, after jumping for ten minutes or so, he won’t rock again unless he gets overtired. If he is scratching again, we do fine motor work to keep his hands busy or I get out the middle weight therapy putty and let him do some taffy pulling.

I’m not saying all of his habits can be redirected so easily. At the moment, he is trying to get everyone to recite lines from Rudolph with him to the point of frustration and he will keep pushing until someone does the lines he wants. I’ve not yet found a good redirect for this one, but I’ll keep trying until I do. It’s all trial and error, but redirection can be any parent’s best friend.

When redirection doesn’t work for me, I use rewards. I give him a chore or a bit of work to do with me and then he can watch what he wanted to watch/play what he wanted to play. Part of being successful, at least with my son, is setting limits for him and doing my very best to stick to those limits.

We still have our meltdowns, of course, but since we’ve implemented the sensory diet, they’ve diminished in frequency, severity, and duration. It helps that my son is generally easily distracted – a few gummy snacks, doing a puzzle, bouncing on the trampoline, playing one of his favorite songs – any one of these will usually calm him down pretty quickly. And when they can’t, we try to ignore it. Ignoring Logan’s tantrums (at least when there is no danger of him hurting himself) cuts the duration down as well. He’s playing to a crowd, after all, and if the audience isn’t participating, there’s no point to screaming like that. I wouldn’t suggest that for every child, but it does work for mine.

What does a sensory diet consist of?

A schedule of activities including heavy work, fine motor skills training, gross motor skills training, and, for us, social skills work and a bit of speech practice. If your child is like mine, full of boundless energy – especially around bedtime – put additional heavy work activities into the schedule to help wear the child out.

Nothing works for all children on the spectrum, but the sensory diet is well worth looking into. If you have an occupational therapist, they can help you design the sensory diet best suited to your child. If you don’t have access to an occupational therapist, trial and error works too.


Examples of Heavy Work activities
Fine Motor activities
The Out of Sync Child Has Fun by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A.

There are a lot of other resources out there. Not everything will work, but, if you’re lucky, you will find the right most balanced diet for your child.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. kloppenmum
    Dec 17, 2010 @ 14:03:11

    What a great idea, I’ve never heard of that before – but I reckon that could help parents who have physically full-on children too. Productive work… perhaps that ‘s what much modern parenting is missing! Always good to hear tricks of the trade.


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