What does face-painting, dancing, listening to natural surroundings and walking barefoot outside have in common? All of these activities are part of a "sensory diet.”
Sensory diet is one of the most important aspects for helping autistic children improve and grow is sensory integration. Using a recommended sensory diet enhances both sensory capabilities and overall skills.
Sensory diets do not include actual foods to eat or avoid; instead, the diet is a way to incorporate certain activities into kids' schedules to improve their sense of direction and balance, which will then enable them to improve in other areas as well.
Below are 50 activities usually included in the a sensory diet:
Vestibular Activities for a Sensory Diet
The vestibular system is found in the inner ear and is related to one's sense of balance and sense of direction. Sensory diets usually recommend the following activities for the autistic or special needs child:
1. Swinging on a sensory swing
3. Combination of swinging and rolling on the ground
5. Doing cartwheels
6. Doing jumping jacks
7. Jumping: on pillows, trampoline, or rebounder
8. Bouncing: on large ball, on pillows
9. Walking/hiking: with shoes or barefoot in a garden or on the sand
10. Rolling: in a barrel, in a blanket or on a large ball
11. Spinning: on chair with wheels or a sit n spin toy
12. Rocking: on a rocking horse or rocking chair
13. Climbing: on playground equipment or designated furniture
14. Hanging upside down: off couch, off lap, from monkey bars or from trapeze bars
16. Playing on playground equipment: slide, teeter totter or merry-go-round
18. Playing with wheeled toys: roller skates/blades, wagons, trikes or scooters
19. Riding on moving equipment: car, elevator, waterbed or a chair on wheels
20. Playing gross motor games: catch, soccer, basketball, tag, ball hockey or hopscotch
Naturally, there are additional activities a child can participate in, but essentially you will want to provide your child with activities throughout the day. For instance, you can massage a child's feet to help them wake up, let them listen to soothing music at breakfast, and let them eat crunchy cereal so they can experience the crunching sounds involved.
You can let them spin or jump on a mini trampoline after they get home from school, and let them help you chop, mix and cook while you’re making supper. Before they go to bed, you can participate in a variety of art projects with them, and then give them another massage before he goes to bed.
The activities are not time-consuming, but when taken together, they provide a schedule that provides opportunities throughout the day to improve a child's skills and help their senses become more integrated.
Other Parts of a Sensory Diet
Other than vestibular activities, a sensory diet also includes proprioception activities such as popping bubble wrap or squeezing toys.the proprioceptive system is one of three primary sensory networks that are linked, and yet act separately from one another. The other systems of this grouping include the vestibular system and the tactile system. The tactile system is a network of nerves that responds to pain and touch.
Proprioceptive Activities for Sensory Diet
1. Rough and tumble play: play wrestling
2. Tug of war: rope or fabric
3. Crawling: through tunnels and boxes
4. Stair climbing or bumping down stairs
5. Drinking carbonated water to experience bubbles inside the mouth
6. Playing dress-up
7. Pulling/pushing: weighted cart, wagon or buggy
8. Catching: throwing heavy weighted ball
9. Wheelbarrow walking
10. Listening to recordings of natural surroundings
11. Learning to appreciate different smells
12. Massaging your child
13. Playing scooter board activities
14. Hitting punching bags
15. Pulling apart resistance toys/objects
16. Squishing between pillows
17. Squeezing stress balls
18. Joint compressions
19. Exercising: sit-ups, push-ups
21. Pounding/rolling out play dough
22. Feeling vibrations
23. Engaging in gross motor activities: obstacle courses, stretching and toning exercises
In addition, tactile activities like touching and reading textured books or playing with play dough or shaving cream, auditory activities such as playing a drum or tambourine, visual activities like stringing beads or playing a matching or “I spy” type of game, and smelling and tasting activities such as playing a game with scratch-and-sniff stickers.
Tactile Activities for Sensory Diet
1. Drawing: with varied brushes and textures, with chalk on the body, erasing with varied textures
2. Massaging: with varied oils or powders
3. Playing with sensory objects: water, sand, cornmeal, finger paint, play dough, clay
4. Playing tactile discrimination activities: retrieving objects from a closed box or hidden in rice, beans, etc.
5. Face and body painting
6. Taking a bubble bath
7. Applying body tattoos: tattoo/stickers on body parts
Regardless of which activity you choose, these types of diets have been proven to be extremely effective in helping children who are autistic or have other special needs. One of the best things about participating in sensory diets is the fact that they are not just helpful for autistic or special needs children. These diets seem to be extremely effective for children with ADD, ADHD, and other sensory disorders.
They can also be used in the home or even at school, because the activities are simple and fast to provide and cost very little, if anything. There are numerous websites that provide additional information on these diets, and include tips for adding activities and which ones work best for which type of child.
Going online is an excellent starting point when you’re interested in providing the best services and activities for your autistic child, and will give you many ideas that you have never before considered.
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