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SPD Sensory Diet

In Strategy Sessions * I often work with a Sensory Diet on varying levels with many clients, not just those who may have SPD. A Sensory Diet is a plan of specific activities and experiences that a therapist or parent uses to balance a child, teen or adult's nervous system and sensory processing. It may include a combination of organizing, calming or alerting activities with an individualized program or "diet" of tactile, visual, vestibular support with a backup of proprioceptive movement. Calming and/or stimulating activities are chosen for the Sensory Diet, depending on the assessment of the child or adult by an occupational therapist or craniosacral therapist trained in SPD. In my Strategy Sessions suggestions and Resources are offered by phone or in person. With many people, sensory awareness is the answer to self-regulating pain, trauma, stress and the Sensory Diet helps in those needs as well as in SPD and other disorders involving sensory processing.

The objective is to help the child or adult have improved self-regulation, be more focused, have more skill and be more adaptive in response to environment. The Sensory Diet can be further enhanced with a new awareness of the senses by fully enjoying Nature and everyday sensory experiences.

A Sensory Diet is not about nutrition or what is known as a diet of food or supplements, although those are also very important. I include such a nutritional and supplemented diet as an integral part of my Strategy Sessions for those with SPD and other disorders, by working with a hair analysis and addressing possible nutritional deficiencies and toxic materials that may be add to SPD or other disorders.

A Sensory Diet may include big activities with sensory equipment, playground, therapy room, or even in the home as well as one-on-one interaction with fidgets and toys and other sensory items.

Sensory tools can be important and specific ones to meet specific needs are researched for the strategies researched.

There are some great books and sources offered on my SPD Resources page of what makes up a Sensory Diet.

In the website sensationalbrain.com. there are not only excellent lists and examples of how a Sensory Diet works, but the researched characteristics for someone first coming to understand both Sensory Processing Disorder and Sensory Modulation are extraordinarily clear. With permission from Gwen Wild, MOT, OTR and founder of her membership website (she also offers excellent training for parents and therapists), here are definitions and characteristics that may be SPD, after a clear assessment has been made to determine if it is SPD alone or an overlapping disorder with others such as ADHD, Dyspraxia, autistic, Aspergers, PTSD.

Definitions and Characteristics:

Sensory Processing Disorder

In children and adults with sensory processing issues (sometimes called Sensory Processing Disorder or Sensory Integration Dysfunction), the brain has difficulty making sense of the sensory information and deciding what to focus on and what to filter out, and how to respond appropriately to the information. This response may be a motor action, such as adjusting your posture so you don't fall down (clumsiness), or it may be a cognitive response, such as being able to concentrate on your spouse's (or teacher's) voice even though the kids are being noisy in the same room. 

People with sensory processing issues have to expend a lot of extra energy and thought power making sense of their sensory world and trying to formulate appropriate responses. Therefore they struggle with poor attention, low frustration tolerance, moodiness, anxiety, and sometimes depression. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is an umbrella term that encompasses several different types of disorders resulting from poor sensory integration... such as Sensory Modulation difficulties.

Sensory Modulation Disorder

Sensory Modulation Disorder is one specific type of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Sensory modulation refers specifically to the brain's ability to respond appropriately to the sensory environment and to remain at the appropriate level of arousal or alertness. There are actually three primary types of Sensory Modulation Disorder:

- Over-responsivity: An exaggerated response of the nervous system to sensory input. For example, people who get motion sick easily are over-responding to vestibular input (the sensation of movement). The nervous system goes into fight-or-flight mode even when no real danger exists.

- Under-responsivity: A lack of response, or insufficient response to the sensory environment. Sometimes these people appear to be daydreaming or unfocused on what is happening around them. They may also be uncoordinated and have difficulty with motor skills development.

- Sensory-seeking: The nervous system of the sensory-seeker needs intense input in order for the sensation to be registered properly in the brain. Therefore the sensory-seeker craves intense sensations constantly.

Symptoms of Over-Responsivity include:

as babies:
  • extremely fussy

  • startles easily

  • may seem to dislike light touch

  • difficult to transition to baby food and away from bottle

  • delayed motor skill development

  • picky eating habits

  • clothing issues - doesn't like tags, seams, certain fabrics

  • self-care issues - dislikes hair care, nail-trimming, face washing, bathing

  • low frustration tolerance, moody, irritable, fussy

  • frequent melt-downs that are out of proportion to the situation

  • easily overwhelmed in noisy, busy environments like birthday parties, school lunch-room, restaurants, Wal-Mart

  • dislikes light touch and may be resistive to "messy" play like finger-painting or play-dough

as adults:
  • irritable

  • moody

  • bothered by noises that other people can "tune-out"

  • picky about foods and clothing

  • may still dislike touch

  • bothered by lighting (especially fluorescent)

  • stays away from "busy" environments

  • may prefer to be alone

Symptoms of Under-Responsivity include:

as babies:
  • slow to respond to sounds and sights, may be exceptionally "easy"

  • delayed motor skill development

  • may have difficulty transitioning to baby food and may seem not to notice being messy or drooling

  • food cravings - particularly salty, spicy foods

  • may stuff too much food in mouth

  • may not notice messy face, hands, twisted clothing

  • often appears to be daydreaming or unfocused on what is going on

  • asks "what" a lot even when hearing is fine

  • may be overweight

  • high pain tolerance or may not seem to notice cuts and bruises

  • low muscle tone, may slump, slouch, and lean in chair or desk

  • toe-walking or awkward gait

  • clumsiness

  • poor fine motor skill development

Symptoms of Sensory-Seeking include:

as babies:
  • love movement

  • love "rough-housing"

  • happiest in busy, stimulating environments

  • crave salty, spicy foods or extra chewy and crunchy foods

  • always in constant motion, may "crash" into walls or floor on purpose

  • may toe-walk, or may run/jump/skip everywhere rather than walk

  • difficulty staying still in seat

  • touches everything, may bring everything to mouth

  • plays rough

  • poor attention span

These lists are some of many used by therapists, along with tests to determine what the Sensory Diet should include and what sensory tools and equipment should be worked with. Gwen Wild has a system of picture cards that help to plan the activities and tools used, called Brainworks arrow system and cards.

Brainworks® arrow system and picture cards: In creating a Sensory Diet in a Strategy Session to balance out the sensory system, activities are planned and adjusted according to the assessment of where the child or adult with SPD, including Sensory modulation difficulties and other factors may be. Ideally this is a team plan involving therapists, parents, teachers and if needed, psychologists. (Often those resources are not provided and some of the people mentioned often do not have background in SPD. Parents can still learn a great deal about how to help their children and adults to help themselves.) Gwen Wild has fashioned a wonderful tool for communicating and tracking the progress of the activities in a Sensory diet with simple but effective images that can be mixed and matched by need. I use these often in my own work, both as a way to let parents know what is to be worked on and to track progress and also let the client know what the plan is. The Brainworks® system is available by joining Gwen's website membership as a parent or professional therapist.

The color coding is based on the "Brainworks® arrow system": (again taken from Gwen Wild, MOT, OTR)

Green Arrow:   These activities are best for under-responders and sensory seekers.  These will be alerting for most  kids. For the sensory seekers, these activities will help them reach the necessary threshold level for input to be meaningful for their brains. 

Yellow Arrow:  These activities encourage focus and attention. These almost always bring both over- and under-responders to the appropriate level of arousal for learning and productivity. These are "just-right" activities.

Red Arrow:  These activities will help a person slow down or calm down.

For over-responders, these activities

will help the person modulate the

sensory input more effectively and

feel less overwhelmed.

After an assessment by an OT, or other therapist experienced in SPD and Sensory Modulation and Sensory Discrimination, the Brainworks® system can be used as an efficient and creative way to help do the work. There is much information in other sources about how set up and implement a Sensory Diet but the Brainworks® cards can provide coordination in activities with a team of parents, OT, teacher, physical therapist and craniosacral therapist. The team knows what is being worked on and the possibilities of fine tuning and making changes become much easier when there is communication and coordination among educators and therapists especially if an insurance company has not covered any part of the experience.

In that case, often parents are going it alone, conducting their own research and observation of their children....it is still then possible for the parent to construct a Sensory Diet perhaps with help from me, in a Strategy Session, shown on the SPD Therapies page, working with the parent's own observation and facilitation in the home and school.

Suggestions for adding your own talent and experience in creating a Sensory Diet !

In addition to, or including any of my small SensoryBugs® sensory tools----here are many ideas here and of your own that can be added to each sensory experience as a way of expanding or balancing the sensory scale. As parents and other members of an team may find, ordinary things are great in creating a Sensory Diet.

Experiences in Nature, found objects in the home, unusual application of materials-wood scraps, fabrics, foods, sounds, stones, shells, pine cones, acorns, and much more can be used in creating sensory tools. Activities of pushing, pulling, other kinds of movement planned and just in regular play can be implemented much in the same ways as earlier generations did as a method of work and play, without special balls and scooters and blocks and paths to do so. Imagination and innovation are the ingredients needed to create lots of sensory experience appropriate for the child or adult with SPD and other disorders that my be involved. Here are a few ideas for the tactile, vestibular, visual, auditory and taste and smell senses and more are offered in the Sets on this website including proprioception and spatial awareness and skill.


There are sensory products manufactured (including my own small line, SensoryBugs® developed for my clients) that appeal to all of the senses, but there are many ordinary and extraordinary things that you can develop on your own for tactile sensory awareness. Soft materials can include our two sizes of sensory hand blankets and hand muffs, but bits of velvet ribbon or material and nubbley things to hold with different surfaces are great-burlap, silk, oilcloth, vinyl-just the remnant section of the fabric stores is a good source for tactile experience satin, sandpaper, linens, furry fabric can be held and felt separately or sewn together for a fabric fidget made of leftover materials.

There are many wonderful additional touch sensory fidgets and toys available.

Bill's Bug Hand Blankets included in the Sensory Bug Sets, are little soft fleecy blankets to hold just in your hand. They have hard and soft shapes to be guessed that are sewn inside and make little sounds. There is a choice of either the small ladybug size or the larger butterfly.

The Bug Hand Muff comes in small or large to contain and even warm hands and there are tactile fidgets of wood and other soft butterflies and caterpillars to play with and touch in the sets. B-Bands for the wrist meets chewing needs without hurting skin or clothing.

Smooth found metal is fascinating and old keys, safe pieces of metal tubing can be used as fidgets.

Pets, soft kitties and fuzzy or smooth dogs are always wonderful to touch...in our cat Niles' case, you must catch him first.

If you are without a fuzzy pet or choose not to have one there are alternatives to play with and just hold. I use my Blue Morpho Butterfly Softie for children or the larger Golden Bee Butterfly Softie that can offer a really nice sensory experience with beautiful varied bands of satin, netting, and butterflies.

Again, as a choice, ordinary things are really great for the sense of touch. Crumpled up or smooth paper is the oldest fidget around and you can add in finger paints or just water or shaving cream (whipped cream is better !) with maybe a little texture of sand, little wood blocks, shells, stones, beads to be glued or just moved around, and there is tactile stimulation or calm to be worked with.

In Nature there are many more possibilities for the sense of touch---taking time for collecting and handling flowers, rocks, leaves, sand and other natural treasures is fun. A special place to save these can be constructed or just set aside, much like the sand and water tables that are seen at Toys R Us or just using large pans or washbasins are fine.

Spending time outside searching for bugs or any natural textures can lead to adventures that allow us to find trees, plants, fossils, acorns, feathers, and much more to add to a collection of tactile things.

Mud, water, sand, clay for children and adults alike can be pleasing to work with. Leftover wood scraps carefully smoothed for little hands for their own construction projects and even smooth metals or old tools for the older child are valuable as tactile experiences.

It is terrific using the hands to see the world !

SMELL- Olfactory

Lavender Mists are great for calming and/or Lemon Verbena Organic Mists  for stimulating !
Sometimes soothing and stimulating in a fine balance is a good idea.

But there are many more mists, essential oils available in addition to these that can be used to appeal to the sense of smell - any good Health Food chain has many other scents to be chosen....floral, herbal, woodsy, and many combinations that are pleasant and can evoke calm or stimulation. If you have an herb garden it is sooo easy to make your own mists you can contact me and I'll tell you how.

Lotions and soaps can add to the appreciation of the sense of smell. Peppermint scent is wonderful for soap and the sensory appeal ! Good, organically made (or even homemade) lotions nurture and soothe the skin and provide a smooth olfactory reference.

In the regular daily routine, an awareness of cooking smells, fresh preparation of salads, desserts, coffee, chocolate, herbs-favorite foods, the special scent of babies or loved ones, or even unpleasant odors of burnt food can be experienced.

In nature, the smell of the ocean, flowers, plants, woods, mountains and so much more adds to the adventure of experiencing the world through the nose !


Colors, colors, colors-shapes, form, tone, relationships of all these colors to any other. Dark, light, anything in between, all the tools of artists who paint, sculpt, construct, design are appeals to the sense of sight.

Observing the difference in the world between night and day...the impact of light and dark on ordinary and extraordinary things is fascinating.

In addition to options offered by television and computer activities that kids spend so much time with, there are parks with wonderful sculptures to be seen and touched, great Art to be experienced. Again in nature, there are beautiful sights to see and maybe drawings and paintings of those sights to be made, combining several of the senses in the effort.

With every day and ordinary activity there are many opportunities to be visually focused and to enjoy that experience. Consciously and with focused awareness, take the time to look at another person's face, watch children play, enjoy the movement of athletes, observe an animal, spend time looking at the ocean, trees, mountains....these are all using the eyes to enjoy the world. With simpler visual objects we might perhaps balance some of the negatives offered visually in the news and media that bombards us daily, but certainly appeals to the sense of sight.

Lighted fidgets are fun to see and feel at the same time and glow in the dark stickers for the bedroom ceiling (not scarey figures !) and it can be neat to see the world at night.

Bug Hoopla fidgets in small and large sizes are colorful, tactile, flexibly fun to stretch and play with, and really combine all aspects of a sensory diet.

HEARING – Vestibular

The real sounds of Nature are the best times spent at the ocean or in the mountains listening to birds call and crickets, breezes blowing, or even just hearing silence is good.

Listening to music in a wide variety of styles is wonderful for calming and stimulating and is to be left up to individual taste (though research has shown the benefits of soft female voice for soothing and circuitous repetition of rhythm Irish fiddle music or Bluegrass) are great for positive sensory awareness).

Sounds of nature are included for all ages with the machine above, but there are the voices of loved ones to be heard, your own created beats on drums, clackers, mariachis, castanets, tapping on tables right on up to piano guitar, drum, wind instruments, rain sticks and formal lessons in creating music and sound. And the choice of your own styles in music to use your ears for sensory awareness provides enjoyment !

Even little sounds combined with subtle movement enhance the senses.
Chinese Health Balls  have been used for centuries to balance the system, and the sound of the metal inside and when they are clacked together (though the idea is not to have them touch) is interesting and different, and also appeals to the tactile senses as well.

Just wood sound on wood is always good. Clackers, Jacob's Ladders, drum sticks can create a beat of any rhythm a kid or adult can think up.

Little bells, big bells, wind chimes, soft sound, stimulating sounds add to sensory awareness and concentration.

TASTE – Gustatory

Texture and choice of taste is important. A snack dispenser that can hold different choices of healthy nutty snacks or smooth organic sweets offer a fun way of providing a variety of sensory options.

Ordinary straws, especially the bending kind offer much facial muscle action. In addition to the physical benefits of the pulling on a straw (for four years of age and above) the different juices or plain water choices offer just that - a choice of taste.

For me, heaven is a perfect lemon tart, baked by my husband.

There are people who need "crunch" when they eat, and others who need smooth textures-an understanding of the preferences of different tastes and textures of food both for yourself and others is helpful in expanding or balancing sensory awareness....a conscious and aware choice of what feels right to the sensory system.

PROPRIOCEPTION - Movement and Skill

I use my own Caterpillar tunnel with two sizes, 9 feet and 5 feet ---there is a crawling through and pushing a ball forward through, there is resistance, pulling, pushing, lifting, flying balls and bean bags - much activity for proprioceptive movement. But out in the world, there are lots of opportunities in parks, homemade "hidey holes", forts and stone paths, things that can be pushed - strollers, shopping carts and pulled – ropes, wagons, people. There can be bags carried, and some sport activities if coached wisely can be good movement encounters. 

Just playing in the waves with body surfing is a great way to experience the movement that formal equipment provides-or rolling down a safe hill, or walking in a stream picking your way among stones and water surface. There are some excellent larger movement products online often used by occupational therapists.

There are many activities that can be experienced with old time childhood games—ask a grandmother or great-grandfather to illustrate Statue-maker, Red Light-Green Light, Row Row Row Your Boat, Shadowing, Hopscotch and much more, all terrific for brain integration, skill in movement, and sensory processing.

Here are some examples of the Brainworks® picture cards for our Caterpillar tunnel or other creative ways to meet movement needs, including the classic little red wagon.

With the implementation of ordinary, extraordinary skills, sensory tools and sensory toys, tracking of progress, and sensory equipment and Strategy Sessions, there can be much improvement in sensory development by providing a Sensory Diet for kids and adults with SPD and other sensory disorders.


Sometimes there is a crossover of and combining of senses..there are a small number of creative people (about 10% of the population) who have Synesthesia where they can "see-feel" or "hear-taste" any number of sensory experiences. They may see a specific color in their mind for each number and it remains the same color consistently-or they might hear a musical note as they see a color, or taste a color, or taste something soft. There are many other examples and combinations of all senses. One definition Is: The production of a sense impression relating to one sense or body awareness by reference to another sense or part body awareness. In putting together a Sensory Diet that might be considered if there is confusion in understanding the tasks. It has been so lifelong for me and my own sensory awareness.

Again, it is really important to have a good diagnosis and assessment by an occupational or other SPD therapist to guide the construction of a Sensory Diet and further develop self regulation, focus, adaptability and skills. Whether that is possible or not, parent observation and facilitation is critical and can help a great deal in moving to a greater balance.  In Strategy Sessions with parents I try to make it really clear how important they are---they are the real therapist and advocate for their child. If needed, I may include craniosacral therapy, trauma/stress resolution, nutritional information in a Strategy Session. I may also use Sensory Diet components in that work, that are matched to the special needs of the child, teen or adult who may have Sensory Processing difficulties with other sensory disorders such as Autism, ADHD, PTSD and other anxiety disorders as well.