Today, we explore how children with ADHD benefit greatly from sensory engagement.
What does the term sensory diet mean?
In short, a sensory diet has nothing to do with food or cooking, rather it refers to actions and activities that support the functionality of children diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
Its application can be very important for the day to day functionality and wellbeing of a child with AHDH. As outlined by Patricia Wilbarger, M.Ed, “A sensory diet is based on the principle that individuals require a certain quality and quantity of sensory experience to be skilful, adaptive, and organised in their daily lives.”
We see this in our lives as adults, but mostly subconsciously, whether it be taking a break and stretching or making a cup of coffee – our own sensory diets continually activate over the course of a day. When it comes to kids with ADHD, they need comparable moments in their environment, allowing them to feel both physically and mentally at ease.
What is involved with a sensory diet?
Sensory Diets usually vary and are dependent on the individual needs of that child. A sensory diet may be made up of a range of activities that include supporting visual or auditory functions, as well as concentration and cognitive thinking.
It’s important that the activities align with the child’s development goals. These can be identified by parents, friends and treating professionals. The reason why a sensory diet can be particularly useful to those with AHDH includes:
- Better assist with sleeping schedule and routines
- Assisting with stabilising negative moods
- Providing more focus at school and on work
- Improving emotional regulation with exercise (Such as playing in a sandpit, bouncing on a trampoline, swinging on kids monkey bars)
Often, occupational therapists or health professionals plan sensory diets based on a number of varying factors of a child’s day. This could include something like limiting screen time before bedtime from TV and smartphones.
Integrating a sensory diet
Integrating a sensory diet into a child’s life often involves modifying their surroundings. Changing their environment whether it be at home, school or in the wider community can be challenging at first, but suggestions for new playtime activities, and scheduled social interactions can assist in this process.
Activities performed routinely are understood to help form a positive sensory diet for kids with ADHD. Some of these activities include:
- Making changes to diet and nutrition where required
- Playing on outdoor playground equipment before school
- Ensuring multiple breaks are taken throughout the day
- Physical exercise after school, that fits with their sensory needs
- Deep pressure massages before sleep
Sensory diets and proprioceptive
Proprioceptive input refers to sensations from joints, muscles and connective tissues. This is what helps create a physical awareness of the body. Children with ADHD can experience proprioceptive input with functional movements – including lifting, pushing etc.
Kids of all ages and stages require different types of proprioceptive input. This is because the development of the brain plays a crucial role in regulating responses to external stimuli:
- Toddlers and pre-schoolers – Highly benefit from push and pull movements. This could be pushing a stroller or cart. By wearing small backpacks, this age group can also understand the effects of body weight, especially if it is lightly filled with toys or clothes.
- School-age children – The sensation of bouncing provides many benefits in this age group. When a child jumps on a trampoline it releases the ‘feelgood’ serotonin from within the brain, while also helping to control moods and anxiety.
- Teenagers and young adults – Benefit the most from heavy lifting. Teenagers should be encouraged to safely train with free weights, or any lifting tasks you need doing around the house. New forms of proprioceptive input can be discussed with professionals and planned as a component of a wider sensory diet.
About the author
Vuly Play works directly with occupational therapists, providing outdoor play equipment to assist children with special needs.