Sensory Diet

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Sensory Diet


Children with sensory needs have significant differences in the way they perceive the world. These differences in turn impact on the way they interact with the environment and their ability to cope with everyday sensory demands. In order to support these children it can often be helpful to try and manage their sensory exposure. Depending on the individual needs of each child this is achieved by either decreasing or increasing exposure to the sensory stimulus. As each child's needs are different they require individual assessment of their areas of difficulty and personalised recommendations for managing them. This plan of support is known as a sensory diet.

The word diet is used as it tries to create a balance to the child's sensory intake in the same way that a balanced diet of healthy foods and less healthy snacks is desirable. Just as it is a struggle to cut out unhealthy foods it can be very difficult to manage the sensory stimulii in the environment that we are exposed to. Thus if a child is over sensitive to sounds it is important that we recognise the contexts where they are exposed to loud and/or busy sound environments. It is then useful to plan for these noisy exposures by building into the day opportunities to be in calm and quiet places; ideally before and after noisy contexts.

A formal assessment and sensory diet plan is often undertaken by a qualified Occupational Therapist. However, assessment can be expensive and where no plan exists it is possible for schools and parents to provisionally map out their needs using a sensory profile.

Sensory Profile

This is designed to provide a brief note format overview of the child's needs that can easily and quickly be read by staff. This format is very useful for gathering and establishing facts about the child's range of need. This can then be helpful in writing a sensory diet plan.

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Writing a Sensory Diet Plan

A sensory diet needs to record the child's specific sensory difficulties and how this translates in to their needs. Then the plan should record recommendations for how these needs can be met. The whole report should be person-centred and written in everyday language. This will help to ensure that it is easily understood by those that will support the student.

Pupil Sensory Profile

Use the Sensory Diet Plan to record the difficulties, needs and strategies for supporting a student with sensory needs. Where a student has a number of senses that they experience difficulties with it may be useful to complete a separate form for each sense affected.

Difficulties Section

Try to describe the significant differences in their sensory processing: the sense or senses involved; whether it is over sensitivity (hypersensitivity) or under sensitivity (hyposensitivity) and any known contexts in which there are issues. For example:

Child X is sensitive to smells and can feel sick when exposed to strong or unpleasant smells. Child X will often refuse to use public or school toilets and can sometimes struggle to concentrate in class because of the distracting affect of smells. This is particularly so when the grass is cut, when staff or other students wear strong perfumes etc; proximity to smokers or children of smokers and anyone with poor personal hygiene. Child X can also be reluctant to be in the hall when food is being cooked in the canteen.

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Needs Section

What actions are necessary to help the student manage their sensory needs?

In this section record any known strategies that have been found to be effective in managing their needs. You should also describe what the context looks like when the student is in sensory balance. Advice must also be realistic about what can be achieved to control the environmental exposure. For example, minimising exposure to loud noises is sensible for those hypersensitive to sound. However, the reality is that it is impossible to isolate the child from everyday sounds and noises without compromising their freedom and opportunities. See also the completed sensory diet plan example below.

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Other strategies and support

What other strategies have been necessary?
What actions are required when the student has reached the point of sensory overload or shutdown?
How can we avoid an escalation to a more critical incident?

Meeting the individual needs of each child with sensory needs can be challenging. As they mature and understand their needs more fully they can begin to manage this for themselves. However, particularly in school settings, this requires them to be empowered to do so. This may, for example, include removing themselves from the classroom, hall or playground during contexts where they are experiencing overload of their senses.

For other students, their particular sensory needs may require more adult management or the need for specific resources. For example, a child who has a high threshold before they become aware of sounds will often need direct verbal prompt before the teacher addresses the whole class.

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Sensory Diet Example

Sensory Diet Form Example

This example shows how the sensory diet form can be used to provide information about a student's needs using person-centred language. It is important that the form is shared with all relevant staff that work with the student. In secondary schools and colleges it may be useful for the student to have and keep a copy that can be shared with staff as necessary. This can be particularly useful when there is staff absence and unfamiliar adults are brought into the classroom.

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You may also be interested in the following pages:

Sensory Management - Hearing

Sensory Management - Movement

Sensory Management - Sight

Sensory Management - Smell

Sensory Management - Taste

Sensory Management - Touch

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