Creating a Sensory Profile
Creating a sensory profile may help you to work out what changes are needed in the environment to support an individual.
What is a Sensory Diet?
A sensory diet/lifestyle is a specifically designed daily activity plan. It aims to include sensory activities throughout the child’s waking day to improve focus, attention and ensure the child is feeling “just right” (regulated) throughout the day. Just as the body needs the correct food evenly spaced throughout the day, so does the body need activities to keep its arousal level optimal and support engagement in the activities that an individual needs and wants to do.
When arousal levels fall too low, they can be stimulated by activities such as dancing, singing, bouncing on therapy ball, jumping jacks, increase lighting.
If levels get too high and the person becomes overstimulated proprioceptive activities such as slow sustained stretching, slow rhythmic swinging and rocking, rolling over gym ball, reduced lighting and deep pressure will be calming and organising.
A qualified occupational therapist can use their advanced training and evaluation skills to develop an effective sensory diet for the student, to implement throughout the course of the day. This aims to improve overall wellbeing and quality of life.
What issues does a sensory diet aim to address?
The effects of a sensory diet can be immediate AND cumulative. They actually help to restructure an individuals nervous system over time so that they are is better equipped tolerate situations and have the skills to take control of their own regulation requirements. An enriched environment that provides opportunities for regular engagement in sensory health activities supports regulation of the nervous system.
Coaching/mentoring and teaching self-regulation strategies helps everyone recognise behaviours and emotions, and successfully adapt and use strategies to meet the demands of any situation. This in turn can prevent burnout/meltdown and decrease stress, anxiety and fatigue.
This allows the child to focus on the task in hand instead of being distracted by stimuli such as their shirt label rubbing on their neck ; a noise outside or being bumped in the corridor.
Sensory Diet Exploration: activity checklist
This is a checklist of things that people may use or do in order to help decrease and/ or to prevent distress. Take a moment to tick off those things that seem to be helpful to you. Each of the activities uses all or most of the sensory systems. However, they are categorised to help you identify some of the specific sensorimotor qualities that you may want to focus on. These include:
- Different types of touch and temperature
- Auditory/ listening
- Vision/ looking
- Gustatory/ tasting and chewing
This is a resource from North Lincolnshire to help identify basic strategies to support children who experience sensory differences:
“Participation in a short sensory motor circuit prepares children to engage effectively with the day ahead. Behavioural clues such as fidgeting, poor concentration, excessive physical contact or lethargy can indicate that a child is finding it difficult to connect with the learning process” Horwood (2009)
Occupational therapists will often recommend starting the day with a sensory circuit: a sensory–motor activity programme which helps children achieve a “ready to learn” state. Sensory circuits are a series of activities designed specifically to wake up all the senses. They are a great way to energise or settle children into the day.
Over Alert– is when child becomes over- excited, highly energetic, very alert, disengaged.
Calm and Alert– is when child becomes calm, alert, focussed and able to engage in activities successfully.
Under Alert– is when child displays low energy, lethargic, sluggish, tired and disengaged.
Once you have found activities that are acceptable for your child and appear to help them remain calm and alert, these activities can be used throughout the day. It will also be useful for other people around your child to be aware of the activities that will help them if they are under or over alert and how to help them remain at a calm and alert state.
To help the child remain organised and calm
- Access to a chill out space such as s den when needed
- Press ups (floor, wall or chair push ups), participate in pushing and pulling activities such as the proprioceptive activities
- Rolling over therapy/ gym ball:
1. Child lies on chest and stomach over the ball with hands outstretched on the floor. Adult helper stands behind and holds onto child’s knees or ankles as needed.
2. Rock child back and forth so child’s palms touch the floor (keeping elbows straight) and then back again so feet are on the floor.
3. Encourage child to walk forwards and backwards keeping body and arms straight.
4. Complete puzzles; reach for objects, pop bubbles etc. while lying over the ball.
- Ball squashing- to provide deep pressure for a calming and organising effect.
1. Child to lie on his front on a soft mat
2. Gently roll the therapy/ gym ball gently but firmly, starting at the child’s feet and finishing at the shoulders.
3. This should provide the feeling of a deep massage. However, if the child expresses any discomfort, stop immediately.
- Lycra material for deep pressure– to provide deep pressure to increase sensory feedback and enable the child to regulate their sensory system, to provide a calm and organised affect to the body.
1. Let the child tightly wrap the Lycra material around themselves
2. Wrap the Lycra around the child’s shoulders and back. Ask the child to push back against the Lycra
3. Wrap the Lycra around the child and ask him to push against it with his hands
4. Sit opposite the child and wrap the Lycra around your back and the child’s back. Both gently push back against the Lycra, this can be incorporated into a turn taking game, rolling a weighted ball back and forth etc.
5. For older children, having a piece of Lycra in their school bag can be a calming strategy for use throughout the day. They can use this discreetly in the changing rooms or designated quiet area.
To increase sensory awareness and raise child’s levels of alertness
- Provide tart, sour or spicy food.
- Loud, fast and irregular rhythm to alert
- Increase lighting
- Morning run- jogs on the spot. Get the child to jog on the spot for 10 seconds, then increase this to a sprint, then increase the time. They could also jog around some cones.
- Jumping Jack, jump from a crouched position with arms and legs out to the sides, then return to crouched position
- Bouncing on therapy/ gym ball
- With child in sitting position on the ball, support then on the hips if required.
1. Get the child to bounce up and down on the ball, incorporating some heavy pushing and pulling into the activity to avoid the child becoming over alert if they bounce too much.
2. Get the child to throw a ball into a target or throw/ catch a balloon.
3. Get child to reach for objects up, down and to the side whilst maintaining balance.
4. Gently rock child side to side on the ball, pushing off each foot as it leaves the ground.
This can be filled with fidget toys to help keep hands busy and to provide a child with a lot of sensory feedback, which can help some children feel calm.
1. Thera putty
2. Stress balls
3. Weighted balls
4. Vibrating toys (as long as these aren’t too distracting for other class members)
5. Small puzzles
6. Textured fabrics