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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, but Autism, PTSD, and other disorders.

A Sensory Diet is a plan of specific activities and experiences that a therapist, client or parent uses to help balance an older child 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 teen 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 older child or adult have improved self-regulation, sensory awareness, be empowered, be more focused, have more skill and be more adaptive in response to their 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 do if needed, 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, in nature, therapy room, or even in the home as well as one-on-one interaction with fidgets and tools and other sensory items.

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.

Thought I am working with teens and adults of all ages, I include children's characteristics research as a way to discover the history of the teen or adult of any age.

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 who are working with people often do not have background in SPD.) The Brainworks® system is available by joining Gwen's website membership as a parent or professional therapist.

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

Here are some ideas here that you can add to your own if you are working with someone with SPD or other sensory disorders, that can be added to each sensory experience as a way of expanding or balancing the sensory scale.

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 older 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 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 nubbly 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.

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.

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

Mud, water, sand, clay 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 and adults (I still collect lots of strange nature things !) 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 and in Essential oils there are specific blends that can be found to create focus and attention.

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 people 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 lights can be neat to see the world at night.....and then, there are the stars and planets !!! The red moon on Sept 27th 2015, was a thrill, and I ended up painting it in a small nightscape.

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 can be used at will with a good quality sound machine, soothing at night, but there are the voices of loved ones to be heard, your own 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 embrace 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.

There are specific Sound therapy programs that are effective, sometimes using bilateral sound and including the mother's voice within the music--if that is not available there are specific Mozart pieces, Paganini, Gregorian chants, and Beethoven compositions that have been researched as being important in brain development and self-regualtion.

TASTE – Gustatory

Texture and choice of taste is important. A snack dispenser at home that can hold different choices of healthy nutty snacks or smooth organic sweets offer a fun way of providing a variety of sensory options. Chocolate, sugared ginger and licorice are my downfall.

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 family and clients, and other homemade fidgets, made by my husband-- weighted lap and regular blankies from SensaCalm with coverings again designed by my spouse-------there is a crawling through with this lycra tunnel and pushing a ball forward through, there is resistance, pulling, pushing, lifting, flying balls and bean bags - much activity for proprioceptive movement enjoyed by even the older child and adults, believe it or not. But out in the world, there are lots of opportunities in parks, walking mindfully on stone paths, feet in water or sand--- 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, especially a great Martial Arts program, or punching a bag, can be good movement encounters. There's a recent report with Leslie Stahl, the news reporter whose husband has Parkinsons that punching that bag can result in increased mobility and language use. Dr. Norman Doidge's book The Brain's Way of Healing also confirms examples of walking and other movement greatly improving that disease.

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 timey" machines, typewriting, piano playing (or any instrument !), harmonica or blues harp is particularly good, using the mouth in a concentrated way. Making Art, acting, music and just singing without backup, mindful movement of Yoga, T'ai Chi, other martial arts, sports, dancing.....all these can be considered in putting together a perfect Sensory Diet. Again, Dr. Doidge has an entire section on Sound Therapy and Light Laser therapy that can make a difference.

With the implementation of ordinary, extraordinary skills, sensory tools and resources, tracking of progress, and Strategy Sessions, there can be much improvement in sensory development by providing a Sensory Diet for teens 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 if possible, to have a good 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, spouse, therapist observation and facilitation is critical and can help a great deal in moving to a greater balance.  In Strategy Sessions with parents, caregivers, partners, I try to make it really clear how important they are---they are the real therapist and advocate for their person. 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 teen or adult who may have Sensory Processing difficulties with other sensory disorders such as Autism, ADHD, PTSD and other anxiety disorders as well. 

You can reach me at 760-753-1493 or on my contact page on this website.

My other website is   craniosacraltherapies.com   , with Articles and other information that is interesting.