Sensory Diet: What It Is and How It Can Help You?

A sensory diet is a personalized set of activities that can help individuals regulate their sensory systems. It's a term often used by occupational therapists to describe a plan of activities and exercises that can help people who struggle with sensory processing issues.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
December 13, 2023
min read

Understanding Sensory Diet for Autism

For individuals with autism, a sensory diet can play a vital role in promoting well-being and enhancing their daily experiences. This section will explore what a sensory diet is and why it is important for people with autism.

What is a Sensory Diet?

A sensory diet is a carefully planned and personalized set of activities and strategies designed to provide the sensory input that individuals with autism need to function optimally. It involves incorporating activities that stimulate the senses and regulate sensory experiences throughout the day.

The term "diet" is used metaphorically to emphasize the importance of consistency and balance in providing sensory input, similar to how a balanced diet nourishes the body. A sensory diet often includes a combination of activities, tools, and equipment that target specific sensory needs and help individuals with autism feel more regulated and comfortable in their environment.

Why is it Important for People with Autism?

People with autism often experience sensory processing differences, where they may be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to certain sensory stimuli. These differences can lead to challenges in processing and integrating sensory information, resulting in difficulties with self-regulation and emotional well-being.

A sensory diet is essential for people with autism because it helps address these sensory processing differences. By providing appropriate sensory input, a sensory diet can help individuals with autism regulate their sensory experiences, improve attention and focus, and reduce anxiety and overwhelm.

When sensory needs are met through a sensory diet, individuals with autism can experience improved self-regulation, increased engagement, and better overall quality of life. A personalized sensory diet takes into account an individual's specific sensory preferences, sensitivities, and challenges to create a tailored plan that promotes sensory integration and supports their unique needs.

By understanding and implementing a sensory diet, individuals with autism can unlock the potential for a more balanced and harmonious sensory experience, enhancing their daily lives.

In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the components of a sensory diet, the benefits it offers for individuals with autism, and how to create and implement a personalized sensory diet plan.

Components of a Sensory Diet

To effectively implement a sensory diet for autism, it is important to understand the key components that make up this therapeutic approach. A sensory diet consists of sensory input activities and the use of sensory tools and equipment to provide individuals with the necessary sensory experiences for regulation and self-regulation.

Sensory Input Activities

Sensory input activities are designed to stimulate the senses and help individuals with autism regulate their sensory experiences. These activities can include a wide range of techniques that target various sensory systems, such as:

  • Deep pressure activities: Applying firm pressure through activities like weighted blankets, deep pressure massages, or compression garments can provide a calming effect and promote a sense of security.
  • Vestibular activities: These activities involve movement and balance, such as swinging, spinning, or rocking. They can help regulate the vestibular system, which plays a role in balance and spatial awareness.
  • Proprioceptive activities: Proprioception refers to the body's awareness of its position and movement. Activities like jumping, pushing, or carrying heavy objects can provide proprioceptive input, promoting a sense of body awareness and stability.
  • Tactile activities: Tactile input involves stimulating the sense of touch. Activities like rubbing textured objects, playing with different textures, or using tactile materials can help individuals regulate their tactile sensitivity.
  • Visual activities: Visual stimulation can be used to either calm or engage individuals. This can involve dimming lights, using visual schedules, or providing visual cues to enhance focus and attention.

It is important to personalize sensory input activities based on an individual's specific sensory needs and preferences. A variety of sensory input activities can be explored to create a well-rounded sensory diet.

Sensory Tools and Equipment

In addition to sensory input activities, the use of sensory tools and equipment can further support individuals in their sensory regulation. These tools are designed to provide specific sensory experiences and can be used in various settings, including home, school, or therapy sessions. Some commonly used sensory tools and equipment include:

Sensory Tools and Equipment Description
Weighted blankets These blankets provide deep pressure and can promote relaxation and calmness.
Fidget toys Small handheld objects with different textures or tactile features that can be squeezed, stretched, or manipulated to help individuals focus and self-regulate.
Noise-canceling headphones Headphones that reduce or block out external noises, helping individuals with auditory sensitivity manage overwhelming sounds.
Chewelry Wearable items like necklaces or bracelets that are safe for chewing, providing oral sensory input for individuals who benefit from chewing for self-regulation.
Sensory swings Swings that provide vestibular input, allowing individuals to experience rhythmic movement and sensory stimulation.
Sensory cushions Cushions or seating options with different textures or features that provide additional sensory input, such as bumpy surfaces or inflatable cushions.

These are just a few examples of sensory tools and equipment that can be incorporated into a sensory diet. The selection of specific tools should be based on the individual's sensory needs and preferences. Collaborating with an occupational therapist can help identify the most appropriate tools and equipment for each individual. For more information on sensory diets for specific needs, such as sensory diets for adults or sensory diets for toddlers, please refer to our related articles.

By combining sensory input activities and the use of sensory tools and equipment, a personalized sensory diet can be created to support individuals with autism in regulating their sensory experiences and promoting overall well-being.

Benefits of a Sensory Diet for Autism

Implementing a sensory diet can bring about a range of benefits for individuals with autism. By providing targeted sensory input, a sensory diet helps promote regulation, self-regulation, improved attention and focus, as well as a reduction in anxiety and overwhelm.

Regulation and Self-Regulation

One of the primary benefits of a sensory diet for autism is its impact on regulation and self-regulation. A carefully planned sensory diet can provide the necessary sensory input to help regulate the nervous system and promote a sense of calm.

By incorporating activities that address specific sensory needs, individuals with autism can develop strategies to better regulate their emotions and responses to sensory stimuli. This can lead to increased self-awareness and the ability to independently manage sensory challenges.

Improved Attention and Focus

Another notable benefit of a sensory diet is its positive impact on attention and focus. Sensory input activities, such as deep pressure or proprioceptive exercises, can help individuals with autism improve their ability to attend to tasks and maintain focus for longer periods. By incorporating sensory strategies into daily routines, individuals can optimize their ability to engage in activities and enhance their overall concentration.

Reduction in Anxiety and Overwhelm

The sensory overload experienced by individuals with autism can often lead to feelings of anxiety and overwhelm. However, a well-designed sensory diet can help alleviate these challenges. By providing appropriate sensory input through calming activities or sensory tools, individuals can experience a reduction in anxiety and a greater sense of calm. This can contribute to improved emotional well-being and overall quality of life.

Incorporating a sensory diet tailored to the specific needs of each individual with autism can result in significant improvements in regulation, attention, focus, and emotional well-being. By addressing sensory needs through a structured plan and incorporating sensory activities into daily routines, individuals with autism can harness the power of a sensory diet to enhance their daily lives.

Creating a Personalized Sensory Diet

To effectively implement a sensory diet for autism, it is essential to create a personalized plan that addresses the specific sensory needs of individuals. This involves assessing sensory needs and designing a sensory diet plan tailored to the individual's requirements.

Assessing Sensory Needs

The first step in creating a personalized sensory diet is to assess the sensory needs of the individual with autism. This involves observing their responses to different sensory stimuli and identifying areas where they may be over- or under-responsive.

Observation and Consultation: Parents, caregivers, and professionals working with the individual can provide valuable insights into their sensory experiences. By observing their reactions to various sensory inputs, such as touch, sound, taste, smell, and visual stimuli, it becomes possible to identify their sensory preferences and sensitivities.

Sensory Assessment Tools: There are various assessment tools available that can help in systematically evaluating an individual's sensory needs. These tools use questionnaires, checklists, and rating scales to gather information about sensory processing patterns and identify areas that need attention.

Designing a Sensory Diet Plan

Once the sensory needs have been assessed, the next step is to design a sensory diet plan tailored to the individual's specific requirements. A sensory diet plan typically includes a range of sensory activities and strategies aimed at providing the right amount and type of sensory input to promote regulation and self-regulation.

Activity Selection: Based on the assessment findings, a variety of sensory activities can be incorporated into the sensory diet plan. These activities may include deep pressure activities, movement-based activities, sensory play, oral motor exercises, and calming sensory experiences.

Consistency and Individualization: It is important to ensure that the sensory diet plan is consistent and individualized to meet the specific needs and preferences of the individual. The plan should take into account the individual's sensory sensitivities, preferences, and daily routines. Flexibility is key, as adjustments may be necessary based on the individual's responses and progress.

Collaboration: Creating a sensory diet plan is most effective when done collaboratively with professionals, such as occupational therapists. Occupational therapists can provide valuable insights, expertise, and guidance in designing a sensory diet plan that addresses the individual's specific sensory needs. Collaborative efforts ensure that the plan is comprehensive, evidence-based, and aligned with the individual's goals.

By assessing sensory needs and designing a personalized sensory diet plan, individuals with autism can benefit from targeted sensory input to promote regulation, self-regulation, attention, and reduce anxiety. It is important to regularly monitor and adjust the sensory diet plan based on the individual's progress and changing needs.

Implementing a Sensory Diet

Once you have identified the sensory activities and strategies that are beneficial for individuals with autism, it's time to implement the sensory diet into their daily routine. This section focuses on two important aspects of implementing a sensory diet: incorporating sensory activities into the daily routine and monitoring and adjusting the sensory diet.

Incorporating Sensory Activities into Daily Routine

In order for a sensory diet to be effective, it needs to be integrated into the individual's daily routine. This means incorporating sensory activities at specific times throughout the day. Consistency and regularity are key to providing the sensory input needed for regulation and self-regulation.

To incorporate sensory activities into the daily routine, consider the following:

  1. Identify optimal times: Determine when the individual is most receptive to sensory input and when they may benefit the most from certain activities. For example, some individuals may find it helpful to engage in sensory activities in the morning to promote focus and attention throughout the day.
  2. Integrate activities seamlessly: Find ways to seamlessly integrate sensory activities into daily tasks and activities. For example, incorporating sensory breaks during school or work tasks can help maintain focus and reduce anxiety.
  3. Create a visual schedule: Use visual supports, such as a visual schedule or checklist, to help individuals understand and anticipate sensory activities throughout the day. This can provide structure and reduce anxiety by providing a clear plan of what to expect.

By incorporating sensory activities into the daily routine, individuals with autism can receive the sensory input they need to regulate their sensory systems and promote overall well-being.

Monitoring and Adjusting the Sensory Diet

As with any therapeutic intervention, it is important to monitor and adjust the sensory diet to ensure its effectiveness and meet the changing needs of the individual with autism. Regular assessment and observation can help identify what is working well and what may need to be modified.

Consider the following strategies for monitoring and adjusting the sensory diet:

  1. Observation and feedback: Observe how the individual responds to sensory activities and gather feedback from them, as well as from caregivers and teachers. This can provide valuable insights into which activities are most beneficial and which may need modification.
  2. Track progress: Keep a record of the individual's responses to sensory activities, noting any changes in behavior, attention, or regulation. This can help identify patterns and trends over time.
  3. Collaborate with professionals: Seek input and guidance from professionals, such as occupational therapists or sensory integration specialists, who can provide expert advice on monitoring and adjusting the sensory diet. They can also offer additional resources and strategies for sensory integration.

By regularly monitoring and adjusting the sensory diet, you can ensure that it remains effective and tailored to the specific sensory needs of the individual with autism.

Remember, implementing a sensory diet requires patience and flexibility. It may take time to find the right combination of activities and strategies that work best for each individual. Be open to experimentation and adjustments as you navigate the journey of discovering the power of sensory diet for autism.

Additional Support for Sensory Needs

While creating and implementing a personalized sensory diet can be beneficial for individuals with autism, collaborating with an occupational therapist can provide additional support and expertise. Occupational therapists specialize in sensory integration and can work closely with individuals to develop a tailored sensory diet plan.

Collaboration with Occupational Therapist

An occupational therapist plays a crucial role in assessing an individual's sensory needs and developing appropriate strategies to address those needs. They have a deep understanding of sensory processing difficulties and can provide guidance on selecting specific sensory activities and tools that align with an individual's unique sensory profile.

By collaborating with an occupational therapist, individuals with autism can receive professional guidance, support, and monitoring throughout their sensory diet journey. The therapist can offer valuable insights, make adjustments to the sensory diet plan as needed, and provide ongoing evaluation to ensure the effectiveness of the interventions.

Resources and Strategies for Sensory Integration

In addition to working with an occupational therapist, there are various resources and strategies available to support individuals with autism in their sensory integration journey. These resources can provide additional ideas, techniques, and tools to enhance the effectiveness of a sensory diet. Some helpful resources include:

  • Books and Publications: There are numerous books and publications available that provide valuable information and practical tips on sensory integration and sensory diets. These resources can offer in-depth insights into the theory and practice of sensory integration.
  • Websites and Online Communities: Online platforms dedicated to sensory processing and autism offer a wealth of information, including articles, forums, and support groups. These platforms provide a space for individuals and caregivers to connect, share experiences, and learn from one another.
  • Sensory Diet Activities: Engaging in sensory diet activities is an integral part of a sensory diet. There are various activities that can be incorporated into a daily routine to provide the necessary sensory input. From deep pressure activities to vestibular exercises, individuals can explore a wide range of sensory activities that suit their needs.
  • Sensory Diet Checklists: Sensory diet checklists can serve as valuable tools for assessing sensory needs and tracking progress. These checklists help individuals and caregivers identify specific sensory preferences, sensitivities, and areas of improvement. By regularly revisiting the checklist, they can monitor changes and adjust the sensory diet plan accordingly.

Remember, the journey of sensory integration is unique for each individual with autism. It's essential to explore different resources, strategies, and professional support to find what works best for you or your loved one. By leveraging the expertise of an occupational therapist and utilizing available resources, individuals can enhance the positive impact of their sensory diet and unlock the power of sensory integration.


A sensory diet is a personalized set of activities designed to help individuals regulate their sensory systems. It can be beneficial for anyone who experiences sensory processing difficulties, and the activities included will depend on an individual's unique needs. If you or someone you know struggles with sensory processing, consider speaking with a healthcare professional about creating a sensory diet. It could make a world of difference!


steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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