Headstart for Life

The Dilemma of Sensory Diet

In Singapore, a child with occupational therapy needs typically sees an occupational therapist once per week. As such, the child probably gets sensory inputs once per week. As parents of the child whom are keen to replicate the sensory activities at the home setting, a sensory diet may be recommended by the Occupational Therapist (OT). A sensory diet is a group of activities that are specifically scheduled into a child’s day to assist with attention and  arousal level.

However, some parents have come back and expressed their difficulties carrying out the activities. For example, the Wilbarger Brushing and Joint Compression protocol is a very strict protocol that requires a parent to perform the brushing to their child every two hours. In a typical duo income family, both parents have to work in the day, hence there is not enough time to perform this technique resulting in the technique gradually being neglected.

Because of this, I am no longer giving out sensory diets. Instead, I work with the parents, to think of fun and practical activities that can be incorporated into the daily schedule of the family.

Sensory profile of the child

The first step is for the parents/therapist to understand the child. Every child has his/her unique set of sensory needs. That being said, children with sensory needs can be broadly classified into two categories, on opposite ends of the spectrum. On one end, children whose nervous systems are over aroused are described as full of energy. They will have difficulty to settle down to complete an activity. On the other end, children who are under aroused. They appear to be spaced out most of the time. An OT can use standardised assessments to gather the information and understand the profile of the child.

Be Creative in Sensory Activities

In a clinical setting, the OT uses a variety of equipment to engage the child. Parents are encouraged to perform some minor renovations at home to install certain equipment. Picture 1 below shows a custom-made swing. Picture 2 shows a swing being created under the table. Swings are generally a good tool to make a child more alert.

sensory corner swing                                          swing under the table

Picture 1                                                                                    Picture 2

Photo credit: way2goodlife.com

For children with high energy level, parents can use the existing materials such as cloth or cushion. Picture 3 shows a body sock that provides calming effect. Picture 4 shows a parent using a large piece of cloth to wrap the child. It is known that heavy work provides more calming effect. Activities such as wrapping or squeezing under the cushions provide sensations to the muscles and joints.


body sock                         wrapping

Picture 3                                                                                    Picture 4

Photo credit: sensorytools.net

When a child grows older, he/she needs more space to move and more time to release his/her energy. Parents are encouraged to bring the children outdoors. I have recommended swimming to a few parents and received good feedback and results. Children usually do not have sensitivity to water. Playing with water require movements, which is a good way to provide heavy work to the children and calm them down. Another good activity is cycling or a simple bounce ball showed in the picture below. It is a useful tool to work on the coordination and provide sensory inputs.



When to administer sensory activities?

Sensory activities should not be used as a reward. Sometimes, it should be used as a form of prevention. With experience, an observant parent should detect the subtle changes in the child and provide the sensory inputs readily. Sensory inputs should be provided on the daily basis to the child. It is especially important when a parent wants to bring a child to attempt something new. From clinical and research results, a child’s need for sensory inputs will gradually reduce as his threshold is being met.

Most importantly, have fun with your child as you perform these activities. It is a great bonding time with your child!


  1. Angie Voss. 2016. Why Naturally Incorporating Sensory activities into the daily life is the best…the easy sensory diet.
  2. Anon. 2016. Sensory Diet Activities. Available on https://www.sensorysmarts.com/sensory_diet_activities.html
  3. Anon. Creating a home sensory diet. 2016. Available on http://www.sensory-processing-disorder.com/sensory-diet.html
  4. Carol Stock Kronwitz. Out of Syn Child Has Fun. Available from http://out-of-sync-child.com/
  5. Shawna. 2016. Sensory Exercise Around The House. available from http://nottheformerthings.com/2015/02/19/sensory-exercises-around-house-two-birds-one-stone/
"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Guo Hua

Guo Hua is a highly - motivated Occupational Therapist who has been working with special children for the last 5 years. He has strong communication and organisation skills that enable him to conduct workshops and lectures for parents and professionals beyond his therapy sessions.

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