Sensory Needs, Processing and Sensory Diet Menus

What Are Sensory Needs?

Sensory needs refer to an individual’s requirements for sensory input to regulate their arousal levels and maintain a balanced state of being. These needs are closely related to the sensory processing system, which involves the brain’s ability to receive, interpret, and respond to sensory information from the environment.

Sensory needs vary widely among individuals and can include preferences for different types and intensities of sensory input. Some people may seek out certain sensations to feel more alert or calm, while others may be sensitive to certain stimuli and actively avoid them.

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Different Sensory Modes

There are different sensory modalities through which individuals experience the world, including:

  1. Visual: Pertaining to sight and the perception of light, colour, and movement.
  2. Auditory: Relating to hearing and the perception of sound and its qualities such as pitch, volume, and tone.
  3. Tactile: Involving the sense of touch and the perception of pressure, texture, temperature, and pain.
  4. Gustatory: Concerning taste and the perception of flavours and textures of food and drink.
  5. Olfactory: Referring to smell and the perception of odours and scents.
  6. Vestibular: Relating to balance, spatial orientation, and movement perception.
  7. Proprioceptive: Involving the perception of body position and movement through the receptors located in muscles and joints.

Sensory Processing

Individuals with sensory processing differences may have heightened or diminished sensitivity in one or more of these modalities. The South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust has a very useful Sensory Checklist that can help you identify under and over responsive of senses.

Meeting sensory needs often involves providing appropriate sensory input to help individuals regulate their arousal levels and engage effectively in daily activities. This can include activities such as deep pressure, movement, tactile stimulation, visual or auditory input, and activities that engage the vestibular or proprioceptive systems. If you complete the Sensory Checklist there’s a Sensory Toolbox that gives suggested activities to support over or under responsive sensory needs.

Understanding and addressing sensory needs is particularly important for individuals with sensory processing needs and neurodiversity. By recognising and accommodating these needs, individuals can better regulate their sensory experiences and participate more fully in daily life activities. A sensory diet can help with this. You may find this on demand webinar from Coventry and Warwickshire Mind helpful it’s on Sensory Processing in Autism.

What is a Sensory Diet?

A sensory diet is a personalised plan designed to help individuals regulate their sensory experiences throughout the day. It typically includes a variety of activities, exercises, and strategies that aim to meet an individual’s sensory needs. These needs can vary widely from person to person and may include seeking or avoiding certain sensory input such as touch, movement, sound, or visual stimuli.

The South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust also has a suggested ‘Sensory Menu‘ with ideas to put together a sensory diet. We’ve personally found this very helpful but do adjust the menu by adding in other items from the Sensory Toolkit and other activities we find out about or develop ourselves.

The calming proprioceptive activities are often used as part of the Desert of the Sensory Menu yet they can also be used any any time where regulation is needed. You can have a structured time during the day for a Sensory Menu to be followed. This certainly helps for us and is part of our daily routine twice in a day. However, we also utilise elements when needed.

Sensory diets are often utilised by occupational therapists, educators, or caregivers to support individuals with sensory needs. The goal of a sensory diet is to provide sensory input in a structured and consistent manner to help individuals achieve and maintain an optimal level of arousal, attention, and emotional regulation throughout the day.

Sensory Toolbox

Each persons sensory needs are unique and therefore items that they require may be different. What works for one person may not for another. The Cerebra website has a library service that you can borrow sensory items and books. This way you can try things out before purchasing.

Over Responsive Tools

Here are some of the items we’ve found really helpful as part of our Sensory Menu:

  • Ear defenders or headphones are a must for us. We’ve needed to get a few of these before we’ve got to the perfect pair. It’s the softness and comfort that makes these the win.
  • Therapy Ball – I wasn’t really sure what a therapy ball was to start off with but I’ve found that an exercise/ pregnancy ball is what was needed. We have this one. It’s a good size with a good texture on the surface. There’s several colours to choose from and it can be important to let people select the colour they prefer. For me there are certain colours I just don’t enjoy using. Steamroller is one of our favourites.
  • Therapy Bands – a set of these can be helpful that come with different strengths so that you can test out the preferred resistance. Again these come in different colour options.
  • Wobble Cushion – these are great for using throughout the day or as part of a Sensory Menu session. It’s also particularly helpful for helping to improve core body strength.
  • Bean Bags – we use these for so many different activities. They’re super sturdy, come in six different colours and can be used for lots of different activities.
  • Sensory Feely Bags – these come in a range of colours, textures, sounds etc. They get lots of use in our house and perfect for calming.
  • Sensory Books – sensory books can be perfect for any age. Check out this post for a publisher who makes wonderful sensory books.
  • Fidget toys – such as these have uses for us all through the day. Again there are so many different types, colours and styles of these. Getting a set of different ones can be helpful for individuals to choose from. We’ve also got this set too.

Under Responsive Tools

List of under responsive tools to follow soon.

Sensory Story Sacks

You might like to check out my sensory story sack post here.

Any information in this post doesn’t supersede any medical professional advice you may have been given. This post is based on my personal experience as an erstwhile teacher, SENDCo, parent and person who identifies as neurodiverse.

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