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Sensory Diet for Children With Autism and Other Disorders

Updated on April 16, 2015
She has a sensory diet that include some of these exercises.
She has a sensory diet that include some of these exercises. | Source

Sensory Integration Issues

There are many reasons that children can have sensory integration issues. There are children who have a sensory integration disorder and there are those who have sensory integration issues as a part of a larger disorder, such as autism, fetal alcohol syndrome or even a traumatic brain injury. Sensory integration issues occur when a child (or an adult, for that matter) gets either too much sensory information, or not enough sensory information to their brains. This causes the person to need more stimuli, or to prevent some stimuli from getting to the brain.

There are many ways to provide extra information to the brain, and ways to prevent information from getting to the brain. If you think of the five senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste – there are children who get too much stimuli or not enough stimuli from each of these senses. There is another sense – the sense of proprioception – that tells where one’s body is in relationship to space and objects around it. Many children have as many problems with this sense as with all the others combined.

Below are some exercises for children with sensory integration issues. These exercises will not work for all of these children, and not all of these exercises will work for any individual child. Talk with your child’s doctor, physical therapist or occupational therapist before you try any of these on your own.

These are the scooters we use to do the scooter crawl.
These are the scooters we use to do the scooter crawl. | Source

Scooter Crawl

A child will lie on her tummy on two gym style scooters connected together. (See pictures) Child will propel herself using only her hands around the school hallways. Try to have a distance of at least 500 yards. This works on the shoulder muscles, as well as the large muscle groups in the arms and back. This exercise helps the child’s body define where it is in space.

Variations: Child can sit criss cross on the scooters holding a jump-rope in her hands, with arms outstretched. Parent or teacher can pull her on the scooter.

Child can also pull adult who is sitting criss cross on the scooter.

Two boys doing wall push-ups.
Two boys doing wall push-ups. | Source

Wall Push Ups

A child leans against a sturdy wall – hands palms out on the wall. He will press his body against the wall and push himself away. It is just like doing pushups on the floor – he is just doing them against the wall. This works all the big muscle groups in the front of the body, providing a grounding effect for the body. This also helps the child’s body define where it is in space.

Variation: Of course, you can also have child do regular push-ups on the floor or on a bench.

Jumping on a mini-trampoline.
Jumping on a mini-trampoline. | Source

Sensory Issues

Body Position
Responds negatively to loud or unexpexted noises
Like the dark
Avoids smells and tastes that are usual parts of diet
Continually seeks movement activities
Becomes anxious when feet leave the ground
Avoids getting messy
Jumps from one activity to the next
Holds hands over ears
Hesitates going up and down steps
Routinely smells things that are not food
Hangs on other people, furniture, or objects even if familiar situations
Avoids climbing or jumping
Is sensitive to certain fabrics or textures
Difficulty paying attention
Can't walk with background noise
Avoids bright lights
Looks for certain smells or tastes
Weak muscles, tires easily, poor endurance
Avoids playground equipment
Touches people or objects to excess
Overly affectionate
Seems oblivious in active environment
Stares intensely at people or objects
Does not seem to smell strong odors
Walks on tip toes
Seeks all kinds of movement - which interferes with daily activities
Avoids going barefoot - or refuses to wear shoes
Seems anxious
Avoids eye contact
Takes excessive risks - no safety awareness
Decreased awareness to pain
Accident prone
Difficulty sharing emotions
These are some symptoms and signs of a child with sensory integration issues.

Mini Trampoline Jump

A child jumps for three minutes on a mini trampoline. This works all of the large muscles and makes the child think about where their next jump should be to avoid falling from the trampoline. It also works the vestibular system, forcing the body to manage balance along with hand, eye and foot coordination.

Variation: Jumping on a regular sized trampoline will give the same results. There are also bouncy toys that can give similar results.

SmartPack Walk
SmartPack Walk | Source

"SmartPack" Walk

The child wears a backpack that has been weighted down with two medium sized phone books. Make sure straps are long enough so that the backpack hangs just above the child’s waist – right about the small of the back. The child will then walk around the school hallways. Again, try to have a distance of at least 500 yards. This works all the big muscle groups in the front of the body, providing a grounding effect for the body. This also helps the child’s body define where it is in space.

Variation: You can have the child carry a box or bag filled with heavy books. You can give the child a job of carrying the box or bag to a fellow teacher.

Be Careful and Be Safe

There are many other ways to help children with sensory issues. This is just a beginning list and if your child needs a sensory diet you need to speak to your child's pediatrician or occupational therapist. Again, only do these exercises under the care of a doctor or OT.


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    • CarlySullens profile image

      Carly Sullens 

      5 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

      Both my kids have auditory sensory issues. The cry and beg me to not go to school on days they are going to have the fire drill because the alarm is too loud for them. My son also is a tactile seeker. The day we signed him up for tackle football he sat in the house the whole day with his shoulder pads on. He just liked the weight of them on him. Great hub. Voted up and shared.

    • justateacher profile imageAUTHOR

      LaDena Campbell 

      5 years ago from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz...

      Rochelle - thanks for reading! I would love to have a nature garden to do our walks in! I have one particular student I know that it would work for!

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 

      5 years ago from California Gold Country

      I'm glad to see that there is much more information and research in these areas. When I was subbing in special ed classes, I think the system was just on the brink of getting clues about these issues.

      I found your article very interesting, especially since I just saw a program about an urban nature garden which has a setting filled with water features, plants and birds. Groups of children with various issues visit the calm natural surroundings and their teachers say it seems to improve their focus and thinking abilities.

    • justateacher profile imageAUTHOR

      LaDena Campbell 

      5 years ago from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz...

      Frank - thanks for reading and for the votes!

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      5 years ago from Shelton

      Justateacher you put the aware in awareness.. wow you educate.too.. oh wait.. hence the name justateacher..duh.. voted educational and awesome :) Frank


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