Sensory Diets for Adults

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Alright, we’ve talked a lot about doing a sensory diet with kids, but what about you? Do sensory diets for adults help?

Parents of children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) often spot sensory “issues” that ring true for them or their spouse as well. It is not uncommon for adults to be completely unaware of SPD until their children get diagnosed, and then realize that they, too, likely have SPD. Education and medical professionals alike are becoming more aware of SPD and are helping families spot it and treat it sooner than in past generations.

Feel like you missed the treatment window? It is never too late. While science has shown that the nervous system makes the most rapid changes before age 5, we also now know that you can literally change your brain throughout your life span1.

So what can you do to help your Sensory Processing Disorder as an adult? We’ll explore some options and the two types of sensory diets for adults below.

Treatment

Treatment for SPD often involves seeing an Occupational Therapist (OT) specializing in sensory processing. If you are the parent of a child with SPD, make sure you get a referral to utilize this resource for your child. I highly recommend attending your child’s session-a good therapist will provide a lot of great education while working with your child. Much of this information is transferable to adult situations.

If you are interested in pursuing OT for yourself, find one that works specifically with adults with SPD. Check out Katie’s blog about SPD for adults to learn more ways to prepare for your appointment and understand more adult specifics for SPD.

Your therapist will review your specific sensory profile and help you identify sensory activities that will help. These activities are specifically known as a sensory diet. Sensory diets can be used in two different ways. I like to think of these as proactive and reactive sensory diets.

Proactive sensory diets for adults

This is the type of sensory diet that is done proactively. You do activities geared to help your sensory processing systems run more effectively, today and in the future. You can literally change your nervous system to process sensory input better with time! What does this look like? This involves doing specific activities targeting certain major sensory systems.

For an adult sensory diet, you would do vestibular, active and passive proprioception and tactile activities. If you struggle with sounds or smells, consider adding auditory or olfactory components to your sensory diet. You can learn more about these categories and what they do here.

What would a sensory diet look like for an adult? Aim for at least 2 minutes from each of the following categories. 

Vestibular (do this 1st):

  • Sitting bounces on a therapy ball
  • Standing opposite hand-to-toe touches
  • Cat-cow yoga poses (make sure you look at the ceiling and your knees)
  • Stop and go short spins on your office chair
  • Helicopter spins (arms out, spin 10x each way)

Active proprioceptive (2nd):

  • Lunges
  • Squats
  • Yoga poses
  • Push ups
  • Vacuuming
  • Window washing
  • Taking out the trash
  • Hauling laundry basket/transferring wet laundry

Passive proprioception (3rd and 5th):

  • Self massage
  • Vibrator massage
  • Bean bag tapping (tap small bean bag over legs and arms)
  • Squeeze arms and legs
  • Self hug
  • Crawl under a heavy blanket or quilt
  • Squish in between couch cushions

Tactile (4th):

  • Skin brushing
  • Reach into your dry goods bins (beans, rice, pasta, etc.)
  • Clothes closet exploration (touch and rub different textures on arms and legs)
  • Shave with shaving cream
  • Apply lotion to arms and legs

Go back to the passive proprioception category for your final activity. Ending with this type is often calming and grounding to the body and nervous system.

If you have a sensory child at home, I highly recommend doing their sensory diet with them. Modify their activities to suit you if you need to. Using Sensory Sid Activity Cards is a great way to have easy activities for home. I frequently do these with my kiddo at home too. I promise your kiddo will be thrilled if you jump in with them. We both benefit!

Reactive sensory diets for adults

This is the kind of sensory diet that is responding directly to your in-the-moment sensory needs. This type of sensory diet is one that I use to correct a problem or prevent one I see rising up.

Feeling totally touched out? Doing proprioceptive activities will help get you back in balance and tolerating more. Start with active, heavy work activities and finish with one of the passive proprioception options. These options also work great if you struggle with clothes and textures. 

If you are feeling sluggish and sleepy, try doing at least 2 minutes of a vestibular activity. Activities that move you through space are often alerting. Eating crunchy foods or smelling a citrus essential oil is also a way to “wake up” your body.

Struggling to focus at work? Try getting up from your desk and taking a 2 minute brisk walk. Get a drink of cold water. Stretch your arms. Take some deep breaths. Consider changing out your seating at work for a therapy ball to get a little muscle movement. 

If you are feeling stressed out and antsy, try chewing some peppermint gum. Do shoulder rolls and quick stretches. When you take a bathroom break, squeeze in 10 squats.

By paying attention to what kind of sensory activities make you react a certain way, you can help your body and nervous system function at its best.

Last, if you have a great sensory tip for fellow adults with SPD, please leave a comment below!

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