Sensory Issues

You've been told your child has a "sensory processing"
issue and EVERYBODY has some advice.

Read about the following interventions and hopefully some questions will be answered!

What is a sensory diet?

Just as we have daily nutritional needs, we also have daily sensory needs that we need to satisfy in order to enhance our performance in daily life routines. A sensory diet is a specifically tailored home program to meet your child’s sensory needs. The “diet” involves the systematic use of sensory-based activities to help your child to be organized, adaptive, and successful in his/her daily life. The home program involves recommendations for the type and frequency of sensory experiences that is appropriate for your child. The plan will include deep pressure, proprioceptive, and movement activities, which will provide an alerting or calming effect as appropriate for your child. The sensory diet will also include adaptations for the environment as well as daily routines in order to promote success and reduce disruptions. The sensory diet is monitored on an ongoing basis to meet the needs of the child.

What is the “How Does Your Engine Run?” program?

“How Does Your Engine Run?”, the Alert program, is designed to teach children self-regulation skills of how to be aware of their level of arousal and how to appropriately alter it with sensory-based strategies. The program compares arousal states to the engine levels of a car – high, low, and just right. A therapist will help your child to recognize their hypersensitivities and develop specific strategies to change his/her “engine” speed to more successfully participate in daily tasks and functions. Upon evaluation from your occupational therapist, the Alert Program can be successfully implemented with children from preschool through high school. For more information, check out

What is the Wilbarger Deep Pressure and Proprioceptive Technique? (formerly referred to as the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol)

The Wilbarger Protocol was developed by Patricia Wilbarger, MEd, OTR, FAOTA based on the Sensory Integration theory to address how a child interprets information from his/her skin, muscles, and joints to self organize and function in daily life. The protocol utilizes specific brushing and joint compression techniques that a therapist should demonstrate and teach you before administration. The protocol has been shown to help children with better body awareness for more coordinated movements, decreased aversion to tactile input with better ability to accept and react to touch and improved attention. The protocol can be used on children over two months of age.

What is a SPIO garment and how will it help my child?

SPIO stands for stabilizing pressure input orthosis. The SPIO is a lycra compression garment that provides deep pressure to the muscles, joints and skin, which helps to promote better body awareness and muscular stabilization. Some children find the input organizing, which may help to improve coordinated movement, attention, and ability for smoother transitions. The SPIO garments can be worn all day underneath your child’s clothes. For more information, check out

Why does my child toe-walk?

There are many reasons that children choose to walk on their toes. Many toddlers experiment with toe-walking. However, persistent toe walking may indicate a deviation in the typical progression of development. If your child is older than 3 years of age, there may be other reasons. Toe walking may indicate that there is tightness of muscles, tendons, and/or ligaments that encourages a toe-walking pattern. It may indicate that there is weakness in postural and leg muscles where the child chooses to lock his/her ankles, knees, and hips, which requires less work by the muscles. Many times children walk on their toes because of dysfunction in the area of sensory processing. There are two possible assumptions in the sensory areas. Some children may demonstrate the behavior due to a tactile aversion to having their heels touch the ground, while other children may be seeking additional body awareness input through the walking pattern. Please refer to your therapist if you have questions.

Home Activities 

Tummy Tighteners

• Holding “plank” position
• Hold position on hands and knees (without locking elbows), extend right arm and left leg (hold for 10 seconds and switch sides)
• “Superman” activity – lay down on stomach and extend arms and legs off the ground
• Maintaining upright position sitting on therapy/exercise ball

Hand strengthening and development for fine motor tasks (scissors, writing)

• General hand strengthening
1. Squeezing stress ball (or balloon filled with flour)
2. Use turkey baster to transfer water from one container to another
3. Baking activities that involve mixing/kneading dough and making balls
4. Putting money in a piggy bank: Collect 5 coins one at a time and tuck in palm of hand. Manipulate coins to finger and thumb to place coin into bank.

• Scissor skills
1. Use tweezers or tongs to pick small pieces of sponge or cotton balls
2. Hide small objects (pennies, beads) in clay and/or theraputty and find by pulling clay apart
3. Use hole puncher to punch holes in different mediums (computer paper, construction paper, tag board, etc.)
4. Play with spray bottles and/or water guns using middle and index finger to pull trigger
5. Pinching clothespins to hang up pictures, artwork, etc.
6. Pinch and seal ziplock bag using thumb and index/middle finge

Handwriting Development

Promote hand strengthening (see activities above)

Promote pre-writing skills
1. Draw lines and copy shapes in shaving cream, sand, or finger paint trays
2. Coloring activities
3. Complete simple dot-to-dot or maze worksheets
4. Promote right/left discrimination
5. Promote familiarity with printed language
6. Label pictures, objects, favorite topic etc.

Bilateral Coordination (using both hands together)

• Stringing beads
• Playing with legos
• Practice buttons, fasteners, and zippers during dressing routines

Improved Attention

• Provide “heavy work” experience. These activities contract the muscles and compress the joints that provide calming input to help regulation and focus on tasks
1. Jumping on trampoline
2. Crashing into pillows, mattresses, etc.
3. Wheelbarrrow walking
4. Carrying heavy objects (laundry, groceries, etc.)
5. Weighted vests/backpack to and from school

• Providing movement breaks when needed – jumping, wall push ups, running errands, etc.

• Move and sit cushion to sit on during table top activities

• Tie theraband around table legs and allow to kick when “fidgety”

Sensory Diet Examples

1. Intense foods (hot/cold/spicy/sour)
2. Oral motor – sucking/blowing activities (bubbles, whistles, etc.) 3. Swinging with changes in directions
4. Light touch and tactile play (playdoh, finger paints, shaving cream, dry beans/pasta, sand, rice, water, etc.)

1. Heavy work activities-Jumping, crashing, wheelbarrow walking, carrying/pushing heavy objects
2. Deep pressure (“bear” hugs, rolling child up in blanket like a hot dog, etc.)
3. Rhythmic bouncing on therapy ball, adult’s knee, etc. Rhythmic rocking

Oral Motor
1. Sucking/blowing activities (bubbles, whistles, etc.). It can have an alerting or calming effect!

1. Complete paper and pencil mazes
2. Track a marble in a maze with finger
3. Flashlight tag (use two flashlights to practice visual “jumps” to targets)
4. Complete “Where’s Waldo” type activities
5. Set up an obstacle course/maze to complete
6. Balloon volleyball

Not seeing what you are looking for?
Give us a call at (773) 467-5669 or