Sensory Diet for Meltdowns

Children with sensory processing difficulties (SPD) will often exhibit a flight or fight response, aka a “meltdown.” Meltdowns occur more frequently in children with SPD, as they have a hard time regulating their emotions due to the way they process sensory inputs. 

Below is a list of activities and suggestions that affect sensory processing. The list is broken into two components. 

Try the calming activities if your child seems to be having a hard time regulating their body and emotions. 

The list of things to avoid can help identify and avoid these tasks.

Calming Sensory Diet Activities

  1. Consider the environment and demands beforehand, prepare your child before presenting them to new experiences.
  2. Notice if the environment is too overstimulating.
  3. Provide soft and cuddly spots to hang out
  4. Provide deep pressure by playing games; pillow fights, trampoline, wrestling, etc
  5. Oral motor stimulation usually has a very calming effect; provide drinks with straws, water bottles, gum, hard/crunchy foods

Avoid in a Sensory Diet

  1. Sudden and intense demands without any transitional cues.
  2. Tickling or unexpected touch
  3. Too much input i.e. too much spinning, swinging, jumping this will often cause overstimulation and cause an adverse reaction.
  4. Never introducing new experiences is also problematic.
  5. Experiences where the child has already expressed fear, slowly transition to these activities.

Carissa Jannicelli Pampanin, MS, OTR/L, SIPT is an occupational therapist at the Pediatric Therapy Center of NJ in Cedar Grove, with specialties in sensory integration and early intervention services for children.