When I first came across the term “sensory diet,” I was skeptical. How would touching my food make a difference in weight loss? I think I even rolled my eyes a little at my son’s first OT (occupational therapist), thinking she was one of those people who thought babies should diet.
It’s okay to laugh.
A sensory diet isn’t a weight loss program. It’s a way to describe the activities and stimuli you provide for yourself or your special needs child to help regulate and integrate your physical (and therefore emotional and cognitive) experience in the world. The professionals at THIS LINK describe it much more fully and clearly. (Bookmark that link! It’s awesome.)
In your home, a sensory diet might include heavy work options like pushing a lawn mower, pulling wet laundry from a machine, or lifting a trash bag, as well as soothing movements like rocking in a rocking chair, swinging, or bike riding. But what about your church?
Ever notice that children tend to melt down more often in church than at home? Unmet sensory needs are likely to blame. The sensory environment is likely extremely different.
We can help with sensory soothing at church by going through a sensory checklist for our churches. Here’s the Sensory Diet Checklist (linked above as well, because it’s one of the most useful links I’ve found). I encourage you to go through it and brainstorm opportunities in your church environment, rituals, and routines that meet the different areas of sensory needs.
Write down your list and share it with families and persons with special needs, the pastor or priest, Sunday school teachers, and other advocates.
Having ways to self-soothe and get sensory input in a “normal” way can make an amazing difference to one’s ability to stay engaged in a faith community.
Here are the additions I made to the sensory checklist relevant to my church. I share them in hopes that they’ll help you notice sensory diet opportunities in your faith community.
SAMPLE CHURCH SENSORY DIET
Heavy Muscle Work (Proprioceptive):
- Carrying a church bag filled with books and quiet items
- Pushing/pulling open the church door or Sunday school door
- Weighted lap pad available in Sunday school
- Big bear hugs with godfamily and special, trusted church friends
- Pushing on the ground while kneeling
- Altar boys carrying lanterns
- Carrying heavy toy/activity in Sunday school
- Lifting heavy service books/placing in or out of pew holder
Oral Motor (Working the Mouth):
- Crunch snack in Sunday school class (we always have gluten free pretzels in my class)
- Water in a quiet sippy bottle in church (with priest’s permission)
- Kissing holy icons
- Sunday school lessons with sensory bin elements (my Autism Friendly Sunday School lessons – coming soon – feature lots of hands-on options)
- Dressup (Bible character clothes for classroom skits, fleece costumes for pageant)
- Fleece and faux fur for lessons dealing with biblical animals (sheep)
- Soft, all-cotton clothes for those with strong sensitivities, with less formal attire explained to priest/pastor ahead of time
- Silk or cotton headscarf
- Church bag items: squishies, velvet pouches, mermaid sequined notebooks, silicone spiky slap bracelets (see the Church Bag Tour)
- Making the sign of the cross over oneself
- Metania (bowing and touching the floor during some prayers or before icons)
- Standing on tip-toes and leaning for veneration of icons
- Swaying while holding a child or swaying gently to the chanting
- Sunday school lessons that have children act out big movements such as small and tall/reaching to sky
Download This Sample Church Sensory Diet Checklist Here: