Eyes and Ears and Mouth and Nose – from your head, shoulders to your knees and toes, most of us are familiar with the 5 senses:
The proprioceptive system, which is responsible for sensations from the muscles and joints, and the vestibular system which is responsible for the sense of movement through space. Collectively these two systems work together to provide information about where and how our bodies are moving. Some children can be more sensitive to certain sensory experiences, whereas other children have higher thresholds and require more input to register the sensory information.
Sensory processing is the way your body takes in sensory information from the world and interprets this information in the brain, to respond. Sometimes sensory information goes to the brain but there is difficulty in organizing it to produce the appropriate responses. The way sensory input is perceived and responded to varies from child to child. Providing sensory-rich experiences (try a DIY sensory bin or sensory crash pad!) is integral in helping your little one to make sense of and interact with the world around us. Our favorite sensory toys listed below are great for children with autism and/or sensory processing disorders but they are not limited to any specific diagnosis!
A classic amongst therapists to help with regulation. Bouncing on the ball is a great way to stimulate the vestibular system and providing alerting input. Feeling overstimulated and need to calm things down? Try laying down and rolling the ball over your child to provide some grounding and organizing deep pressure!
A simple and effective way to get in some quick bursts of movement. Try having your child push or pull themselves forward to provide some input to the muscles and joints. Looking for ways to stimulate their vestibular system? Scooterboards are the perfect movement tool from spinning to sliding! Fast or slow, straight or in circles, scooterboards offer endless ways to vary up the input!
We love how versatile sensory bins are while tapping into nearly all your sensory systems! All you need is any container and the sensory materials of your choosing – think dry mediums like rice and pinto beans or wet/messy textures like water beads and shaving cream. Toss in some materials from the kitchen like utensils and containers to also incorporate fine motor and self-help skills – scooping, pouring, mixing! Did we mention you can make sensory bins “taste-safe” by swapping out water beads and shaving cream for things like cooked spaghetti and oats!?
Premade or do it yourself, sensory bottles are an easy and effective way to stimulate your child’s visual system. We also love that this sensory toy doubles as a self regulation tool. Try flipping it over and using it as visual cue when needing a reset or to make transitions smooth.
The perfect way to provide proprioceptive input to the muscles and joints to help calm, focus and even alert your child. There’s endless options available for purchase to match your child’s favorite characters and critters. If you’re feeling creative, trying swapping out the stuffing for sand or rice to make one of your own. Stimulate your child’s imagination and creativity by having them push, pull and toss the animals on adventures!
We think play-doh is the ultimate sensory experience! Squish, squeeze, pull and poke for tons of proprioceptive and tactile feedback while also sneaking in some fine motor work. We love easy DIY recipes for making traditional play-doh taste safe to turn on those taste buds! Want to further enhance this sensory experience? Try adding in drops of food coloring or essential oils to stimulate smell and vision.
Our therapists might just love bubbles more than your child for all the hidden therapeutic benefits! Blowing bubbles is an effective oral motor activity to help organize and calm busy little bodies! Bubble blowers are a great option if a traditional bubble wand is still too tricky to use. By now you’ve guessed it – YUP, there’s edible, scented, colored, and even glow in the dark bubbles for kicking things up a notch! From PT to OT to Speech and Feeding, ask your therapists their favorite ways for incorporating bubbles into your child’s motor, social, play and communication goals!
Kathryn LeMonda is a pediatric occupational therapist with over 5 years of clinical experience in diverse pediatric settings. A New York girl, Kate actually first found NAPA while living in California and was thrilled to head back east to join the NAPA Center Boston team. When not at NAPA you’ll find her studying, on her yoga mat, soaking up all the sunshine and catching up with family and friends over a good Brunch!