Sight. Touch. Sound. Taste. Smell.
Take a deep breath and imagine yourself at your happy place. Take in everything around you- the sights, the sounds, and the aroma. Think about how your body feels in your seat, if you’re sitting, or how it feels no matter where you are. A few minutes of mindfulness in your happy place should make you feel more relaxed because you are able to focus on each of your senses, one at a time and your senses are processing the information around you.
But for kids with a sensory processing disorder, they may not process this information the same way, and may not find this exercise as relaxing. In fact, it may feel overwhelming and anxiety-inducing which is why they may need sensory toys.
Sensory Processing Disorder can affect anyone. Studies indicate that 5% to 16% of children exhibit symptoms of SPD.
Kids that have sensory issues may benefit from using sensory toys. As awareness grows, many schools allow children to use these tools, with or without a formal Individualized Education Plan, or I.E.P. (or a 504 plan) in place. In fact, our local Flynn Theater even has a sensory toy kit available during children’s performances where kids can borrow noise cancelling headphones, weighted blankets, stuffed animals, and wiggle cushions. The Flynn Theater, in Burlington, VT also offers sensory-friendly programming where they minimize the lights and noise during a performance.
Regardless if your kiddo has a sensory processing disorder diagnosis or not, (here is a useful checklist if you want to talk to your child’s doctor about SPD) they may benefit from some of these sensory toys that we love in our house.
Sensory Toys (or Tools!)
If you have the space for it, an indoor swing can become an essential part of our decompression area. The decompression area is a place where my child with sensory processing disorder can relax and transition from one environment to another. There’s a whole bunch of reasons why swings work, having to do with vestibular input, but in short, swings make us feel like we are in the womb, safe and secure. There are lots of different shapes and styles of swings on the market, and we love this one
It’s cheap, it’s accessible, and you can keep it in your purse for as-needed use. Putty not only can strengthen hands and help develop small motor skills, but it can also be anxiety-reducing to play with, the perfect sensory toy. Offer it to your child when you are at the wrong end of a long line at the grocery store, and your wait may be less stressful. Any putty will do, but be sure it is non-toxic, non-oily, and unscented as we know our sensory kids may put it in their mouths. Here’s a brand our family likes, that employs many exceptional individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities.
3. Wiggle Seat
Loved by parents with kids with ADHD, the wiggle chair has become a staple at our family dinner table. The removable seat cushion provides sensory stimulation through the slight bounciness and texture. Lots of color options too!
4. Chew Toys
Technically called “oral sensory chews”, necklaces, pencil toppers, sticks, and bracelets and lead-free, made from medical-grade, FDA-approved silicone, and are latex, BPA, PVC, and Phthalate free. We’ve gotten ones with cool shapes, dinosaurs, and more. For kids that chew their t-shirts or lick their lips a lot, they may benefit from this more acceptable oral stimulation which may feel more like a sensory toy than a tool to them.
5. Noise Cancelling Headphones
Our family loves seeing live music and going to theme parks, both potentially major triggers for a kid with sensitivity to noise. We found these noise-canceling headphones to be a major source of stress reduction when used in crowded places. And did you know that place like Disney World offers accommodations for kids with cognitive and sensory issues? It was a major meltdown saver for our family to reduce our time on lines, which can be a huge trigger for overstimulation and lead to aggression.
If you would like more information about SPD, please check out Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children With Sensory Processing Disorder(New York: Perigee, 2014, 2nd edition). written by Founder and current Executive Director of STAR Institute, Lucy Jane Miller Ph.D., OTR.