Sensory Toys for Kids with Special Needs

10 Sensory Toys for Kids with Special Needs

Parents of kids with special needs, such as autism, ADHD, and sensory processing disorders, can greatly benefit from sensory toys. They provide a tactile and interactive way for children to explore and learn about their environment. They help them regulate their sensory input, develop fine and gross motor skills, and enhance cognitive and social-emotional development.

Why Are Sensory Toys Important, Especially for Special Needs Kids?

Children with special needs may be more sensitive or less responsive to certain types of sensory input, such as touch, sound, light, or movement. Furthermore, they may struggle to integrate sensory input types into a cohesive understanding of their environment. Sensory toys are a great way to help address these issues through various sensory experiences.

For example, a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be hypersensitive to certain types of touch, such as rough fabrics or tight clothing. By giving them tactile toys designed to provide different textures and pressures, they can comfortably learn to explore and tolerate different types of touch in a safe and controlled way.

Similarly, a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may struggle to regulate their movement and stay focused. Likewise, toys such as therapy swings or balance boards can provide a controlled and safe way for them to move and expend energy while also helping to improve their balance and coordination skills.

Sensory toys can also help special needs children improve their social skills and regulate their emotions better. Light-up toys or musical instruments can be used for interactive play and communication. Alternatively, sensory bins and fidget toys can provide a calm, soothing outlet for stress and anxiety.

Most Common Sensory Processing Disorders in Kids in the US

According to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, it is estimated that 1 in 20 children in the general population has sensory processing disorder (SPD).

Sensory Playtime: The Importance of Sensory Toys for Children with Special Needs

Fidget Toys

Fidget toys are small, handheld toys that children can manipulate with their hands. They can help children with ADHD or anxiety to focus and relieve stress. Fidget toys are available in various types, such as stress balls, squishy toys, and well-known spinners. These toys provide and improve sensory stimulation, which can help children with sensory processing disorders to regulate their sensory input. Fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination can also improve using fidget toys.

Below are a few tips to help you if you’re thinking about getting your children some fidget toys to help improve stress or anxiety levels effectively.

  • Choose the right toy: Not all fidget toys affect all kids equally. Different toys work better for different kids; it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. Choose the right toy by trying various toys to see what your child responds best.
  • Limit distractions: Teach your children to use their fidget toys when they feel overwhelmed by surrounding distractions, especially when they should focus on homework or in a busy classroom. Just remind them that, in turn, they should not become a distraction to the people around them.
  • Avoid overuse: Kids should not overuse their fidget spinners, which might become counterproductive. Fidget spinners should only b used when needed.
  • Teach self-regulation: Kids should use Fidget spinners to self-regulate their behavior. For example, they can use the toy to help calm down when feeling overwhelmed.
  • Consult with professionals: Talk to your child’s teacher, occupational therapist, or other healthcare professional for guidance on using fidget toys effectively in the classroom and at home.

Weighted Blankets

Weighted blankets are great for providing deep-pressure stimulation. This can help children feel calmer and more relaxed and greatly benefit kids who struggle with anxiety, hyperactivity, or sleep disturbances. The weight of the blanket creates a sense of comfort and security, making kids feel more grounded.

Sensory Balls

Sensory balls have a textured surface that kids can squeeze, bounce, and roll. They are great for developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Sensory balls provide a range of tactile stimulation through different textures, such as bumpy, spiky, and smooth. These toys are also a good choice for sensory integration therapy.

Many different types of sensory balls are available, each with its unique benefits. Here are a few examples:

  • Textured balls: These balls are covered in various textures, such as bumps or ridges, to provide tactile stimulation. These balls help children develop their sense of touch and improve fine motor skills.
  • Weighted balls: Weighted balls are normally filled with sand to provide a calming effect. They also improve hand-eye coordination and strengthen grip.
  • Light-up balls: These balls provide visual stimulation when touched or bounced and are very helpful for kids with visual impairments or those who benefit from visual feedback.
  • Scented balls: These balls are considered a fantastic way to help calm and relax children. Infused with various scents, such as lavender or peppermint, scented balls are great for providing olfactory stimulation.
  • Sound balls: When shaken or bounced, these balls make noise, which provides auditory stimulation. They are used to help kids that suffer from hearing impairments or those who benefit from auditory feedback.
  • Therapy balls: Therapy balls are great for kids that have physical disabilities or that have to undergo physical therapy. They are used for specific purposes, such as improving balance and core strength.

Tactile Toys

Kids with sensory processing disorders can benefit from tactile toys as a way to explore different textures. Playdough, sand, and water tables can provide a calming and soothing sensory experience while nurturing creativity, imagination, and problem-solving skills.

Many parents enjoy making their own DIY tactile toys, which can be a fun and affordable way to provide your child with sensory stimulation.

Filling a small container with rice or beans and adding small objects such as beads or buttons is an easy, straightforward idea for creating a tactile toy for young kids. It’s a great DIY toy that kids can shake and feel the different textures. Additionally, you can fill a balloon with flour or cornstarch to create a stress ball.

DIY sensory boards have become a firm favorite amongst parents. This involves attaching various textures, such as sandpaper or bubble wrap, to a piece of cardboard or wooden plank. The fun thing about DIY sensory boards is that the possibilities are endless and can be tailored to your child’s individual needs and tastes. Keep in mind to use materials that are safe and non-toxic.

Therapy Swings

Kids diagnosed with autism or sensory processing disorders can benefit from therapy swings as the calming motion helps them regulate their sensory input. They are also great for improving balance, coordination, and proprioceptive skills. These swings are available in different shapes and sizes, but most commonly, hammocks, platforms, and bolster swings.

As the name implies, platform swings are flat, providing a sturdy surface for children to sit or lie on. Hammock swings offer a cocoon-like feeling that boosts relaxation. Bolster swings are similar to hammock swings but provide more support for the body.

Sensory Chew Toys

Children with oral sensory needs can benefit from specially designed chew toys. Toys, such as chew necklaces, are perfect for oral stimulation needs. Additionally, they also come in diverse shapes and textures, such as tubes, beads, and rings.

Sensory Bins

Sensory bins are normally filled with rice, beans, or sand. These bins promote creativity, imagination, and problem-solving skills and are often used for sensory integration therapy, which can help kids to control their sensory input. Sensory bins are customizable to suit the needs of each individual child.

To make your own sensory bin, choose a container, such as a plastic bin or large bowl, and fill it with the base material mentioned above. After that, add small toys, textured balls, or scoops that your child can use to explore.

Suppose you would like to take it a bit further; you can add gentile scents such as lavender or peppermint to add another level of sensory experience. Bins such as these are a wonderful way to develop fine motor skills, encourage imaginative play, and create a calming sensory input for kids with special needs. Always keep an eye on your kids while they’re engaged in sensory play. Make sure that all materials are safe and age-appropriate.

Sensory Toys for Kids with Special Needs

Light-up Toys

Light-up toys can be a wonderful way to stimulate children with visual special needs. To use these toys effectively, it is important to consider the intensity and duration of the lights. Some kids can be more sensitive to bright or flashing lights, so it’s best to pick light-up toys with settings that can be adjusted or switched off. Also, when kids use light-up toys in a calm and structured environment, it can significantly improve their focus on visual input and prevent overstimulation.

Musical Instruments

Musical instruments such as drums and keyboards are fantastic for kids to study and be exposed to a diverse range of sounds while also providing a way to express themselves and regulate their emotional well-being. Playing musical instruments can help to develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and sensory processing.

To include music therapy in your kids’ daily routine, select the music they enjoy and feel comfortable with. Motivate your child to take part in fun music-making activities such as singing, playing instruments, or creating simple rhythms.

Music can also help to create a calming environment before bedtime or during times of stress. A qualified music therapist for formal music therapy sessions can provide individualized therapy plans based on your child’s needs.

Balance Boards

If you want to help improve your kids’ balance, balance boards are a great consideration. These boards allow kids to improve their balance, coordination, and proprioceptive skills. They are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, such as wobble boards, balance beams, and balance cushions. Additionally, your kids will be able to use these boards indoors and outdoors.

Start your kids out with simple exercises and let them advance to more challenging ones as their skills improve. Balance boards are also fantastic for developing core strength and coordination while providing a fun and engaging way for children to improve their motor skills.

A Final Word

Sensory toys are a great and helpful tool for parents of children with special needs. These toys help their development by providing tactile and interactive ways to explore and learn about their environment and improve fine and gross motor skills, hand-eye coordination, balance, cognitive and social-emotional development, and sensory processing.


Resources

  • American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (3rd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68(Suppl. 1), S1–S48.
  • Bagatell, N., Cahn, E., & Mesibov, G. (2010). Promoting pretend play in children with autism spectrum disorder: A comparison of two approaches. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40(5), 583-596.
  • Bundy, A. C., Lane, S. J., & Murray, E. A. (2002). Sensory integration: Theory and practice (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company.
  • Dunn, W. (2007). Supporting children to participate successfully in everyday life by using sensory processing knowledge. Infants and Young Children, 20(2), 84-101.
  • Kranowitz, C. S. (2005). The out-of-sync child has fun: Activities for kids with sensory integration dysfunction. New York: Penguin Group.
Written by
Marzanne Immelman
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