Kids on the spectrum perceive the world in another light, and therefore their senses are shifted in one direction or another from the baseline. Some autistic children have heightened senses, and others have more dulled senses.
Still, others may have a mixture – their hearing is super sensitive, yet their sense of touch is not quite up to par. The way children receive sensory signals directly affects the way they feel and behave.
When it comes to sensory play and toys, it is incredibly important to individualize the approach for each child and meet your child where they are at.
If your child is on the spectrum and you need help supporting them at their point of need, discover BLOOM’s courses on Emotional Control and Regulation, Impulsivity, Parenting a Needy Child, and more.
What are Sensory Toys and Games?
Specific toys and games can support children with autism or other sensory issues because sensory toys help develop a child’s learning, communication, and emotional regulation.
Sensory toys and games are first defined by their ability to stimulate a child’s senses. That stimulation all goes on inside the brain and is closely related to tons of other skills that your child needs to grow into a fully functional adult. This can include writing, cutting, zipping a coat, jumping, emotional flexibility, and the ability to self-calm.
Secondly, sensory toys and games should help give a child the sensations they want. For example, if your child likes the feeling of climbing up the banister of your stairs, a useful sensory toy would give him the same sensations but in a safe way!
Examples of sensory toys and games include:-Stepping stones, balance board, or balance beam for balance
-Spinning tops for visual, tactile input, and vestibular input
How Can Sensory Toys and Games Benefit Kids With Autism?
While there are benefits of sensory play for people of all ages and abilities, there are some ways it helps kids with autism in particular.
- Calming and preventing autistic meltdowns with sensory play–Sensory play is calming and therapeutic. If your child is having a meltdown, offering a sensory toy or tool can redirect their brain and quickly calm them. Some children prefer to swing, while others may be calmed by moving their hands through a kinetic sand sensory bin. Either way, the sensory play has a calming effect.
- Communication development through sensory play–Children can learn receptive language, which is the cornerstone of communication through repetitive spoken words and gestures, coupled with sensory stimulation.
- Motor skills and sensory play–Because many kids on the autism spectrum have delayed motor skills, playing in sensory bins is a great way to improve fine motor skills. They will learn to grasp small objects, dig, scrape, and transfer sensory materials.
- Memory improvement through sensory play–everyone learns slightly differently, but kids with sensory issues, including autism, retain new knowledge easier when sensory play is involved.
How to Make Sensory Toys and Games at Home
It's important to individualize play and toys with autistic children just like it’s important to do so with all other children. Each person interacts with toys and people differently.
What is interesting to one may not be interesting to another. It’s always beneficial to try to meet the child where their interests lie. In order to give someone the capability of theory of mind (i.e The capability to come out of their thoughts and perspective and see someone else’s thoughts and interests), you first need to join them in their interests and then gradually bring them out into a middle ground. This is particularly important for children with autism who have strong sensory needs as well as a strong sensory sensitivity. That combination makes for very individual likes and dislikes in terms of toys and activities.
Sensory toys and games are specially designed to stimulate one or more of the senses. Children on the spectrum enjoy these as they provide the sensory input they need.
People who experience ASD symptoms often have an intense need for visual stimulation.
Therefore toys that spin appeal to them, especially because of the repetitive movement, which helps them to regulate.
They like things that are calming, like calming lights or small calm spaces where they can feel safe. Some don’t like too many lights. A therapeutic environment that delivers high levels of stimulation and combines lighting, colors, textures, and sounds can stimulate them in the sensory areas where they need more information. It can calm the sensory systems that need calming and help them be more available to interact with others.
Balancing boards are terrific for attention and focus because they provide vestibular input. When a child’s vestibular system is stimulated, they can focus and become more alert. Not to mention, there are many fun games that your child can play using this board!
Compression vests provide deep proprioceptive input, which is calming for the body. Try using them to help your child increase his body awareness. With improvements in body awareness, your child will better understand where his body is in space and how one part of his body moves in connection to another. You may discover that your child’s gross motor movements, like jumping or kicking a ball, will improve with his heightened body awareness.
Support for Children with Sensory Sensitivity
Sensory play is calming, improves their ability and desire to communicate, boosts their motor skills, and helps them retain more as they learn. Although it seems like such a simple thing, sensory play for kids with autism truly is essential.
At BLOOM, we offer more than treating challenging behaviors and do more than treat symptoms: we support families & children everywhere, providing unique resources to meet you at your point of need. Discover our course on sensory processing disorder to support your child with sensory sensitivity.