Does your child jump incessantly? Get irritated quickly? Chew on anything? Bite? Stim (flapping hands, waving hand in front of face) constantly? Hit themselves or others often? Spin? Bang his head? These behaviors could be indicative of sensory issues.
Based on one study, around 78 percent of children with autism have Sensory Processing Disorder, as well as many children who’ve been neglected and abused. Besides replicating what your Occupational Therapist (if you have one) does with your child, you can incorporate sensory toys that will help your child’s intense sensory needs.
We’ve found that meeting Jeremiah’s sensory needs solves most of the behaviors we struggle with. When his sensory needs are met, he’s usually calm and happy. We’ve been on quite an adventure trying to find the right sensory toys to help Jeremiah, so I thought a post (now it’s turned in to two) on what’s helped us would be something you might appreciate.
Trial and error is a large part of how you will help your child with their sensory issues, but this post is meant to help give you some direction on what to do and what to buy for your child.
Some of these items are expensive, some aren’t, you can be creative to find cheaper solutions, or ones you can make at home. I’ll begin with ones that have helped Jeremiah the most.
*For items that my child is going to put in his mouth (which I understand for most of your children, it’s EVERYTHING), I like to buy items that are nontoxic.
1) Swing. We can’t live without it. The swing is like our bread of life – okay, the swing and one other thing which I will mention next. Not only does Jeremiah have a swing in our yard, but we put one in his room. One summer he’d been swinging consistently in our backyard, and I was in fear of what life would be like come winter, literally fearful! I knew how much it helped him and the anxiety he felt when he couldn’t swing. Justin said, “Let’s put a swing in his room.” It was hard for me to accept the idea at first. It sounded like I was spoiling Jeremiah, plus he has a sister and that wouldn’t be fair.
But the truths are 1) Jeremiah needs the swing to function, and any way we can help him we should. 2) Our daughter, Payton, gets to do a lot of things Jeremiah can’t. I’ve had to accept that life isn’t fair (I’ve been complaining that it isn’t since I uttered my first words, just ask my parents). Yeah, life stinks sometimes.
Also, when we go on day trips, we always find a playset with swings, it makes Jeremiah happier, Payton has fun too, and we all benefit.
2) Doodle Pad. The second most important item in our bag-o-tricks. We spend WAY too much money on a Christmas tree doodle pad. It was one of his first, and the only kind he’ll use. He doesn’t go anywhere without it, and for years it was constantly in his hands, but in the past months he’s been found many times without it. His dependency on the doodle pad is diminishing significantly. It has helped calm him and gives his busy hands something to do. Plus, I love it because you can practice taking turns with it – you draw, then your child draws, it helps develop writing skills (as this can be hard to establish in autistic children), and you can work on letters, numbers, words, shapes, etc. with it. A great multipurpose tool.
3) Trampoline. Another tool we depend heavily on. This, along with swinging gives Jeremiah the intense sensory input he desperately needs. We have the one pictured on the left outside and one similar to the picture on the right (a small one with a handle) we can use inside. We bought the one in the photo on the left from SAMS and I highly recommend it, it’s the safest trampoline I’ve seen. When I searched for this photo on the SAMS Club website I found this trampoline with a swing attached (two in one!). With the incorporation of the swing in Jeremiah’s room, and the ability to go outside for trampoline time this winter, we haven’t utilized the indoor trampoline this season.
4) Slinky Chewy. When Jeremiah is chewing on his clothes or other items, or is frustrated, we often use this. At first we had to give it to him and encourage him to chew on it, and he wouldn’t wear it around his neck. Now he will use it when he wants to (we still offer it to him when he doesn’t choose it first) and he will even put it on his neck. With the larger one he stretches it over his body.
5) Blankets for nesting. I didn’t come up with this term, I heard another autism parent use it and I liked it, so here it is. Jeremiah will gather his smaller soft blankets and lug them around the house. Normally he brings them out to the couch and snuggles under them (head and all). It’s something he likes doing and makes him comfortable.
6) Lights. We purchased the wand pictured on the left at Target in the bins at the front of the store, but I can’t find them on Target’s website. I found them online as “Spike Wand”. You need to get to know your child to determine if this is something they like. Some kids will like this and some kids won’t, Jeremiah only likes them at certain times. When it comes to using lights, there are several options. You don’t have to purchase something from a specialty store to achieve the desired result here.
Jeremiah likes the balls with lights inside, especially the rubber wand with a ball at the end, when you hit it on something multi-colored lights flicker. He has a dinosaur that has a light in it’s mouth, when he pinches the tail, the mouth opens and the light turns on. He was a fan of the spinning light wand for a long time. He also really likes this dog that shines lights on the ceiling. He doesn’t look at the ceiling, but likes looking at the stars changing colors.
Also check out part two in the series: The Best Sensory Toys (part 2)
For more posts on autism, be sure to check out the CONTENTS page.
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