the best sensory toys (part 1)

the best senosry toys part 1
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 spendX2539-doodle-pro-travel-d-1 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 0068706404688_Bwith 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 AAAAAmZciUkAAAAAAWcgzQphoto 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 nullis 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 691-lu_2front 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.

spinning light
Purchase this Pillow Pet Dream Light

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.
Jeremiah with pet night light

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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the comfort priority (Autism)

When speech and developmental therapists began working with our son in our home, they recommended creating a safe place (a place of comfort, a place to getcuddle swing away) in our home for Jeremiah. They recommended putting up a tent in his room, or a cuddle swing (pictured at right). Before we purchased anything, we realized his go-to spot was his bed. It was a place he liked to go and hang out.

His bed is a converted crib, so it has three slated sides and is open in the front. When Jeremiah used to throw longer tantrums (I couldn’t hold him because he was hitting, kicking, and holding him didn’t calm him, even after a few minutes) I  would calmly carry him to his room and place him in his bed (I left his door open), and he would calm down in less than five minutes. He was able to calm down in this space because it had already become a safe place for him.

Your child’s safe place needs to be comfortable. It’s important to recognize that  comfort for your child may be different than what it is for you. Sensory issues usually coincide with Autism, so this comfort is paramount.

When creating a comfortable space for your child, consider the following:

  • Noise level – Does your child like silence best, or a continuous quiet noise? Would she like quiet music playing in the background?
  • Textures – Does he like several blankets, or just one? What is the fabric like on the hammock, chair, or bed that is used as a “comfort space” or for sleeping?
  • Temperature – Consider what temperature your child feels best in. Warmer or cooler?
  • Lighting – A natural light or soft light is preferred to harsh bright lighting.

comfort priority

This idea of comfort takes itself into many scenarios with our kids. Because of those sensory needs, comfort is always to be considered. If it isn’t, your child may display negative behaviors or elope. Children who have Autism have a tendency to elope (run away, wander), it’s actually very common.

Sometimes when a child elopes, it’s because they’re uncomfortable. Jeremiah has escaped from his Grandma’s daycare a few times. Seriously scared the #@$$ out of me! After putting security measures in place (well not much “security,” but at least a plan), I had to look at why he wanted to leave the house. The conclusion I came to was, he wasn’t comfortable, and sometimes when our Autistic kids aren’t comfortable, they aren’t safe. They elope, as in this instance, they harm themselves, or they can display those negative behaviors, and we want to avoid these.

Because my son is nonverbal, I wasn’t able to ask him why he wandered off, and even if I could, I’m not sure he would know the exact reason why. So, we have to investigate (which we have become very adept at) and take in what we know about the environment. Here are some things that could have been bothering him: it’s really warm in her house, sensory issues plague him and Grandma doesn’t know how to deal with it, it can be loud with all the kids running around. I have a feeling one, or all of these played into his desire to leave.

As mentioned in the daycare scenario, comfort plays an important role when outside the home. Another example of this was when he eloped from my parents house. It was a holiday, we were all sitting around the table after a meal, and I asked where Jeremiah was. He had walked out the door to the garage, out the open garage door and off down the open field surrounding the back of their house (no fence!). I would imagine that because he was out of his normal environment, he didn’t fell comfortable. Poor guy!

He was only two or three at the time, but later during that same visit with them, he was able to show us where he did feel comfortable. He grabbed his dad’s hand and took him to our car. Justin lifted him into his car seat and that’s where he was content to hang out for quite a while.

If we want our child to be safe and at peace, part of the puzzle (it’s complex, I know) is to keep them comfortable. This includes meeting sensory needs, keeping routines, etc., but it also means having a place they can go where they aren’t overwhelmed. They need this at home and when we’re on the go.

Think of what your child may need to help them in this area. As I was writing this post, I saw an awesome play-set/bed for a kids room on Facebook. I thought it would be awesome for Jeremiah’s room, but it was too big. When I showed it to Justin, he pointed out the cuddle swing/hammock and said he wanted to put it in Jeremiah’s room. First I had to remind him that I’d shown him one of those a couple years ago and he had no interest (that’s just my job as his wife right?). Then someone commented on this awesome play-set saying that we couldplay set for bedroom incorporate just the sections that Jeremiah would benefit from, meaning it wouldn’t have to take up ALL the floor space in his room. We are still working out how to do this while in the middle of a house remodel/addition, Autism, and life, but the point is always to try to work it out. If you feel like something doesn’t fit your life, your space, mold it so it does. Nothing is out of the question, that’s why Jeremiah has a swing and a mini trampoline in his room! Just like anyone else, when Jeremiah’s needs are met, he’s more content, and the family as a whole can function better, it’s more peaceful environment for all of us.

*After learning more about Autism, I would say children also wander because they are in search of something (water, or something they like to do). Here is a post about wandering and the risk of drowning: 4 reasons why you should teach your Autistic child to swim.

*You can purchase the cuddle swing pictured above here.
*The bed can be found here, but I am not sure how to purchase it. If you love it, you just might have to build it. 🙂

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Sensory Processing Disorder (part 2): does your child have sensory issues?

If you haven’t checked out my post Sensory Processing Disorder #1, I would encourage you to do so. In that post you will find what Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is.

Now that you are familiar with it’s definition, let’s look at where and how it presents itself and suggestions on how to help your child.

First, I would urge you to consider whether your child has sensory issues. SPD is most often associated with Autism, but it frequently shows up in adopted children.

There was a great article in Adoption Today’s June 2013 issue called “What’s the Best Therapy for my Traumatized Child?” Julie Beem and Anna Paravano say in part, “Sensory Integration: Sensory integration therapies are frequently recommended for those struggling with Sensory Processing Disorder. The link between early childhood trauma, especially due to neglect, has been observed, and many of the children from ‘hard places’ exhibit varying degrees of Sensory Processing Disorder. Working with Occupational Therapists who specialize in sensory integration often helps traumatized children increase their ability to self-regulate, remain focused and calm. In turn, this can help other attachment and trauma therapies to be more productive.”

If we don’t look at Sensory Processing Disorder and ask if it could be an issue with our children, we may be missing a part of a whole. It is difficult to have bonding and other moves forward when a child is simply extremely uncomfortable and irritated by something that we can easily fix.

When we first heard that our son had SPD, I immediately connected it with the lack of touch and affection he had as an infant. He was severely neglected. It turns out that SPD does show up in many children who have been neglected or abused in early life. What we learn in our first months and years of life is through our senses; what we feel, touch, see, and hear. If a child isn’t touched, or is physically abused in their first months or years of life their body will have a less than normal reaction to stimuli.

Here are some questions to ask yourself in regard to your child:

  • Does your child crave constant movement?
  • Does your child cry often? (This could be due to a number of things, but for our son it was a telltale sign that he was uncomfortable.)
  • Does your child walk on her toes a lot?
  • Does your child pull at his clothes, or dislike getting dressed?
  • Does your child play with only a few specific toys?
  • Is your child overly sensitive to noise, touch, light, crowds, etc.?
  • Does your child have poor motor skills?
  • Is your child clumsy?
  • Does your child have an extremely high or very low pain tolerance?
  • Does your child not understand they are hurting others, i.e.. banging head against a person, biting, hitting? [They don’t seem to be doing this to hurt someone, but to meet a need (sensory).]
  • Does your child over-focus on some things, but have an inability to focus on others?
  • Is your child easily overwhelmed?
  • Does hunger make your child irritable? (They may not be able to identify the problem or the feeling of hunger, but when fed, their aggravation subsides.)

I am not saying that if your answered yes to most of these questions that your child has SPD, it is simply something you should look at and consider. My son has SPD, and has significant issues, but we still wouldn’t answer yes to every question on the above list. Oddly, he isn’t clumsy and has good motor skills, both small and large.

I also believe that children can have sensory issues without having SPD, it may be on a lesser scale. My daughter and I are perfect examples of this. There are certain things that bother us, but we don’t crave the sensory stimulation that my son does.

Following is a list of sensory needs and solutions (Sensory Diet):

NEED SOLUTION (Sensory Diet)
Craves physical stimulation: jumps, runs, bangs head, hits, bites
  • Provide a safe trampoline. Our son spends most of his time on the trampoline. They have one in his classroom and when he gets overwhelmed he goes to it.
  • Use a large ball (big bin in grocery store) and bounce it across your child’s body.
  • For younger children, place child facing down on big ball. Hold your child on the ball and roll them back and forth so their hands hit the floor in front and their feet hit the floor in back.
  • Spend time at the park (meets many sensory need if it’s not too crowded).
  • Swimming is an awesome sensory tool. Also great for adopted children.
  • Swinging (both of our kids LOVE to swing)
  • Spinning (play Ring Around the Rosie)
  • Rocking. Our sensory guy has always craved that rocking movement. It was the only thing that would quiet him when he was a baby.
  • Rice or beans (place in a big bin and provide measuring cups and other things to pour and scoop with).
  • Play dough. Be aware that a child who doesn’t handle change well will not want the play dough to change shape. Jeremiah freaked out when he squeezed it and it turned into a ball. Not cool. Over time he got used to it. 🙂
  • Leg Pulls. We did a lot of these. When Jeremiah was upset we would place him on the floor (we have wood floors, you can also put a blanket under them) and grab his ankles. We would scrunch his knees up and push him back and pull him forward. Two pumps on pushing and once pulling back. You can say, “Pop. Pop,” when you push them out. Make it fun.
  • Weighted vests (some kids like them, some hate them. You could start with a life jacket to see if they like something wrapped around them.)
  • Our Speech Therapist recently recommended we put together a sensory bag. You can put several different textiles in, like sand paper, something fuzzy, something squeezable.
Child bangs head
  • Consider headaches first. Try combatting with more water.
  • Use a tight fitting hat or beanie
  • Get an OT’s advice on how to rub their head.
Child hits
  • Encourage them to be nice, even if they aren’t doing it to be mean. Place your handover theirs and use a gentle motion on your arm.
  • Show her what she can hit. Say, “Be gentle/nice to Mommy. Hit the table,” and guide her to the table.
  • Have your child hit a ball.
Craves visual stimuli [stares at things, gets close to objects and looks at them, shakes head a lot, stims** (waves hand in front of face)]
  • Purchase hand held spinning lights (usually at the checkout in some stores)
  • Swinging
  • Rocking
  • Spinning. If they always spin in one direction try to get her to go the other way. Play Ring Around the Rosie.
  • Roll balls back and forth.
  • Rice or beans are good for this (see above). My son likes to grab a bunch and let it fall back into the tin. I think he also likes the noise it makes.
  • Drawing. You can take a magna doodle anywhere, they even have mini ones. This will also help with their hand/eye coordination.
  • If they’re young and they stim, I don’t see it as a problem. If your child stims, and still seems irritated, try finding something that will assist them with their need, such as the spinning light. You may want to find other solutions when they become oder and children make fun of them.
Crowds/noise bothers them
  • Provide a quiet, calm environment.
  • Have a routine everywhere you go. If you frequent a certain store, go the same route through the store each time.
  • Insert ear plugs if the child is older. 🙂


Once Jeremiah’s therapists came to the conclusion that he had SPD, they incorporated the above Sensory Diet. Every two hours we worked on motor sensory issues; leg pumps, ball bounces on his body, rolling him over a big ball. After doing that for a couple months he began to take over and fix many of his sensory needs himself.

You can have an Occupational Therapist (OT) work with your child, but I would recommend being present for the sessions because this is something you’ll want to continue at home. If your child is having difficulty in school you can get an OT to work with them there, but that may require an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Jeremiah had meltdowns for quite a while every time we tried to go into a store at the mall. He was fine in the large area, but once we came upon the opening of Target, or any other store, he would flip out. We kept trying. There were many months when he couldn’t do it, but one day he went in, no problem. We felt it was a fear of a closed-in space, or maybe the lighting and tall shelves.

All this to say, one day your child may have an issue with something and another day she won’t, so keep trying. Don’t be afraid to try something that hasn’t worked the last three times. You never know when that moment is going to come. This is the same with the Sensory Diet, there have been many things we’ve tried over the years, some have worked, and some haven’t. Some didn’t work so I stopped making efforts because I was only frustrating Jeremiah and feeling guilty that I wasn’t helping him as much as I should. I would reintroduce that “thing” or a Developmental Therapist would, and it worked.

*I do not recommend a child be medicated for SPD. I am not a doctor and cannot diagnose a child or person. The only reason I mention labels is to help children. I do not use them as an excuse, nor do I see my child through that label. I adore by kids and it only helps me to understand what they are dealing with when I think in terms of labels.
**Stimming is a repetitive behavior that stimulates one or more of the senses (such as hand flapping in front of the eyes).

Check out these other sensory related links:
Sensory Processing Disorder #1 (what it is)
new scientific evidence for Sensory Processing Disorder
13 (funny) reasons you know your child has SPD (originally posted in part by Shut Up)