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What do you give to kids who are anxious about a lot of things, whose brains seem to amplify sensations and noises? Good sensory toys can help them function and manage sensory input.
My daughter has sensory processing disorder. I have written about that here a few times. Years ago I wrote about our journey to get a sensory processing disorder diagnosis for Today’s Parent magazine. These recommendations are based on what we have found that works.
Sensory processing disorder is a condition that interferes with how the brain conveys sensory messages, leading to unexpected reactions and motor responses in a person. In other words, exposure to certain conditions we deem as normal might trigger involuntary reactions in those who have sensory challenges.
They will start feeling overwhelmed by certain conditions or environment and this can lead to even physical injuries if not monitored. When you are looking to get a gift for a child with SPD, you should get them something that will help them cope with their environment in a better manner.
Great Sensory Toys for Kids
1. Noise Blocking Headphones or Noise Cancelling Headphones
Some kids get anxious in a noisy environment. Many kids diagnosed with sensory processing disorder cannot handle noise. It is distracting and alarming and causes genuine distress. My daughter uses these often. In fact, both of my kids do. Only one has the sensory processing disorder diagnosis. But, that said, they both have some sensory issues and they both need tools to help them focus and block noise out.
At school, in the elementary grades, these noise cancelling headphones were readily available in the learning resource room.
2. Sensory Hairbrush or Tangle Free Hairbrush
This is a simple gift that applies soft pressure on the scalp, running through the hair. The pressure produces a relaxing and calming effect for the kids. The soft, plastic bristles ensure that no harm would befall them.
3. Kinetic Sand
Kinetic sand allows the child to explore playing in the sand without creating the mess normal sand would create. The sand is cool to touch and will stick back to itself after use, allowing easy cleaning. It is a relaxing activity to enjoy. We have this particular brand here and I love it. Even I will play with this sand because it is a great sensory tool.
4. Tactile balls
These are soft, rubbery balls that are enjoyable to squeeze, rub or hold in your hands. They are also good as stress-relieving toys because of their soft, squishy nature. The kids can do whatever they want with these balls as they are indestructible. Use them to run them up and down the kid’s arms and back if they can handle that type of feedback. The massage kind of function used to work brilliantly for my daughter.
Any kind of safe crash pad can be extremely useful. This could be a sort of air mattress where the kids can bounce and play. It can be karate crash pads that they kick and slam into. Place on the floor, or hang on the walls. Or you might even just buy a BOB, martial arts tool they can hit and kick and smash into. It can make a good replacement for an indoor trampoline. It is softer and with a better feel than an air mattress.
6. Indoor tent
This is designed for kids who get anxious often. They can be able to run into their own space when they start feeling overwhelmed. This is a small indoor tent that can fit anywhere inside the house. The actual one that we had in several places is this one – > The school had one too in her class. Also, this is a beautiful indoor tent option.
7. Silly putty
This is the kind of putty that can withstand all sorts of abuse. It is great for improving the creativity levels of your child. Mold, knead, stretch it, or do whatever they want with it and still get it together at the end of the day.
8. Legos and Building Blocks
Legos are a great gift for kids with SPD and those without this condition. These Melissa and Doug building blocks are great sensory toys for kids of all ages. They are amazing at encouraging all sorts of creative processes in your child.
9. Step-a-log beams or Balance Beams
10. Flex bands
There is something stress-relieving about stretch bands and these are aimed for both sensory management and enhancing motor skills. The flex bands can stand any kind of pressure the kids subject them to. They are a good, therapeutic gift for kids with SPD.
For my daughter, when she was small, we needed tricks to distract her in order to calm her down. So, we’d use puzzles as sensory toys. That seemed to calm her down and give her the chance to regroup. In every single All About Me booklet that we gave to camp counsellors and others, we told them puzzles were a means to soothe her. As a result we had some remarkable puzzles for all ages and abilities.
For years, we had a swing suspended from a beam in Ainsley’s room. It was like a cocoon for her when she needed to calm down. It worked very well. Our indoor swing was similar to this one here. There are other swings for kids with SPD options too that are just as cute.
13. Weighted Blankets
While not a toy exactly, these are so very useful for kids with SPD. Use these to relax or to sleep. Just pay attention to the rules surrounding weight limits and size. Most good weighted blanket companies will tell you size and weight.