Picture this: you’re midway through a therapy session with a group of five students. Four of the students are focused and engaged, but the fifth student will not stop fidgeting. He’s distracted, and you know it’s only a matter of time before the other students in your small group become distracted too. So what can you do? Perhaps a toy would help.
Calming (or “sensory”) toys have been shown to help children diagnosed with ADHD, autism or sensory processing disorder to relax in stress-inducing situations. More specifically, their discomfort can be alleviated by these toys, which can help suppress meltdowns and outbursts.
While there are several different categories of sensory toys, the goal of each is the same – to mimic the behavior the individual displays. For example: children with autism sometimes develop repetitive behaviors that are hard to break and can interfere with learning. In this scenario, toys designed for autistic children are a way of providing them the sensory input they crave.
Oral Sensory Toys
As referenced earlier, some children have a habit of mouthing or chewing inedible items. This chewing helps them cope and reduces their agitation. For a child with an oral sensory issue, the best sensory toys are those that are safe for chewing and mouthing, with the goal of providing an alternative to something that can cause harm. Examples include chewable bracelets, pendants and tubes that are made of safe materials.
For children with a constant need to be touching something, there are tactile toys. Tactile toys are also helpful in assisting with development of fine motor skills. Toys in this category include texture bins (these come in assorted fabrics for scratching, or solids for rubbing), bubble wrap, sequined flip cushions, kinetic sand and all kinds of squishy toys.
Visual toys are designed to provide sensory input that is calming to children who have a sensory processing disorder. Often, these items also have tactile features. Examples are reflective tape, kaleidoscopes, lava lamps, strobe lights or multi-colored flashlights, glow-in-the-dark stars and various reflective metal objects.
For a child with auditory sensory needs, toys with distinct sounds are very important. Frequently, toys with auditory sensory features also incorporate visual input, which is a plus. Examples of auditory toys include xylophones, a karaoke microphone, and even a piano.
Gross Motor Toys
Movement and balance are essential to development, and gross motor toys can help. These toys can encourage children to engage in physical activities, which is always positive. Mini-trampolines, balance boards and scooters all fall into this vital category.
For a child with olfactory sensitivity, the best remedy is to create a positive olfactory experience using various pleasant scents. Toys that can be incorporated include scented bubbles, scratch and sniff stickers, diffuser necklaces and all kinds of scented Play Dough and markers.
Children with sensory processing disorders face everyday challenges that can make the world seem like a less-than-welcoming place. Incorporating sensory toys can provide a welcome respite, and in many cases, help to make their lives happier and easier.
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