Children with sensory processing disorder (SPD) may feel things intensely — or not at all. They may be hypersensitive to noise, fluorescent lighting, cafeteria smells, and new movement. Or they may feel their senses are muted and physically seek out stimulation — playing rough, bouncing boundlessly, or touching everything and everyone all the time. At school, these students may work regularly — and in person — with an occupational therapist (OT). Right now, those services are either canceled, limited, or delivered using an online platform, which is not ideal. Use the list below to incorporate sensory input in fun indoor and outdoor activities that will help your child achieve better focus and reduce unwanted sensory behavior. The ideas below can give your child the sensory input they need to feel more in control of their body. Activities are grouped into three sensory areas. Incorporate as many as you can into your child’s week on a regular basis or use them as needed during times of boredom, low energy, or distress. Many times child psychiatrists work in tandem with occupational therapists re: sensory therapy. SPD per child psychiatrists may be an early sign or signal of anxiety and to be monitored. Many times a child psychiatrist takes a history of anxiety they may encounter a child with prior SPD. Working in a relaxed and creative manner with a child is the best approach.If you notice your child obsessively touching objects or picking at their skin or hair, they are seeking tactile sensory stimulation. Offer these activities instead. Many child psychiatrists would recommend the above.
#1. Paint with your fingers. Break open the finger paint or use a large baking sheet to “paint” with shaving cream. (Substitute ranch dressing if your child can’t stand the smell of those items.) Use this activity when your child shows sensory-seeking behavior.
#2. Explore sensory bins. Fill containers with rice, dried beans . Mix in cheap, plastic toys, erasers in various sizes and shapes, or other objects for your child to feel for with the hands. Fill another container with different kinds of — small stretchy tubes, poppers, switches, pieces of fabric.
#3. Create a texture-filled scavenger hunt. Challenge your child to find three or more objects around the house. In Round One, they can seek soft items. In subsequent rounds, they can find sticky, hard, or rough items.
#4. Make bumpy play dough. Add beads or buttons to or playdough and have your child pull out the objects.
#5. Tear paper or rip apart Velcro.
#6. Play with water. Turn on the . Break out the water guns or fill spray bottles (you can color the water with food coloring if your child isn’t sensitive to dyes) and have water fights. Or, glide across the backyard on for classic outdoor fun.
#7. “Cook” with your hands. Make dough from flour, water, and salt. Knead it, roll it or form round “cookies” with it.
Use Muscles and Joints to Build Body Awareness
If your child is showing signs of irritation, low energy while playing with others, seeking hand or body squeezes, or bumping into things, they are looking for proprioceptive input — sensations from joints and muscles. These lifting, pushing, and pulling activities can help.
#8. Build an obstacle course indoors and/or out. Use a variety of furniture, mats, boxes, chairs, and other objects to create a dynamic course that requires running, jumping, moving, and lifting objects, using the body’s weight, rolling, and balancing. Set time limits and goals, and get involved yourself to increase motivation.
#9. Exercise using their own body’s weight 15 minutes at a time. Begin with a 5-minute warm-up, then complete a minimum of three sets, 10 reps of five or more exercises such as push-ups, planks, sit-ups, and wall squats. End with a few minutes of slower-paced moves to cool down. Encourage your child to do these workouts twice a day several times each week.
#10. Drop down to the floor and play. If floor mats aren’t available, play using soft items such as pillows, mattresses, blankets, or soft furniture. Encourage coordination through climbing, jumping, moving, pushing, and rolling on, around, or through these items.
#11. Crawl like a spider. Imitating how animals move can be a great motivator during transition times. Challenge your child to climb like a cat. Move like a monkey. Or call out different animals and have your child show you how they move.
#12. Play with pillows. Have an old-fashioned pillow fight or get inside the pillowcase and have a sack race across your playroom. Body socks are another form of sensory-stimulating fun.
#13. Give body massages at least once a day. Focus on the arms, legs, and back and use different levels of pressure to foster greater awareness of body parts.
#14. Use weighted products. Weighted blankets can be useful during stationary tasks or when making transitions. You can also fill a backpack or fanny pack with toys to add weight.
Improve Balance and Coordination to Strengthen the Vestibular Sense
Any type of movement can stimulate the vestibular receptors — centered in the fluid found in the inner ear. Use these activities during transitions between activities or prior to starting a new, challenging task. You can also offer them when a child is spinning, running, or jumping excessively.
#15. I recommend purchasing a swing set online. They can be pricey but worth the money. Regular swings are an acceptable — though somewhat limited — substitute. Tire swings are great, but you can also take your child for a spin on the grass or carpet using an old sheet. *Important Note: To avoid overstimulation, do not permit spinning for more than 15 minutes at a time and be sure there are 30-minute breaks in between spin sessions.
#16. Jump for joy. When your child appears dysregulated, take movement breaks on a mini trampoline or the one outside in your backyard. You can also have them jump in place. Be sure to set limits on how much they should jump and explain when jumping is socially appropriate.
#17. Have a daily dance party. Dancing to music or playing dance video games is a great social and stimulating activity. Encourage dancing several times each day for at least five minutes at a time.
#18. Scoot around on scooters. Your child will have a lot more fun getting where they need to go on a scooter. The best ones are flat and can accommodate both sitting or reclining positions.
#19. Practice gymnastics. Gymnastics forces the brain to work in coordination with the body and helps with motor skill development. Rope swings and backyard rings are good options. A balance beam is another great way to build awareness about the body while balancing.
#20. Your child can bounce to their heart’s content seated on a yoga ball.
#21. When your child needs to be stationary for a while, these seating options are a better way to go - Wobble Chairs.