Sensory Integration Toys and Products for Children and Adults With Special Needs
Sensory integration (SI) is the process the brain uses to organize and interpret information received from all senses, including sight, smell, sound, taste, touch, body awareness, movement and gravitational pull. Many kids develop sensory integration during normal childhood activities, but some are not able to develop it as efficiently as they should. Sensory integration disorders can lead to learning, behavioral or developmental problems.
Sensory integration therapy can help children with SI disorders by exposing them to structured and repetitive sensory stimulation. Over time, the child’s brain adapts and starts to process sensory stimulations more efficiently. Through their positive experiences with sensory stimulation, children and adults can engage more with different sensations and situations. Over time, they’ll be able to continue processing new experiences in the real world.
An important aspect of SI therapy is the use of carefully designed activities and accommodation. This process could happen in the form of special sensory processing disorder products and sensory room items. Some of the products that have helped people during SI therapy include activity mats, ball chairs and clampable sensory trays.
What Are Sensory Items and Sensory Toys?
Sensory toys for children on the autism spectrum and special needs enable them to receive one or more of the sensory inputs they crave. They can keep a child engaged physically and mentally by stimulating senses such as taste, smell, touch, sound, sight, movement and balance. Special needs sensory toys may have sharply contrasting colors or produce sounds and stimulate two or more senses during play. The toys can capture the attention of children, and they may be used as rewards during behavioral analysis programs. For those with ADHD, sensory toys serve as good fidget toys that boost concentration and improve focus. They also help people who need to keep their hands busy to pay attention and listen.
Specially designed to help children experience sensory stimulation in a safe and controlled environment, these sensory and autism toys allow them to experience the world in new ways. These toys engage specific senses and empower children to process new information through their senses in a gentle way that helps them feel comfortable and relaxed.
Types of Sensory Products
Sensory products for kids on the autism spectrum and other special needs can be categorized based on the sensory systems. They include the following.
If your child is sensitive to auditory input, your occupational therapist may recommend auditory sensory products for use at home and school. Some of the most widely used products include:
- White noise machines: A white noise machine relieves stress and anxiety caused by overstimulating ambient noise. It can mimic calming sounds like rushing waterfalls, crickets chirping, wind blowing through trees or fans blowing air.
- Noise-canceling headphones: Noise-cancelling headphones present another way to combat over auditory stimulation. They muffle and reduce ambient sounds.
- Drums of different shapes and sizes: Drums of different shapes and sizes offer an opportunity to improve a child’s auditory processing.
- Earplugs: Earplugs are a safe, comfortable way to block out sounds, promoting calmness and controlling auditory stressors. They also help improve concentration by limiting distractions.
- Boom whackers: Boom whackers are lightweight color-coded tubes with lengths corresponding to musical pitches. They’re a fun, creative way to learn about sound and develop auditory processing.
These options help children engage with new sounds in a fun and interactive way, allowing them to increase their comfort with auditory inputs.
Scents can stimulate our memory, help us identify foods and flowers and alert us to danger. Products that stimulate the olfactory sense may be integrated into a child’s daily routine, placed in a room or worn with clothing, including:
- Scented pencils: Scented pencils are ideal sensory toys for a learning or creative environment. Each pencil has a unique scent, such as bubble gum, watermelon, black cherry or pineapple. They can help some children on the autism spectrum learn to recognize different scents.
- Scented bubbles: Scented bubbles engage multiple senses at once, including sight, smell and touch. They can help a child on the autism spectrum or other special needs develop joint attention skills.
- Scented chewies: Chewy toys give children on the autism spectrum something they can safely chew on for stress relief, made from food-grade materials. Scented chewy toys help create scent associations and develop oral motor skills, as well.
- Scented markers: Scented markers are perfect for art therapy, helping associate scents and colors.
- Scented dough: Molding dough helps children on the autism spectrum in many different ways. The act of rolling, kneading and flattening the dough relieves stress and refines motor skills. Adding scents can supplement the calming effects.
Working with objects that have different smells can give children the tools to process these new sensory stimulations and begin to tolerate and engage with them.
Oral motor activities include chewing and sucking. They provide proprioceptive input to the child’s jaw. Some of these sensory products can be used to promote replacement behaviors for chewing non-food objects and clothing. Some oral-motor products include:
- Chewelry: Chewelry, as the name suggests, is chewable jewelry. It provides a safe alternative for children who tend to chew on non-food-grade items. Because it’s wearable, chewelry is easy to access all day long. If you’re looking for stress-relief toys you can take on the go, chewelry is a good choice.
- Chew beads: Chew beads are a popular form of chewelry. You can find them as necklaces or bracelets.
- Horns and whistles: Horns and whistles make great oral-motor toys, also stimulating the auditory sense. You can find a wide range of different horn and whistle toys, each producing unique sounds.
- Electric toothbrushes: Electric toothbrushes stimulate multiple senses with their textures, colors and vibrations. They’re helpful sensory toys with the added benefit of promoting oral hygiene.
- Bubble blowers: Bubbles are visually stimulating and fun. They also help certain children on the autism spectrum learn to make round lip shapes and control their breath, both skills necessary for speech.
These toys provide sensory stimulation that engages the child’s mouth in safe chewing and sucking exercises.
Visual products can help a child or adult stay calm and focused while reducing visual overload on the eyes. These visual toys should be included in any sensory toolbox:
- Light and movement projectors: Light and movement projectors create mesmerizing visual displays for calming purposes.
- Different types of mazes: Mazes are excellent visual puzzles that help develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
- Puzzles: Puzzles of any kind are ideal children’s toys, promoting critical thinking and spatial relation awareness.
- Spirographs: A spirograph is a geometric drawing device that helps introduce children to math and shapes.
- Liquid motion toys: Liquid motion toys move in response to a child’s touch — they work well as sensory fidget toys.
- Water beads: Water beads are water-absorbing spheres. They’re squishy, slippery and colorful.
- Bubble tubes: Bubble tubes contain ever-changing bubble displays. They help with color recognition and visual development.
With creative ways to engage their visual perception, visual sensory toys allow kids to become more comfortable with visual stimuli while staying calm.
Deep touch and deep pressure tools can stimulate the tactile receptors. Stimulated tactile receptors can release serotonin in the brain to improve mood and help sensory regulation. Examples of tactile sensory products include:
- Ball pits: Ball pits provide an immersive tactile experience involving the entire body.
- Ball chairs: Ball chairs are a fun way to promote muscle development and balance.
- Weighted lap pads: Weighted lap pads help children on the autism spectrum stay calm and focused in a learning environment or elsewhere.
- Weighted blankets: Weighted blankets have calming qualities, providing deep pressure.
- Vibrating massagers: A vibrating massager creates sensory interest and stress relief.
- Scalp massagers: Scalp massagers are a popular form of vibrating massager for calming purposes.
- Back scratchers: Back scratchers can stimulate tactile senses in harder-to-reach places, meanwhile discouraging harmful scratching.
Products that apply these types of pressure can help children relax and grow more comfortable with tactile experiences as they touch different textures in other environments.
The Benefits of Having Sensory Toys In Your Classroom
Every classroom should have sensory toys on hand, as sensory experiences offer many benefits. Here are some of the reasons to have sensory toys in the classroom.
One of the main advantages of sensory toys is their calming effects. Sensory toys can soothe or refocus attention. They are common autism resources for handling overstimulation. Noise-canceling headphones, chewable jewelry, weighted pads and other toys have soothing capabilities, suitable for relaxing students who are stressed, anxious or fidgety.
Can Provide Additional Stimulation
Sensory stimulation promotes self-awareness and connection with surroundings. Students sometimes need additional stimulation to be able to concentrate in the classroom. Small toys designed for fidgeting and sensory stimulation can result in a more focused, productive learning environment.
Helps Students Socialize
Sensory toys also promote socialization and social play. They give children the chance to explore their senses together. For instance, drums create auditory stimulation for all nearby children, and groups can cooperate to create rhythms together. Bubbles create visual stimulation, and kids can take turns blowing bubbles and chasing them. Toys like these give kids a chance to take turns while still participating in the meantime.
Sensory toys can also help improve focus. They foster awareness of a child’s surroundings, which the child can use to better concentrate in real-life situations, including classrooms. Toys for kids who struggle to focus include fidget toys of various shapes, textures and colors.
Improves Motor Skills
Muscle movement, balance and hand-eye coordination are all skills children have to develop with practice. Sensory toys provide an opportunity to support and refine these skills. For instance, molding dough requires dexterity and strength to create desired shapes. Other helpful sensory toys include equipment that promotes jumping, bouncing and core stabilization.
Improves Cognitive Development
Sensory experiences are key for cognitive development. They help a child learn to process experiences and handle simulating real-world environments. Sensory toys also help children learn about cause and effect, seeing how their actions influence the world around them.
Improves Sensory Development
A child’s brain reacts to sensory input in complex ways. Sensory toys help kids explore their senses in a safe, controlled setting. They help children learn to process and anticipate sensory experiences beyond the classroom.
What Is the Purpose of Sensory Play?
Sensory play is any type of activity that can stimulate someone’s senses. Kids learn best and retain the greatest volume of information when their senses are effectively engaged. For example, if you learned the lyrics of a song with a friend in childhood, as soon as you hear the tune, your brain will create a flashback memory to your childhood years.
Sensory play aids mental development through exploration and can help your child’s brain make strong connections for processing and responding to sensory information. Some of the vital benefits of sensory play include that it:
- Builds nerve connections in the brain’s pathways that can help a child handle complex learning tasks
- Aids the development of language, boosts cognitive growth and sharpens motor skills
- Enhances social interaction and problem-solving skills
- Can calm a frustrated or anxious child
- Helps children learn important sensory attributes like dry, wet, cold, hot and sticky
How Sensory Products Can Provide Calm
Sensory products and sensory rooms are beneficial to those who have ADHD, autism or sensory processing disorder. Calming toys help people on the autism spectrum to relax in stress-inducing situations. They provide a soothing effect when a person is experiencing a meltdown or sensory challenge. They can be used in the classroom, home or clinic and may be applied as an integral part of a calming room to help both children and adults go to sleep. The key features that create this calm can include weight, vibration, a soft surface, gentle massaging and a rhythmic sound.
Shop for Sensory Products Online With Enabling Devices
Sensory toys offer a wide range of benefits for children on the autism spectrum. Some toys serve to soothe and calm an overstimulated child. Other toys help children learn about the world around them and how their actions affect it. Sensory toys can also help develop motor skills, including oral motor skills. If you’re looking for sensory toys, shop with Enabling Devices.
At Enabling Devices, we’ve spent over 40 years creating products to help those with disabilities participate in the world. Our goals are to enable possibility, unlock potential and bring joy. If you’re unable to find the product you need, we can custom-design a new product for you.
Browse Enabling Devices’ sensory toys above for children on the autism spectrum and other disabilities.