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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.