Toys and Equipment for a Sensory Diet: Get Them Moving!
A sensory diet of activities and accommodations helps a child or teen with sensory processing disorder to stay regulated throughout the day. Over time, a sensory diet will actually train the brain to process sensory information more typically, lessening sensory issues and improving self-regulation skills. Here are some ideas for toys and equipment for a sensory diet that you can purchase–or in some case, create on your own.
A crash pad. You want your sensory child to be able to jump onto, or throw himself/herself onto, a soft landing spot or “crash pad” that will provide deep pressure against the skin (tactile input) and joints and ligaments (proprioceptive input) as part of what sensory smart occupational therapists call “heavy work.” You can buy a crash pad like the one below or create one with cushions, pillows, and foam pieces or blocks.
A trampoline, mini trampoline, or rebounder. I’m not a fan of big trampolines because of the potential for serious injury–it’s difficult to get kids to obey the rules of only one jumper at a time, stay in the middle, and don’t do any flips. However, there are many small trampolines available that can provide excellent input as part of a sensory diet. Also, many sensory kids find it easier to spell their spelling words, and recite their time tables or other facts they have to memorize for school, while getting movement (vestibular input), proprioceptive input, and tactile input (on the soles of the feet). Bouncing on a minitramp can also be terrific for calming an anxious child or teen. You can get versions with a handle or without.
A punching bag or heavy bag. Heavy bags are not just for boxers. Hitting or kicking them can be a part of a sensory diet, so they’re great for kids with sensory issues. Punching bags can be helpful, too, but be sure to get one that’s reasonably sturdy so your child can get plenty of "heavy work" (deep pressure and proprioceptive input) without breaking the bag!
A swing. All sorts of swings can be helpful for sensory kids. If you can, install one indoors for when the weather is harsh and you can’t use the ones in your backyard or at a local playground. A gentle hammock-type net swing (as seen below), a platform swing, a tire swing, or a regular swing that moves back and forth can all be good choices.
A spinning disk toy. Sit n Spin is the classic spinning disk toy. You can often find a version without annoying music and lights if you look on eBay, or you can remove the batteries. Some children find it difficult to work the “handle” that spins a Sit n Spin, and it only holds very small children, so you might want to try a sturdier disk such as the Dizzy Disk instead.
Sleds. If you live in a climate where you can take your child sledding, a sled or inflatable sledding tube is a great piece of sensory diet equipment. I particularly like sledding tubes, which are like inner tubes and provide some cushioning for the child or teen going down the hillI’ve got more movement toy suggestions on my website’s Vestibular Equipment page. Remember, too, that helmets are a good thing–for using a bike or scooter, for ice or roller skating, for sledding, and more. Keep it safe–but get them the movement they need.
You will find many great products for vestibular input, propioceptive input, and more at the Sensory Smarts Shop.
Learn more about sensory processing issues and your child in the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child.
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