For kids dealing with sensory processing disorders (SPD), the world can seem like a big, confusing place. Things like loud noises, strange textures, or sudden movements can be bothersome. But there’s good news! Fun sensory activities can make a big difference. They’re not only enjoyable but also important for helping kids manage their senses and feelings. It’s amazing how little changes, like playing with sand or swinging, can help them grow and feel better.

What Are Sensory Processing Disorders?

Sensory processing is all about how our nervous system takes in information from our senses and uses it to guide our actions and behavior. But when a child has SPD, their brain has a tough time making sense of all that input, which can make everyday tasks tricky. It might show up as being really sensitive to things like noise or touch, or not being sensitive enough. They might also have trouble with things like moving around smoothly or managing their emotions.

How Can I Create a Sensory-Friendly Environment?

Before diving into the activities, let’s talk about setting up a space where sensory-sensitive kids can thrive. It’s all about making the environment comfy and calming, with fewer things that might bother them. Think about things like how bright the lights are, how loud it is, and what textures they might encounter. Creating cozy corners with gentle lighting, offering noise-canceling headphones, and having weighted blankets handy can give them a safe place to calm down when things get too much. 

Sensory-Regulating Activities

Deep Pressure Activities

Deep pressure can have a calming effect on children with sensory processing difficulties. Activities such as gentle hugs, weighted vests, or compression garments provide a comforting sensation. Rolling a therapy ball over the body or creating a cocoon with blankets during relaxation time can also offer soothing deep-pressure input.

Proprioceptive Input

When kids have SPD, their sense of body awareness, called proprioception, can be a bit off-kilter. Jumping on a trampoline, moving heavy stuff around, or having some playful wrestling time can give them the input they need. Plus, yoga poses like downward dog or warrior pose, which work those muscles, can be super helpful too.

Sensory Integration Activities

Sensory integration activities are all about helping the brain get better at sorting out sensory info. So, things like swinging, spinning, or rocking can give the vestibular system a workout, which helps with balance and knowing where you are in space. And sensory bins filled with stuff like rice, beans, or sand let kids dive into different textures in a safe and fun way.

Calming Sensory Experiences

For children who are easily overwhelmed by sensory input, calming experiences are essential. Engage in activities like listening to soft music or nature sounds, aromatherapy with soothing scents like lavender, or practicing deep breathing exercises. Creating a sensory diet tailored to the child’s needs can help incorporate these calming experiences into their daily routine.

 Art and Creative Expression

Art is a fantastic way for kids with SPD to let their creativity flow and explore their senses at the same time. Set them up with a bunch of different art supplies, like clay, finger paints, or textured paper, so they can feel and create in different ways. And don’t be afraid to get messy! Let them dive in and explore how each material feels on their hands—it’s all part of the fun and learning.

The Benefits Beyond Regulation

Supporting children with sensory processing disorders requires a patient and understanding approach, along with a commitment to creating environments that cater to their unique needs. By integrating sensory-regulating activities into their daily routines, we can empower these children to flourish and realize their full potential. It’s important to recognize that each child is different, so it’s crucial to observe and adapt activities to suit their individual preferences and sensitivities.

Sensory play hits on every aspect of a child’s development, offering a variety of benefits. From enhancing motor skills as they navigate through mazes to fostering language abilities as they describe their adventures, these activities are like a Swiss army knife of learning. Let’s not forget the social skills they promote! Sharing sensory experiences with others teaches kids the importance of cooperation and communication from an early age. But perhaps the most magical aspect of sensory activities is their role in emotional regulation.

Imagine a child gently swaying back and forth on a swing, their worries decreasing with each motion. It’s a powerful image that speaks volumes about the therapeutic nature of sensory play. As children immerse themselves in imaginary worlds within sensory contexts, they also learn to navigate the complexities of their emotions, emerging as more resilient and empathetic individuals.

Sensory activities transcend mere play; they represent a journey of discovery and growth. By encouraging children to explore the world through their senses, we’re not just fostering development; we’re nurturing their spirits. So, the next time you witness a child deeply engaged in sensory play, take a moment to marvel at the wonders unfolding before you. In those moments of joy and exploration lies the true magic of childhood.

About Julia DeNey

Julia DeNey is the founder of Sense-ational You, a clothing brand designed to empower children with ASD and SPD. Before starting her company, Julia studied fashion design at Cornell and served as an education technician where she worked closely with many students on the autism spectrum. Her clothing has been featured in Good Housekeep and The Boston Globe, in addition to being a CNMI Sustainable Fashion Award finalist.