As we wind down on Austim Awareness Month, I wanted to post something directly related to it. Whether or not you have a child with special needs, children’s sensory toys can help any child to calm down. They can especially be useful for toddlers. Gone are the days when old-fashioned time-outs made a difference. Now, adults are encouraged to help children to calm themselves rather than isolating them with no explanation.
Before we dive into some of the best sensory toys, it may help to give some background information on them first.
Sensory Processing Disorder/Autism
Sensory issues are often associated wtih autism. A separate issue, Sensory Processing Disorder, affects many children and adults. While the majority of those on the autism spectrum have some form of sensory processing disorder, it’s not necessary to be on the spectrum to have sensory processing disorder.
Sensory issues over-responsiveness or under-responsiveness to different stimuli. Sometimes a child gets overwhelmed at an amusement park through an overwhelming combination of people, loud noises, a variety of food smells, and more. If they begin to get irritable, a parent may assume they’re misbehaving. In reality, he may not know how to deal with his overwhelming feelings, so he begins to act out.
Stimuli affects our senses in sights, sounds, balance, awareness, tastes, and touch. Things that we take for granted, can send a child with sensory processing disorder into a tailspin. Over-responsiveness or hyper-sensitivities show in symptoms such as:
- A dislike to being touched, refuses hugs or cuddles even from adults known to him or her
- Distraction from noises that others don’t notice, such as the hum of an air-conditioner
- Fearful of crowds
- Fear or dislike of playground equipment such as swings
- Poor balance, may fall a lot
On the opposite end, child can also suffer from under-responsiveness to different stimuli. Under-responsiveness or hypo-sensitivities show in symptoms such as:
- May unintentionally harm children or animals during play, not understanding his or her own strength
- Unable to sit still
- May touch others often, even when inappropriate. Little regard for personal space. May constantly rub different textures such as fur
- High tolerance to pain
- May take unnecessary risks, seems fearless in dangerous situations
- Children with hypo-sensitivities may also show signs of clumsiness or poor balance
Similar symptoms may cause some to confuse hypo-sensitivities with behavioral disorders or ADHD. However, there are clear differences. For more information on hypo and hyper-sensitivities, click here.
What Is A Sensory Toy?
A sensory “toy” really isn’t a toy in the sense of the word. It’s more like a tool that a child can use to self-soothe. Like a baby cuddles with a pacifier, toy manufacturers are creating products that children can turn to after they’ve outgrown the pacifier.
Special needs child care has many of these tools to help a child self-soothe following a meltdown. Some general child care facilities and regular education teachers gather some of these sensory to use in their classrooms. A daycare I’ve worked in set up a tent in the classroom and instead of using time out, they would ask children, “Do you need to go in the tent?”, where there would be some sensory processing items for a child to help calm themselves.
A teacher or parent may choose to keep all of these items together and bring them out when they feel they’re needed. Try a sensory toy multi-pack like this one.
Sensory Processing Toys