Sensory Integration Activities are the lifeline to providing and achieving the necessary challenges for your child so they maximize:
From the womb into adulthood, our neurological systems are developing
and processing an overwhelming amount of sensory information every day.
Our system must then interpret this information and make it ready to be
tolerated and used for specific purposes.
If this normal developmental process is hindered in any way, it can cause detrimental effects. Proper intake and use of sensory input is absolutely critical to a child's maturation process and the building of core, foundational skills. I certainly can not stress this enough... it is that important!
The best part about sensory integration activities is the creative fun
you can have coming up with ideas, playing with your child using sensory
input, or purchasing unique toys and products anyone would love! (I'll be honest, sometimes adults need and love these products as much as, if not more than, the child!)
In fact, because these treatment activities are so fun, creative, and unique, it often doesn't even look like "therapy". That is why we, as Occupational Therapists are a great profession... it is almost like turning work into play.
Children just think they are having fun when they are actually working strenuously at building essential skills with their bodies and better neurological systems.
It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, consistency and persistence, but in the end, you will have a thriving child who can regulate sensory input much more effectively.
The variety of sensory integration activities is endless... only limited
by your creativity and imagination! The good news is... because we, as professionals, treat children with sensory processing disorders, as well as children just trying to meet normal developmental milestones, AND we treat them in a variety of settings, we have found thousands of activities to address sensory integration / sensory processing needs!
I truly wish I could share with you every possible activity. But, seeing as that would be a daunting and impossible task, I will instead talk about some of the most basic, most popular, most requested, fun and proven to work sensory integration activities. This, in itself, will give you a solid foundation for treatment, an understanding of why they are used, and you will be well on your way to enhancing and maximizing your child's potential!
Bear in mind, each of the following activities are in no particular hierarchy and most of them will have articles, e-books, products or merchants that they will point you to (any not listed will be coming soon!).
Below is just a brief introduction to each of the sensory integration activities. You will find more information throughout this site and through the hundreds of links provided. Well, let's go!
For An Indispensable activity guide for kids with SPD check out The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun, Revised Edition: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder ... Highly Recommended!
Sensory Integration Activities:
1. Play Doh, Gak, Glop, Funny Foam,
2. Heavy Work
3. Sleep Programs / Products:
And, check out my article, Helping Babies Sleep for tips and resources for you and your little ones.
4. Sand And Water Play:
Playing in the sand or water provides essential yet fun
ways to experience necessary tactile input. Use your creativity,
get plenty of towels, and have fun filling these tables with sand, rice,
shaving cream, water, or any textured substance you can think of. Of
course, put little toys in as well to encourage exploration.
5. Vestibular Movement:
Children NEED to move! For some it is difficult due to
fears, for others they just can't seem to get enough. Check out the
Sensory Processing Disorder Symptom Checklist to find out if your
child shows signs of vestibular and/or proprioceptive disorders.
Vestibular movement (and proprioceptive input) can rev you up or calm you
down. Either way, this input is necessary and will be a critical component
Aromatherapy is a wonderfully therapeutic way to address
7. Massagers, Vibrating Toys And Products:
Vibration is an essential tool when doing sensory integration activities and therapy. You will rarely find an Occupational Therapist working with children who have sensory processing disorders without vibration products and toys. They can be used in many ways to calm or stimulate. Vibration is a critical sensation which, for some, may take months or years to tolerate.
Here are some suggestions/products/ideas...
8. Wilbarger Brushing Protocol:
Warning: This is a widely used but highly specialized treatment
used only under the direction of a trained Occupational Therapist.
9. Recipes And Hints For Picky Eaters:
Trust me, I KNOW how frustrating a "picky eater" can be... I have one! See my
There Page to see what me and my child have been through!
10. Play Tunnels And Tents:
11. Proprioceptive Activities:
These activities are almost endless in choices. Proprioception refers to
input to the muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue.
It refers to motor control and planning, body awareness, grading of movement
(knowing how "hard" or "soft" to perform a task), and postural stability.
Click Here For Fun Proprioceptive Games And Activities
12. Sensory Rooms:
AAAAH, this is my favorite one!
Whether you have a sensory processing disorder or not, I firmly believe every house, clinic, school, rehab facility, nursing home etc. should have a sensory room!
Couldn't we all use a little more help and time to relax and unwind every day??? Once you learn about these rooms and the AWESOME products you could surround yourself with, you might just be longing for one too!
I must admit, one of my "dreams" is to have my bedroom (or a special room in the house) be a sensory room of pure delight and relaxation!
Now for the fun... what can you put in a sensory room? It definitely will depend for what and whom you are using it. It will also depend how much money and space you have available (bummer, I know).
Here are a few ideas...
For Pure Relaxation:
For Sensory Experiences With Individuals Who Fear Or Need More...
Truthfully I could write for hours on this, help you develop a personalized room, and give you hundreds of ideas and suggestions... now THAT is fun! If I could be your private consultant I would, but for now, I can lead you to some general information, ideas and products...
No, it's not Atkins, South Beach or Slim Fast... Despite what you may have thought, this actually has nothing to do with food, fat, sugar, carbs or counting calories!
A sensory diet is, rather, a "diet" of activities and sensory input for your body and neurological system.
You may already have heard of it, had it recommended for your child, or be saying, HUH? For the latter group, let me briefly explain...
Just the same way your body needs food evenly spaced throughout the day, so does your body need activities to keep it's arousal level optimal.
Sensory diets are usually developed for individuals who need a large amount of sensory input throughout the day, however, they can be used in other ways as well. Perhaps the lethargic, disengaged, or fearful individual needs to be "woken" up throughout the day and exposed to input they may not normally receive. Then a sensory diet may be appropriate for them too.
Doctors have to figure out one's metabolism, amount of food, calories, type of food, and frequency to eat based on an individual's needs and body to keep the body functioning at it's optimal level. Someone trying to keep blood sugar levels regulated and 100 lbs overweight will eat differently than someone weighing 90 lbs who is dealing with anorexia.
Similarly, Occupational Therapists also need to figure out the amount, type, and frequency of activities one needs to function at their optimal level. Same idea, just different "food".
Warning: Just as any diet should be prescribed and followed under the care and supervision of a doctor, so also the sensory diet needs to be "prescribed" and followed under the care and supervision of an Occupational Therapist. It requires skill, art, knowledge, and experience.
Many of the books I highly recommend at my store will give you some
basic information about sensory diets as well. Feel free to check them out at
SPD Book Store.
14. Oral Motor Toys / Products / Games:
Occupational Therapists and Speech Therapists treat hundreds of children every day who have difficulties with oral motor control and difficulty regulating sensory input in the mouth (hypo- or hyper- sensitive).
These are the children who have difficulties with speech, eating, are constantly putting things in their mouth, drooling, or never eating anything besides applesauce and yogurt.
Click here for the Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist to see if your child has signs of sensory dysfunction regarding oral input.
It is rare you will find either therapist walking around without a bag full of oral motor toys.
Toys we love include...
Again, creativity is key!
There is an endless list of activities that children can do to improve their oral motor control and give their mouths more, or the right type of input.
This is often one of the parts of sensory integration activities and therapy children look forward to most... we put a lot of fun and sometimes bizarre creativity into it, but it works!
15. Sensory Toys:
Well, you talk about a list of endless possibilities, this would be it! Sensory toys are everywhere. We can also find ways to turn any toy into a sensory toy, just by using it differently.
Just know this, the toys I will be showing you and discussing are going to be more "unique" toys you may not see everyday, or, toys you do but I will suggest a different way to use them.
This is the easiest way to perform sensory integration activities... using toys already made and targeted for sensory input. Luckily, many toy companies have recognized the need for multiple types of sensory input in infants and children. It is HUGELY important for proper development.
A taste of some of the MANY different sensory toys...
Just think of all your senses. Now think of all the
toys that could address any one or combination of these senses! Almost
overwhelming isn't it?
These are extremely therapeutic activities for children with sensory processing difficulties. They calm, they regulate, they relax! For kids who have difficulty regulating their arousal level and calming their bodies down, it is all about the "squishing"! These kids absolutely love to be flattened and steamrolled, sat on, laid on and pressed on.
Believe it or not, they need it, crave it and will beg for it once they have been introduced to some fun ways of achieving this deep pressure input.
The key is giving and showing them appropriate ways to get this input and helping them realize not everyone likes to be "flattened like a pancake". This, in turn, can improve social relationships significantly, as you could well imagine!
Here are some ideas...
We see SO MANY children with sensory processing difficulties who have significant handwriting problems. Their writing is messy, labored, they press to hard or too light, it is illegible, takes them too long, their hands are tired and sore, they write letters backwards etc. Messages are not being received or perceived correctly and handwriting becomes a dreaded task. This too is one of the earliest signs of problems and often picked up by parents or teachers. You may notice these children have awkward and inefficient grips on their writing utensils and difficulty cutting as well.
Fine motor coordination becomes difficult and labored. Consequently, the children avoid these tasks and become very frustrated. There are hundreds of fine motor activities we use with these children to improve their skills. And, of course, we always try to make them fun!
Here are a few ideas...
Handwriting and fine motor skills are absolutely essential skills which kids must develop to maximize potential at school and home.
It is a foundational skill which will negatively affect many aspects of functioning if not achieved... from dressing to handwriting, shoe tying to typing, strength and endurance, putting items together to manipulating small objects.
Children with sensory processing disorders face many challenges in developing appropriate and rewarding relationships with their peers. There can be so many obstacles which hinder this development and will become another contributing factor to low self-esteem and isolation.
We often treat children with such diagnoses as; Aspergers, ADD, ADHD, Autism, and PDD (among others of course). A major "symptom" of these disabilities is difficulty relating to and developing appropriate social relationships, as they tend to miss "social cues". Couple this with sensory processing difficulties which ALSO affect children's abilities to develop relationships. That's right, DOUBLE WHAMMY!
Consequently, these children become either too energetic, too rough, can't sit still, impulsive, fearful, withdrawn, aggressive, suffer learning difficulties, or are just plain old misunderstood and negatively labeled by their peers. Therefore, other children tend to avoid them because they are "difficult" to play with.
Some of these children are extremely challenging and they need our help as early in life as possible before a lack of appropriate social skills impedes their development to an extreme.
When working with children on sensory integration activities, we often work in groups which is one of the best ways to address and treat any social skill problem.
Part of treatment is helping them learn to read social cues, respond to their peers, wait, take turns, win or lose appropriately, and share similar experiences. Often, peer treatment is good too if one brings another out of their shell and gets them to try new things, or calms the other one down purely by watching, encouraging, or modeling behavior.
There are many social skills games and activities that can be played with monitoring and guidance from a therapist, teacher or parent. Social skills are incredibly important and developing these skills is an inherent part of sensory integration activities and therapy.
Recommended SPD Resources
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