Children with sensory processing disorder are constantly in search of ways to regulate their nervous systems and organize input coming from the environment. There are varying levels of processing difficulties for a child with SPD. The holidays can be very difficult with constant stimuli and finding the best toys for sensory seekers can be challenging. Many sensory toys serve as wonderful therapeutic tools for children with special needs.
Based on our home occupational therapy room and therapist recommendations, I’ve created the Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide for Sensory Seekers. I hope tohelp make your holiday shopping a little easier this year with kid-tested, mom, OT approved gift ideas for children on the autistic spectrum, sensory seekers, and all kids that enjoy tactile input and movement.
Creating a Sensory Diet: TOYS & THERAPY TOOLS
A sensory diet is a specifically tailored, daily schedule of sensory activities, that engage a child, providing the proper amount of input for balancing the nervous system. Developing the appropriate diet, enables the child to focus and handle daily situations. My child is sensory craving, particularly to vestibular and proprioceptive input such as movement, deep pressure, volume, space, and intense energy. Our sensory diet includes most of the toys and tools in our gift guide and have been instrumental in our development. Sensory gifts are fun for all children.
Children seeking tactile input, frequently crave touch–bear hugs, tickling, massages, and certain textures. Their nervous system craves more input to organize and process stimuli. Fidget toys can help to increase focus and concentration, reduce stress, and provide sensory input to help regulate the nervous system.
POPPING PEEPER FROG FIDGET TOY is a wonderful self-regulation tool for children. It helps to keep the fingers busy and provide a soothing, calming effect. We discovered Peeper Frog at the doctors and he’s been a great stress-reducing aid ever since. They come in all different, fun animals, too—a penguin, cow, fish, pig, and adorable alligator.
TANGLE FIDGET TOYS are a big favorite in our house. Each piece is covered with a soft rubberized material that is designed for maximum tactile pleasure. With 20 pieces interconnected, this twisty toy keeps your fingers good and busy.
SENSORY PUZZLE BLOCKS have been a great therapeutic toy in our occupational therapy room. They help develop motor skills, hand-eye coordination, tactile sensory skills, and visual sensory development. Ages 2+.
FAT BRAIN TOBBLES are baby’s favorite toy. They stack, topple, spin, balance, wobble, tilt, wiggle, and roll. They’re wonderful for tactile input, fine motor skills, coordination, and visual spatial acuity. In addition to that, they’re helping her fine-tune her stacking skills.
GUIDECRAFT 3D FEEL & FIND PLAY SET contains 20 matching wooden shapes and printed tiles in a reusable, durable cloth bag. It’s a great visual and tactile exercise.TEXTURED BALLS are fun for all ages. Varying textures provides calming tactile input. BPA-Free; 6 easy-to-grab textured balls.LEARNING RESOURCES GEARS provide hours of fun while introducing children to basic principles of mechanics. The different designs stimulates color perception and creativity. This is a great addition to any little builders collection. Ages 3 +. THERAPY PUDDY is awesome and a great alternative to play dough for those with gluten sensitivities. It’s silicone-based, non-toxic, and great for resistance, proprioceptive input as well as tactile. The quantities are small, but very efficient for little hands.
EDUCATIONAL INSIGHTS DINO SET PLAYFOAM is perfect for sculpting squishy, squishy creations. It eencourages creativity and self-expression, provides tactile and sensory stimulation, and develops fine motor skills too.
LEARNING RESOURCES TEACHING TAC-TILES are great for tactile input and fine motor development. We also use them for color matching and shape recognition for my youngest. Set includes 20 easy-to-clean plastic pieces (5 shapes with 4 different textures each), 10 activity cards, and drawstring storage bag.
KINETIC PLAY SAND is a new experience for us and oh, so fun! Bonus, its gluten-free. We hold off with our little one due to her constant oral fixation still. But, it’s great for those seeking a fun tactile experience.
Children seeking oral-motor input crave certain textures, chewing, or suck excessively. Tools such as vibrating oral-motor chews, probe tips, and crunchy foods can provide calming, deep pressure and tactile sensory input. For us, oral motor therapy has been essential for improving speech and feeding skills.ARK’S Z-GRABBER VIBRATING CHEW TOOL is a wonderful therapeutic tool for oral motor exercises and sensory stimulation. It can help normalize sensitivities and reduce oral defensiveness. In our case, it was helpful to stimulate baby’s lips, cheeks, gums, jaw, and tongue to help desensitize the mouth, decrease oral aversions, and build oral strength due to extended periods of time with tubes in her mouth.
*As noted from the manufacture, Z-Grabber is NOT a toy. It is a therapeutic tool intended to be used by a professional therapist (or by parents trained by their therapist). It contains small parts (including a battery) that may pose a choking hazard: direct adult supervision is required at all times.
ARK’s BEAR CUP KIT has been instrumental in baby’s feeding development. For those having oral-motor difficulties – oral aversion, weak suck, or struggle with rate of fluid, this cup is very helpful. The select-flow valve allows you to control the flow of liquid and speed, allowing for smaller, more manageable sips. Baby learned to drink from a straw in under one week. We’re able to remove the valve now and drink freely. I highly recommend this cup.
CHEWY TUBES SUPER CHEW KNOBBY features easy-grasp, closed loop handles that are easy for little fingers to grasp and hold. Made with a solid stem, that’s designed especially for biting and chewing skill practice. Latex-free, lead-free, Non-toxic, and non-flavored.
SILICONE ORAL SENSORY CHEWABLE NECKLACE are safe and made of 100% food grade silicone and free of metals, lead and BPA. Children of all ages will enjoy the discrete look of these fashionable necklaces that will also satisfy their oral sensory needs. The pendants are fully adjustable in length and all the necklaces have a break away clasp for added safety.
Children seeking auditory input often enjoy loud noises, speak louder than is necessary (my son!), screech often such as “eeeeeeing…”sounds, and can crave load music to focus. The SPD and autism spectrum are so vast, so some children may experience only a few traits, while others many. For us, music provides balance and calmness.
BOOMWHACKERS® C Major Diatonic Scale Set are eight perfectly tuned percussion tubes that produce sound when sacked against a hard surface. Simply put, they rock! If your child loves music in general, this is a MUST TOY PICK. The color gradations provide an additional way to visualize the sequence of notes and an understanding of the spectrum.
NABI Headphones are well-used in-between our homeschooling subjects. Music provides a great break to get our wiggles out and refocus. Interestingly, if C is having a harder time focusing, his headphones really help. The are excellent professional-quality kid headphones and my favorite features are their noise cancellation capabilities and kid volume control feature (very important!) BONUS: They are $50 cheaper here!
MELISSA & DOUG MUSIC IN A BOX 10 piece set is chock-full of favorites guaranteed to bring hours of musical joy; all conveniently packed in a sturdy wooden storage case. Includes: Tambourine, Maracas, Clappers, Rhythm Sticks, Triangle, Cymbal. Ages 3+.
Guidecraft Jr. Rainbow Block 20 Piece Set are fun for all ages. My little loves them as well as my older son. The 20- piece set of colorful blocks are a great visual pick for those seeking a fun way to work on developing stacking skills.
HAPE ROCK AND RHYTHM SET was given to us as a gift and we use it daily in our sensory diet activities. Not only does it provide auditory input, but tactile as well. Another great feature is its keeps the kids entertained, provided YOU are ok with the noise. 😉
Children seeking visual input may stare intently at bright or spinning lights and possibly need a lot of light in a room to concentrate on the task at hand. For us, we don’t seem to experience any visual dysfunction at this time. However, we do love visually stimulating toys.
BUBBLE DROP MOTION TOYS or lava lamps, offer a calming visual stimulant. The motion and bright colors are pleasing to the eye.
HOBERMAN SPHERE provides visual stimulation as well as tactile input. This was the first therapy toy we purchased for our OT room. It includes 21 cool activities and is very versatile. It expands from 9.5″ to 30″ and can be attached to the ceiling allowing you to open and close the sphere.
Children seeking vestibular input often crave movements in head or body position–swinging, spinning, rolling, hanging upside-down, and balancing. Many seekers become overly excitable during movement activities—constantly fidget, bounce, tap, jump, and can be an excessive risk-taker.
*It is important to work with an occupational therapist to recognize and prevent signs of nervous system overload with excessive spinning, hanging, or swinging.
ACTIVE PLAY MONKEY BALANCE BOARD encourages physical activity by improving balance, coordination, and leg strength. The board can support weight in excess of 200 pounds. Ages 3+.
PLASTIC SCOOTER can accommodate a variety of movements which is wonderful for vestibular input. This is another top pick for calming the sensory system and it’s a ton of fun. Scooter can hold up to 175 lbs.
HANGING POD CHAIR AND SWING rocks! We have this swing chair in our OT room and we use it for reading, sensory input, and spinning. Swinging develops the sense of balance and body perception. It also brings a feeling of well-being and relaxation. Ages 3+ to adult; holds up to 175 lb. We added heavy-weight anchors and a 500 lbs. swivel clip for added security and easy of movement. Works great!
THERAPEUTIC SWING is a great therapy tool. We’ve used it several times in therapy and love it. For us, it’s a bit out of our price range at the moment, but on our wish list. The standard elastic therapeutic swing has a maximum capacity of 77 lbs., while the jumbo size has an increased capacity of 165 lbs (you can find here).
GONGE RIVERSTONES are a great tool for improving coordination and balance. Each side of the stones vary in steepness and difficulty providing much-needed input and fun. The rubber rim prevents slipping and provides tactile stimulation. They remind me or a mini rock wall, but for your feet.
MOLUK BILIBO shell seats are so much fun. You can rock, spin, hide under, sit on it, play peek-a-boo games with it, and more. It encourages open-ended play and helps children improve balance and coordination. Baby loves to put her toys in it as well.
RING AND TRAP COMBO is a must-have for ever therapy room and even playroom. Kids love to hang upside down, especially my sensory seeker. Hanging upside down provides the most intense input. Paired with a crash pad, they’re an excellent addition to children seeking vestibular input.
Children (my son) seeking proprioceptive input have excessive levels of energy, enjoying crashing into things, jumping up and down, can use excessive force, may break toys easily, and may have poor body awareness. Heavy work activities involving pulling/pushing are beneficial for calming, regulating, and organizing the brain and nervous system.
BOUNCER TRAMPOLINE WITH HANDLE BAR is a must-have therapy tool for managing a sensory diet. We use it daily and even friends enjoy bouncing. 48″ is the perfect size for an indoor trampoline. It’s big enough to allow the kids adequate jumping space and yet small enough to fit in our not-so-large OT room. For baby, the bar serves as an excellent tool for achieving joint traction–hanging, pull-ups, and stretching.
VALEO 4-POUND WEIGHTED BALL is one of our top therapy tool for strengthening and balancing her proprioceptive input. Heavy work activitiessuch as pushing the ball up the slide, lifting it into a basket and pushing it, and crab-walking/pushing the ball, have all been very beneficial.
JUMPING HOOPER BALLS are lots of fun. Hopper balls help to develop physical stamina, balance, and coordination while providing pleasing input. For deep pressure rolling, we use the larger exercise ball below.
EXERCISE BALL is multi-purposeful in our therapy room. It’s the most-used theory tool in our home. For baby, we use our exercise ball daily for core strengthening, diagonal teetering, tummy time, vestibular input, and even speech development. For C, we use it as a sensory tool, providing him vestibular input during classroom instruction. Autism and More shares wonderful ball activities used for motor and sensory therapy. Our favorite is the Itsy Bitsy Spider wall roll.
MAD ROCK CRASH PAD is affordable and perfect for sensory seekers to safely crash from bars, couches, you name it. Open Size: 48″ x 36″ x 5″.
HORSE HOPPER is too much fun! You may want to get two if you have more than one child. The Hopper is helping us with balance and coordination as well strengthening core muscles.
Little S has recently required additional stretching, due to excessive toe-walking. We introduced a vestibular therapeutic sitting wedge for daily stretching and it has been helpful and a great seat aid to support posture and sensory input, too.
For ongoing physical therapy due to her condition, we started weekly stretching exercises with the following tools:18′ Half Foam Roller
(they make a longer version too —36″ found here)
This is my go-to for multiple stretches — the arches of the feet, side-lying stretches (full roll is very difficult for young children).Yes4All Balance Pad Large We use it to improve balance, coordination, strength, core muscles, motor-skill training. It also doubles as a stable height-lift for physical therapy stretches. She picked purple! 😉
I’d say our absolute favorite activities to engage motor functioning are kid-friendly obstacle courses. Here’s a few of our recent fun set-ups:
IDEA #2 Place weighted mini-bean bags (we love the alphabet bean bags too!) on the top of your child’s feet and have them walk across the room a small distance with their heels planted and toes up (great stretch, specially for toe-walkers). Set a fun marker to drop them off —bin, colorful mat. Next, crawl through a fun play tunnel and finish with jumping on the trampoline. Reverse, and go back through, pick up the bags and end at the startling place.
Honestly, it’s endless. Think weight, resistance, pressure and use whatever fun things you have around your house too. Last summer we did lots of heavy work building a garden together. ❤
BABY/EARLY TODDLER SENSORY DIET: TOYS & TOOLS TO HELP DEVELOPMENT & STRENGTHENING
We’re always creating interesting ways to improve communication skills through play using many of the wonderful toys listed in our holiday gift guide. After spending nearly six months in the NICU, baby Hope wasn’t able to explore typical developing skills. We’ve seen tremendous progress with her sensory diet and therapy. These toys and therapy tools are part of our daily activities at home.
SNAP LOCK BEADS are another favorite for baby Hope to aid in developing her pull-connect, 18 month skill. Snap-locks are another top pick for sensory fine-motor and visual developmental from her physical therapist.
FAT BRAIN SQUIGZ BENDERS are another beneficial pull-connect developmental toy that provides sensory stimulation and encourages creativity and playful experimentation. Can you tell we LOVE Fat Brain Toys?!
MELISSA & DOUG CLACK ALLIGATOR PUSH TOY is great to strengthen upper body and the pull-push momentum provides proprioceptive input. For us, this is part of Baby Hope’s daily physical therapy exercises and sensory diet.
MELISSA & DOUG CLEANING SET is another fun toy that provides strengthening exercises for Hope. Although this toy is geared towards older toddlers, she does well with supervision. The repetitious motions feeds her sensory diet and encourages playful exploration.
POP TOOB SET is a household favorite. Pop Toobs are a bendable piece of plastic that stretches to nearly four times its original length and makes crazy popping sounds as it is pulled apart. We all love to play with these cool bendable toys. For Hope, they serve as a fun therapy tool that strengthens her upper muscles and provides tactical, audio, visual, and proprioceptive input.
BALANCE DISC, 35cm/14in, PUMP INCLUDED has been a helpful therapy tool in our home OT room. We use it for core strengthening, tactile input while balancing barefoot, and auditory imitation using repetitive banging. Baby Hope has even shown interest in crab-walk positioning on it.
LITTLE TIKES MY FIRST SLIDE is another top pick from our physical therapist. Climbing up the slide provides great sensory input, builds upper body strength, joint compressions, and is an excellent aid for teaching climbing forwards and backwards. As baby grows, she can hang from the top bar as well for pleasing vestibular input.
FINE MOTOR: TOYS & TOOLS To STRENGTHEN DEVELOPing skills
We’ve been working very hard over the last year on developing Hope’s fine motor skills. Due to her long NICU stay, she needed help to strengthen her developing skills. Specifically, she had minimal wrist rotation and grasp with her left hand. She’s come a long way in a short time and these tools and toys have helped us immensely. Many of these toys also help with hand-eye coordination, color sorting and sequencing, stacking, and more.
PEG BOARD SET is hands down our favorite. Originally, we used it to work on wrist rotation and peg/hole challenge. Now we’re using it for color sorting and sequencing. I highly recommend it.
STRAWS & CONNECTORS provide hours of creative entertainment and they rock for intense fine motor play. Set includes 400 total pieces. The connectors are tiny though, so we still use, but supervise.
AWESOME FLAKES 300 DISC BUILDING SET is awesome for both my children. We use it in therapy every week. Aside from its obvious building capabilities, its been great for sensory development, spatial skills and strengthening Hope’s wrist dexterity. I highly recommend (small parts; supervision needed).
OUR NEWEST ADDITIONS FOR FINE MOTOR, TACTILE, AND DEVELOPING SKILLS:
Melissa & Doug Bead Sequencing Set was a recently gifted to us. The kids are really enjoying the pattern sequencing. The beads can double as a beginning lacing exercise too.
Melissa & Doug Cutting Food Set is hands-down, Little S’s newest favorite toy! She loves food play. Food is a big centerpiece in our home, especially with her earlier food aversions, so its wonderful she enjoys playing it daily. Plus, it’s great for developing motor play.
Our favorite sensory processing disorder books that have helped us create a smart sensory diet and identify and treat sensory dysfunction.
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