Sensory Toys: How They Help Children with Autism and ADHD
Updated: Apr 6, 2022
It’s no random occurrence that children enjoy running around, playing in nature, and at times just going a little wild – we all need it every once in a while. As we grow older, humans get this same relief from exercising, but for children whose bodies are still developing, they desperately require more of this movement and stimulation to remain developing at a regular pace.
While it may not seem it, fidgeting is a scientifically understood problem. As children grow, they work to develop their vestibular systems, which help maintain body balance. We all remember seeing children take their rocky first steps – learning motor skills such as this take time, but are necessary throughout every aspect of life. When children fail to receive the necessary amounts of time to play, roll around, and simply get their “energy out” and have fun, they then are less able to sit still and concentrate on their surroundings. You likely have experienced a trip into a store where your child simply would just not go along for the ride with cooperation.
Have no fear – this is natural. Bodily awareness, also known as proprioception, is the biological function that allows for humans to be able to respond to our surroundings. Similar to how our eyes respond to stimuli to let our brains know what is in front of us, our movement, balance, acceleration, and position in space relies on the information received from the receptors within our muscles and joints to tell us when and how to move efficiently.
Children especially require great amounts of sensory input including vestibular and proprioceptive input (which we will focus on), as their bodies are still learning what to do when stimuli are experienced. Processing sensory stimuli is fundamental in building a child’s sense of self and in achieving important developmental milestones.
When a child is diagnosed with Autism, ADHD, and the likes, these biological responses must be given even greater priority to ensure preparation for the world around them.
When a child experiences additional struggles regarding attention stability and hyperactivity, it is crucial to be informed about what they are experiencing, as well as how to work with them to develop coping activities.
For example, difficulty with proprioceptive processing can be identified and broken up into two sub-groups: Proprioceptive Seekers and Proprioceptive Low-Registration.
You likely have experienced your child looking for proprioceptive stimulation – you simply did not understand what the reasoning was behind it. Common signs that a child falls within this category include:
A desire to chew on just about anything they can get their mouth around
Playing that tends to be a bit more rough
Squeezing into tighter, more enclosed spaces
A lack of awareness of personal boundaries
An affinity for weighted materials
Touching people and objects often
Jumping, bumping, and crashing into things
Doesn’t seem able to grade their strength when working with tools and materials (spilling, ripping, breaking)
Being cognizant of these needs, and being able to provide opportunities for sensory stimuli to better organize and regulate their systems, are crucial within the development of coping mechanisms. Do not fret if your child tends to be a bit on the hyperactive side – they most likely just need more stimulation. To develop healthy sensory systems, children must be given time to move and interact with their surroundings.
As we all know, children love toys. For those with Autism, ADHD, etc., providing them with certain toys to give proprioceptive stimulation is the perfect way to ensure they continue to develop in the most effective way possible. Toys like our Sensory Kozie Sac provide children with a fun outlet to experience pressure within their arms and legs, feeding their proprioceptive system with input that allows for calming.
Utilizing our Kozie Weighted Proprioceptive Bean Bags act similarly to weighted clothing: they provide muscles and joints with additional comforting sensations. When it comes to children that fall within Proprioceptive Low-Registration, their bodies fail to identify sensory input from physical activity as what they need to feel comforted. A child within this category likely displays this through the following signs:
Trouble getting up in the morning
Atypical pain tolerance
low registration of pain
doesn’t want to play with others
doesn’t interact with playground equipment
For your child to receive the proper stimulation, know that not every activity and toy will work for your child’s specific developmental needs.
Adapt playtime activities to help provide the types of stimulation that benefit your child, and be open and honest about what is good for them. Make it fun – a child learns best through play and fun, and gaining the advice of a sensory trained Occupational Therapist is always advised.
There are plenty of Vestibular and Proprioceptive stimulating activities that aid in your child’s development, ways that are not only fun but also beneficial for their development. Proprioceptive and Vestibular activities are generally really fun, and to maximum effect, pay attention to how your child responds to them.
Make sure to gain their trust and consent by explaining to them what you’d like to do and why. They will be much more receptive to your efforts if they know you are happy to help and want them to have fun. Here is an assortment of toy and play recommendations:
Jumping on a trampoline
Sit and Spin
Slides, swings, and merry-go-rounds on playground
Flying a kite
Drawing with chalk
Throwing a ball through a target
Weighted toy activities
If they have the ability to climb a tree, swing, or even hang off the side of the bed, help them do so. Make actions you see them doing when they act up into fun activities you can do together. Walk them as a wheelbarrow, act like crabs (don’t forget the
pinching!), and introduce particular toys that they can use on their own to gain the same sensory input when you are unable to step away from something and play along. Our Friendly Monster Weighted Stuffed Toy is a great example – these toys can hold multiple roles, and will help your child to have outlets to turn to when they need them.
Encourage this by establishing your support of them playing with these objects. Like everything else in life, we all have preferences, and children are no exception to this. Work with them, with their particular needs, and be sure to talk about what helps them feel happy. Intimate, development-centered play will help your child to be much more prepared to interact with their environment with greater confidence and perceptiveness.
Your child’s fidgeting is for a reason, and you have the power to help them work through it. Once you’ve found a toy or pattern of play that works, continue to encourage it; you will see your child respond better to situations when they need to attend, learn, socialize, play, and be happier overall.