Millions of children have sensory issues or fall on the autism spectrum. There are many different ways people take in information or process the world around them. Signs can emerge as early as a year old but usually diagnosed around three years old. Your child may begin to miss certain developing marks like making eye contact, repetitive behaviors such as spinning toys (or themselves) or flapping their hands.
You can help your child discover calming and entertaining toys at home that, for example, encourage muscle growth and motor skills. With a little TLC and some DIY, it’s easy to make a variety of great projects and special spaces to relax in. Here are some tips to create a soothing, safe, and fun sensory atmosphere at home.
Sensory processing disorders and autism spectrum disorders have many similarities. Kids with both SPD and ASD may also have a variety of compulsions or hyperactivity, making concentration at school or home difficult. A child with autism can have sensory processing issues too, such as finding specific noises, music, or lights to be disturbing or frightening. They may cover their ears, cry, or even hide until the trigger stops.
Sometimes what people see as tantrums are responses to sensory overloads. Developmental delays can frustrate a child trying to express their feelings or words. This can leave them to express themselves by hitting, crying, or even avoiding those around them. Many children with these disorders have low muscle tone in parts of their bodies or have trouble with gross and fine motor skills. Early intervention programs offer IEPs in a school district. This helps create a personalized program for a child who has one or both of these disorders.
Experts such as autism spectrum disorder specialist, physical, occupational, or speech therapists may even come to your home for additional services. With a team of teachers, doctors, and specialists, kids can greatly benefit from their IEP.
Continuing successful behaviors and rewards at home are important. Games, toys, and sensory safe areas in the home are a great way to teach and work with your child. A light table or box can be created with soft white Christmas lights, wood, and a translucent plastic cover to illuminate see-through magnetic toys, colored pieces of plastic, or even used for artwork. The glow isn’t harsh, lowering the risk of bothering those with light sensitivities.
Directions for DIY lightboxes can be found as well as ones already made on various websites. Chose a corner of your child’s bedroom or a play area filled with their favorite sensory toys, pillows to lay on, calming sensory bottles, and soft lighting. This can also be a place your child can go to when they’re feeling stressed.
Keep loud, flashing toys out of reach if your child becomes anxious from them. Over-stimulation for a child who has sensory issues can be overwhelming. A child can become upset, angry, frustrated, or scared from loud noises and bright lights. Keeping televisions and devices volumes on low or using noise-canceling headphones may also help reduce traumatic episodes.
Sensory toys are incredibly important to encourage the development of gross and fine motor skills. Low muscle tone in the hands, for example, can cause difficulties such as grasping eating implements, buttoning a shirt, trouble zipping a jacket, or tying shoes. Underdevelopment of gross motor skills can affect jumping, kicking a ball, and proper core or trunk support. Kneading toxic-free dough can strengthen fingers and wrists while your child creates their own projects and sculptures. Colorful and edible play dough can be made from an easy to follow recipes for picky eaters. Eating different textures and consistencies of food that require your child to chew more helps strengthen jaw muscles to decrease drooling and speech troubles.
Additional sensory implements are kinetic sand, squishy ooze, and archaeology kits containing hidden toys like dinosaurs that need to be dug up. These are all great ways to find out which sensory toys your child enjoys and encourages muscle development in the fingers.