Sensory Stimulation Activities for Children With Special Needs

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The different senses play important roles in the reception and transmission of information to the brain. We analyze and processes this information before our bodies produce a reaction (gestures, behavior, etc). Because everyone receives sensory signals differently; different bodily reactions are possible between individuals. But for children with sensory processing disorder, it can be especially difficult to thrive, even in special needs-inclusive environments.

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) – also known as sensory integration dysfunction – is one of the most common developmental disorders in American children, along with Asperger syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. For SPD specifically, various forms of home therapy and exercise can be recommended to develop the different senses. Whether or not a child has peculiarities, integrating sensory stimulation activities into your planning can be interesting. Here is a list of activities to experiment with.

Touch Stimulation

  • Wrap the child in a blanket and tighten it around his or her body.
  • Bring out a rolling pin and roll it over the body of the child as he or she lays on the floor.
  • Fill a bowl or bucket with raw rice and hide soft toys inside. Instruct the child to dig in the bowl or bucket with their hands in order to find the toys.
  • In the summer, allow the child to play by “painting” on his body with water.
  • Fill an assortment of different bowls or buckets with rice, sand, water and snow. Allow the child to manipulate and explore the different textures.
  • Making clay is a great exercise for developing a child’s sense of touch.
  • Spread shaving cream or whipped cream in a mirror and allow the child to create drawings with his or her fingers.
  • Crumple and throw sheets of paper into a wastebasket to develop not only the child’s sense of touch association, but his or her senses of aim and spatial awareness as well.
  • Massage the child with your hands.

Vestibular Stimulation

  • Prepare a large balloon and invite the child to lie down on his or her stomach. Roll the balloon over the child’s back while in this position.
  • Place the child on a blanket, and pull the blanket to walk the child around the house.
  • Practice somersaults, rolls or jumps on a trampoline.
  • Use park swings – encourage the child to lay on the seat on his or her stomach with arms stretched forward and legs back.
  • Lay the child on a skateboard, and gently “walk” the child by pushing on his or her legs.
  • Lay the child on the ground and ask him to move while rolling on himself.

Movement Stimulation

  • Play Wheelbarrow, where the child stands on his or her hands as you secure his or her legs, advancing with only the use of the child’s hands.
  • Walk around the house imitating the gaits of various animals, such as bears, caterpillars, crabs etc.
  • Occasionally, allow the child to carry heavy objects such as toy boxes, books, grocery bags etc.
  • Encourage the child to play sports.

Visual Stimulation

  • Make faces or impressions in the mirror, to exercise the child’s control of his or her facial muscles.
  • Allow the child to blow bubbles in both indoor and outdoor settings. He or she will naturally trace the bubbles around the environment, exercising the eyes.
  • Use a flashlight and manipulate the beam across the floor, walls and ceiling. The child will naturally trace this as well.
  • Fill a large bottle of water with watercolor brilliants. Allow the child to shake the bottle vigorously and watch the brilliants mix and swirl into each other.
  • Introduce a set of differently colored balls into a play space, and set various goals for the child-centred on identifying the balls by color (bounce the purple ball, pick up the orange ball etc)
  • Play Catch, facing each other and throw a ball at eye level.

Auditory Stimulation

  • Exercise the child’s senses and memory with a game of imitation, where you mimic the sounds of animals, vehicles and machines.
  • Introduce a game of identification for long walks or rides in the car; describe specific sounds to the child who then identifies it.
  • Introduce the child to music and dancing, thereby encouraging him or her to develop synchronization and rhythm.
  • Try making rhythms and music of your own, by allowing the child to use cans, wooden spoons, drums and chopsticks. This teaches the child to subconsciously associate specific sounds with specific materials and surfaces.
  • Finally, experiment with provenance exercises, wherein the child must close his or her eyes and move towards the source of sounds made with cymbals, bells etc.

While there are several other forms of stimulation exercise, the important thing to remember is that these activities should be sensible components scaled up to a larger program designed to help the child overcome a developmental disorder.

Furthermore, the exercises must not be administered so constantly as to limit the child’s ability to engage in social and independent activities. All children, regardless of whether or not they have SPD, are always seeking various forms of stimulation. Offering them a healthy balance of stimulation and exercise is key to filling their special sensory needs and diminishing the severity of SPD-related deficiencies.