Kids who have sensory issues (or sensory processing disorder or sensory processing difficulties or a myriad of names for the difficulty in processing sensory information the body takes in) have problems processing information in their brains. The information comes from their senses: sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches are processed differently than in other kids. Some kids are sensory avoiders; they'll cover their ears at loud noises or turn away from bright lights, or even avoid climbing on playground equipment and such because their proprioceptive and vestibular processing is different and those situations can overwhelm their brains.
The Brain Game: Sensory Seeker Or Avoider?
In the same vein, some kids are sensory seekers; their brains need more input from their senses to achieve the same informative reception that someone else may get from less input. Typically we think of sensory seekers as our daredevils--they run harder, faster, tougher and can spin and spin and spin and spin and spin on that merry-go-round until the cows come home. They hug hard, and often want things bright and loud so their brains can appropriately process the senses they're feeling.
Kids who have sensory issues--whether part of sensory processing disorder or co-morbidly with being on the Autism spectrum as is commonly seen-- typically tend to look for toys and games that feed their sensory needs (we say children have sensory 'diets' that require certain input to 'feed'). Those toys and games often are ones that involve different textures (or don't feature certain textures), bright lights (or calming lights) and other features that appeal to their senses of touch, smell and sight.
Sensory Toys For Kids: Gifts Start Here
So if you're looking for the perfect gifts for kids with sensory issues, you may not know where to start. We'd suggest first learning whether the child is a sensory seeker or a sensory avoider. Often, like in my son's case, they may be both, depending on the sense. He will spin until he makes *me* dizzy just watching as he feeds his vestibular needs, but he's not a super fan of pep rallies and events where the crowd is loud because it is like an assault on his brain. Knowing what is sought or avoided in a sensory system is the best first step to finding the perfect toy or gift.
If you are looking for gift ideas for a child who has sensory issues, we've got you covered. We reached out to our parenting community and asked what gifts they'd recommend for children with sensory issues. Sensory processing disorder is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses.
Once you have that information, check out the gifts we've found. We asked sensory parents what their faves were, and what their children loved so you can benefit from real-life experience.
Top 10 Best Sensory Toys For Kids
1. Door Pong
Before you get all, "There is NO WAY I'm giving that to my kid (or my friend's kid), hear us out! It's award-winning, can be played by oneself or with a friend, and let's be real. You may already have a kid who feels like they have to bounce everything they can against anything they can as it is. This is a safe way to get some of that bouncy out and Occupational Therapists (who specialize in sensory processing) love this game because it helps kids with so many issues. It encourages hand-eye coordination, builds gross motor skills, helps with focus and concentration and is a great way for kids to get proprioceptive input. Best, you won't have balls bouncing all over the house and kids chasing them all over the house!
2. Simpl Dimpl Fidget
This unique fidget is a great gift for kids of all ages. Yes, even those of us adults with sensory issues or attention issues love the Simpl Dimpl fidget too. It's a keychain so kids can fasten to their belt loops or and keep close in their seat when doing their classwork or take wherever they go on their bookbag. The buttons are made of 100% silicone and it encourages tactile input and helps with concentration and calming in situations where other sensory avenues may be overstimulated. It comes in four different color combinations and trust us, you'll not be able to put it down. It's like clicking a pen endlessly, minus the click and the pen. (And yes, pen clicking is a sensory feed!)
3. Hey! Play! Kids' Hammock Pod
This sensory pod (or ones that are similar) is often found in Occupational Therapists' offices because it feeds a child's vestibular sensory system. When we do this, we are helping our sensory systems know how to use our muscles correctly with gravity and it makes a big difference in behavior and coordination. Many children with Dyspraxia find sensory pods awesome because they feed vestibular and proprioceptive systems in a fun, easy way. Just a tip from occupational therapists, though--as much as your child will find 'winding themselves up' soothing and necessary, be sure they 'unwind' in the opposite direction. Spinning just 15 minutes can have a 6-8 hour impact on a brain's regulation!
4. Thinking Putty Puzzle
This game is super fun, but that's what we've come to expect from Think Fun games! They've joined forces with Aaron's Thinking Putty to create a game that feeds a child's sensory diet and creates neural connections that help the brain better process at the same time. Engaging logic while children pull, stretch and twist the putty will create neural pathways they'll use in other areas of life, and they won't even know it because they're just having fun with putty. It increases spatial reasoning skills while avoiders are immersed in the tactile so they can play and seekers are able to get all the touching, pulling and twisting out that they want. Neither the seeker nor the avoider knows anything but it's a fun challenge they'll want to do over and over.
5. JumpOff Balance Stones
You know how your sensory kid seems like they're always running, bounding, jumping and flopping? Or everything is a climbing wall? Yeah, us too, which is why parents LOVE these balance stones! The rubber footings prevent slipping and the feel on the feet gives sensory input as they also maintain muscle coordination for stability to walk, jump and run on the steps. While these stones feed their sensory diet, they also help kids learn how to determine height and distance with relation to their bodies and are just a lot of fun and imaginative exercise as gravy.
6. Liquid Floor Tiles
These tiles are like magic. Seriously. They are brightly colored, feel neat to the body and the liquid inside will mesmerize your sensory child as they continue to move the liquid in the tiles. You know they love those colored oil-in-water gadgets and will turn them upside down over and over and these tiles step that game up tenfold. They come in a pack of nine so sensory kiddos can arrange them and make patterns or you can break the set up and give a tile as a birthday gift to individual kids because while they're cool for sensory seekers, those without sensory issues find them just as enjoyable and fun to manipulate.
7. Sensory Beads Pack
This pack is the perfect combination for kids looking for tactile sensory input. It has a package of 30,000 water beads/polymers (they can learn about science too) to create stress balls, stress balloons and more. balloons. Kids love playing with the water beads alone too. They are 100% biodegradable, non-toxic and environmentally friendly, and will give your sensory seeker an opportunity to explore while giving avoiders an opportunity to become accustomed.
8. Creativity Kids Sequined Weighted Pets
Say hello to one of the cutest sensory toys you'll find. This hedge-icorn (there are several pets available) is weighted and rainbow sequined and sensory parents love it. "Petting" it gives tactile input and creates a beautiful sequined rainbow and kids can decorate and redecorate with the stickers and felt markers. The weight is nice for proprioceptive input and it makes a great calmer when there's sensory overload. The pets come in smaller sizes as well for kids who may need classroom or travel input.
9. AquaDoodle Classic Mat
This fun drawing mat works on the principle similar to the liquid tiles, but allows your kids to use water and draw to their heart's content. The soft fabric gives their sense of touch input and it's large enough that they can lay and get that input for various body parts without having to seek too hard. The water also gives input and works while the brain is accessing the fine motor skills needed to draw whatever your kiddo's imagination can conjure.
10. Shark Tooth SiliconeChew
A lot of kids are sensory seekers with oral fixations--it's not just toddlers who feel the need to put everything in their mouth. That's why parents love this 100% food-grade silicone shark's tooth necklace. It lets kiddos have something that meets that need (instead of nasty pencils or other things that inevitably end up in their mouths) and for elementary (or older) sensory kids, it lets them have oral motor therapy while wearing a necklace that looks 'cool' too.
BONUS TOY: Fidgitz Twisty Brainteaser Puzzle
We just had to add an extra because this is so cool. It's a fidget toy and puzzle in one and it is a super way to stimulate sensory systems and learning at the same time! It's quite and no pieces come off so it's great for travel and no worry of losing parts. It was created by world-famous puzzle inventor Oskar van Deventer and Bram Cohen, and it builds critical thinking skills while being part of a sensory diet.
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