Susana is a mother of three and has a background in psychology and counseling.
Popular Toys for Kids With Sensory Issues
Below, you'll find my top five personal recommendations for birthday gifts for a child with Sensory Processing Disorder. You'll also see a range of further ideas to match your child's specific sensory integration requirements. The toys I recommend are the ones that get the most use in our house and are based on our experience with our daughter's variety of sensory needs.
We discovered that it can be a really difficult task trying to find gifts for children with autism, Asperger's, ADHD or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) that meet their specific play needs and enhance their progression towards sensory integration.
Firstly, What to Buy?
What toys are going to help my child with their specific play needs? What's going to excite, stimulate, calm and engage them? What's going to get played with every day rather than gather dust in the cupboard?
Secondly, How Much to Spend?
Toys from specialist stores can be incredibly expensive and out of reach for many of us. Personally, we've never had the resources to buy from specialist outlets ourselves, so we've learned to find toys that aren't necessarily marketed to children with sensory processing needs, but do actually meet those needs at a price that feels comfortable.
Have a good look below and you'll find a few awesome recommendations for toys that have been massive hits in our house.
What Kind of Toys Do They Need?
Children with SPD either as a stand-alone diagnosis or alongside other diagnoses, can have issues with over or under-sensitivity in one or more senses. And ideally they'll have access to toys that help them learn to integrate and balance their own specific sensory needs. For instance a bubble light to help train the eye muscles in a child with an under-developed visual sense.
What Kind of Sensory Problems Does Your Child Experience?
When we think about our senses, we usually only consider our five main senses because they're the ones we're taught about at school.
- Sight (visual)
- Hearing (auditory)
- Touch (tactile)
- Smell (olfactory)
- Taste (gustatory)
We All Actually Have 8 Senses
You may never have heard of the three other senses and some have some very tricky to say names. They are the vestibular sense, the proprioceptive sense and the interoceptive sense.
The Vestibular Sense
The vestibular sense is all about balance, so activities and toys that engage this sense through swinging, spinning, jumping and rocking will help your child learn how to integrate this sense.
The Proprioceptive Sense
The proprioceptive sense is one of our internal senses. It's responsible for how we interpret the movement in our bones, muscles and joints and our ability to know intuitively how much force, strength or flexibility we need to carry out certain tasks. We use it constantly...even when we're sitting down. One item that helps children who have problems with this sense immensely is a weighted blanket.
The Interoceptive Sense
The interoceptive sense is one I hadn't heard of until recently. It's our internal sense of what's going on inside our bodies. So, for instance, the sensations of hunger, fullness, pain, hot, cold and thirst are all under the interoceptive sense umbrella.
My Top Gift Recommendation for Children With SPD
Jungle Gyms Help With Many Different Types of Sensory Issues
Some types of sensory issues cluster together and can't be separated easily. In particular, the vestibular, proprioceptive and interoceptive senses seem to frequently come as a pack of three. Hard physical play...the kind your child will get from the Jungle Gym Indoor Playground helps enormously with integration of these senses.
Our daughter has benefited so much from the indoor gym. She wants to be moving almost constantly so it provides an outlet for that energy. From the age of one she would go on walks of 5 or more miles per day. I didn't understand it at all at the time, I just thought she loved to be active. But looking back it was clearly the constant physical movement was providing relief for her vestibular, interoceptive, tactile and proprioceptive sensory needs.
We'd heard so many good things from other SPD parents about the Jungle Gym (now called the Deluxe Indoor Playground), we decided to bite the bullet and buy one for our daughter's third Birthday. Out of all my children's toys it's been one of the most used ever (literally every single day). It has been swung, climbed and clambered on all year round, but it's been a lifesaver for our family especially during the cold, wet winter months when trips to the park are not feasible.
My daughter used to climb and jump all over the furniture. All. The. Time. We now have a lot less issues with that and it makes life that little be less stressful for us. We've found the Indoor Gym very fast and easy to put up and put down, so if you don't have the space to install the equipment permanently you can pop it up for a few hours and then put it away again.
Tip: One word of caution is to measure your door frame before you buy. Our door frame is standard size so we didn't have any problems, but one of our friends had to buy an extra piece so it would fit in theirs.
The Dizzy Disc Is Awesome!
The Dizzy Disc is another indoor toy that allows children to really explore the boundaries of their vestibular, proprioceptive and interoceptive sensory needs and is SO worth the money.
I must have been living under a rock, but up until 2 years ago I'd never heard the terms SPD or sensory processing disorder. My daughter was exhibiting behaviors that I hadn't ever encountered and I felt alone and in a sea of confusion. Through talking to other parents and trying to understand what was causing my daughter's behaviors I came to learn about SPD and everything started to fall into place.
Because our daughter's main sensory needs were clearly around her internal and tactile senses we bought The Dizzy Disc fairly early on in our journey. It's another toy that is out at all times and is used throughout the day. She never seems to tire of it. The toy is manufactured to a high standard and is very sturdy. We've had ours for over 2 years now with no issues at all.
Chewelry for Oral-Tactile Sensory Needs
All young children like to put things in their mouths to explore tastes and textures but for parents of children with sensory needs it can be stressful when they want to chew things that could be dangerous.
In an effort to stop our daughter from putting things like small stones, money, playdoh, paper and clothing in her mouth (yes I do hide these kinds of things but she always manages to find something unsuitable....sticky tack anyone?) I bought her her own piece of chewelry. We have quite a collection of these now but the latest favorite is the yellow lego style brick.
The main things she likes about the chewing brick are:
- Its size—she can hold it in an easy, firm grip and it doesn't fall out of her hand.
- The bumpy texture—she really enjoys rubbing the little bumps across her lips and face.
- The color. Who doesn't love yellow!
- You get two in the pack so if one is lost you have a spare to fall back on.
There are so many pieces of chewelry to choose from but we like the chewing brick for the reasons stated above
Gifts for Children With Visual SPD Needs
Many children, especially those on the autistic spectrum, have problems with processing visual stimuli. The interactions between color perception, judging movement, shifting focus on objects, depth perception, hand-eye co-ordination and balance, can all cause difficulties.
So toys which provide gentle stimulation for the eyes and that strengthen and co-ordinate eye muscles can be very beneficial. In specialist sensory rooms you'll usually see an array of sensory lights but they're normally fairly expensive. Fortunately, we found a nifty little toy that offered a similar calming sensation without the high price tag.
Our daughter doesn't have high visual sensory needs but we did want to find toys that would help her slow down a bit, especially when she was struggling with her other sensory issues. Due to my daughter's sensory needs and inability to keep still unless looking at her tablet (something we wanted to try to curb), we decided to buy this bubble motion toy as a gift for her 4th birthday.
As already mentioned we mainly use the bubbler (as we call it) as a calm down toy. She keeps it in her chill-out area and will go in there and put the timer on herself when she's feeling wound up or overwhelmed. That doesn't happen that often lately but the bubbler been especially helpful when she's having a sensory meltdown. There's something about the gentle bubble movement that calms the mind right down. It's a lovely little toy and all her cousins and friends like it too.
The Bubble Motion Sensory Toy wasn't a lot of money and it's been a real hit, so it's been a double win as far as we're concerned!
Is a Weighted Blanket the Best Birthday Gift for a Child With SPD?
Weighted blankets are becoming extremely popular with parents of children with sensory processing disorders because they help our little ones sleep better and provide a sense of reassurance and safety. They are a relatively expensive item though so it's one of those things that many parents would love to buy but just don't have the funds to splurge on. That's why they make such a perfect gift.
My husband's parents bought the weighted blanket shown for our little treasure and it has made such a difference to the quality and length of her sleep. She also loves to get under it when she's feeling overwhelmed or anxious as it seems to have a strong grounding effect. The 5lb weight is perfect for her frame and weight and from our point of view is another must-have item for kids with sensory needs.
I hope you've found my recommendations for gifts for children with sensory needs helpful! It can be a minefield trying to find equipment and toys that will get used and more importantly, actually aid a child's sensory integration over time. This is what we've found with the toys above and we hope they have the same effect for your precious little one too.
© 2017 Susana Smith
Susana Smith (author) from UK on February 28, 2018:
Thanks Louise :)
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on February 26, 2018:
I love the look of that bubble motion toy. There's some really good ideas here.
FlourishAnyway from USA on November 30, 2017:
I’d like one of those bubble motion toys myself. Nice ideas especially given your own experience.
Susana Smith (author) from UK on November 28, 2017:
Thank you Nell :) I agree the spinner is brilliant! Would have loved something like that to play on myself as a child!
Nell Rose from England on November 28, 2017:
Fantastic! I love the spinning wheel for them to spin on. And the gym. But all of these items are great for sensory processing disorder.