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By - Craig Mullins

Sensory Toys for Autism

Children with autism need special toys in order to help them settle down, focus, and relax. Click here to learn more about sensory toys for autism.

Trying to play with your young child on the autism spectrum can be a challenge. They may not always enjoy the same games and toys that the “average” child does.

To make matters more confusing, the same toy may make them happy one day and trigger a meltdown the next.

Unfortunately, many well-meaning parents approach this issue by trying to “fix” their child instead of adjusting their approach. In reality, all it may take is a greater understanding of how they think and a switch to sensory toys for autism.

Sensory Toys for Autism
Sensory Toys for Autism

Why do children with autism process the world around them differently and how do sensory autism toys help their mood and development? We’ll dive into those questions, and more, below.

How Autism Can Influence Sensory Processing

While other children would love arcade games and laser tag, a child on the autism spectrum could quickly get overstimulated by loud noises, rowdy people, and flashing lights. Instead of having a good time, they may end up having a meltdown.

If you take a closer look at how a child with autism and a sensory processing disorder experiences the world, this reaction makes perfect sense.

Imagine for a moment that you had to do your grocery shopping at a rave. As you’re trying to reach the produce section, you have to weave your way through crowds of strange-smelling people, navigate pounding music and bright lights, and still accomplish the task you set out to do. Many of us would cry out of frustration.

That’s what many children with autism feel like in everyday situations. Stimuli that seem normal and tolerable to us are interpreted by their brains as overwhelming and unbearable. Your child may struggle with:

  • lights
  • sounds
  • textures
  • smells
  • tastes
  • bright colors
  • interacting with people
  • motion

At the same time, some children also don’t get enough sensory stimulation from everyday activities. The combination of over- and under-stimulation can lead to destructive behaviors that are hard to understand from an outside view.

Scientists aren’t quite sure what causes sensory processing issues. Even so, remember that autism disorders aren’t a one-size-fits-all diagnosis, which is precisely why they fall on a spectrum. Your child’s reaction to their environment could be much milder or more severe than another’s, and not all autistic people have issues with the same stimuli.

Why Sensory Play Is Beneficial

Sensory play (play that engages all five senses) is a crucial part of every child’s development. It can be even more beneficial for children with sensory processing issues, helping them to develop coping strategies and find a spot of calm in a chaotic world.

For children that have under-stimulated senses, bright colors, textures, and soothing sounds can give them the sensory input they crave. For overstimulated children, sensory play can serve as a productive outlet for their frustration. Being able to repeatedly run your hands through a tub of dried beans, for example, is a great way to self-soothe without being destructive.

Sensory play also gives young children a way to develop their gross and fine motor skills. If your child doesn’t enjoy muscle-building activities like playing sports, they can still get the exercise they need in a friendlier environment.

How to Choose Sensory Toys for Autism

When selecting toys for autistic kids, start by finding out what your child likes and dislikes. If you’re still learning how to communicate with each other, this step could take some guessing and checking.

One popular toy is a sensory mat. It’s similar to a small rug but has a variety of different materials attached to the front. Your child can feel the textures with their hands or feet, either with eyes open or closed.

Water tables are another great way for kids to get their hands “dirty” without making a mess. These are self-contained units that hold water, sand, putty, and other tactile objects. Your child can spend hours running their hands under a stream of running water without wasting any at the sink.

A quick internet search will show you that there are thousands of options when it comes to toys for kids with autism. There isn’t a single “best toy” to choose, so try a few different kinds until you find ones your child enjoys.

Sensory Toys Don’t Have to Come From a Store

An autism spectrum diagnosis can come with loads of bills for diagnosis and treatment. If your family is feeling the financial burden from this or other circumstances, rest assured that you don’t have to spend money on expensive name-brand sensory autism toys.

If your child enjoys the tactile sensation of sand, for example, you don’t have to shell out money for an expensive “sensory sand table”. Instead, get an inexpensive package of kinetic sand (sometimes called moon sand) and add in a few drops of your child’s favorite essential oil. Put this in a dollar store plastic tub and bury a few sand-safe toys in it.

Use the common features you see in premade sensory toys to get creative with things you already have around the house. You might put a couple of layers of tinfoil inside a colorful fabric pouch to make a toy that crumples or grow a sensory garden out of pleasant-smelling herbs. You can even make a DIY sensory mat out of carpet samples and fabric scraps.

The most important thing is that you’re willing to keep trying new things as you learn about your child’s dynamic preferences.

Loving Life With Your Autistic Child

Many times it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to “cure” our children on the autism spectrum instead of helping them live life to the fullest. If you take the time to understand their needs and ways of processing sensory information, you’ll soon find that they’re not as being as unreasonable as you might have thought.

Instead of forcing them to be someone they’re not, using sensory toys for autism can help you build a loving bond with your child by meeting them right where they’re at. Taking this approach just might help your home become a peaceful refuge for all of its members instead of a place of conflict.

Want more information about natural ways to improve your family’s mental health? Head over to this post to learn about using essential oils to treat anxiety.

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