Sensory activities for children with disabilities

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Sensory activities benefit children both with and without disabilities. For children without disabilities, sensory activities are just fun. For children with disabilities, sensory activities can also help to reduce tactile defensiveness, increase coordination and improve focus.

You can do many different sensory activities with items that you probably have in your home and modify the activities to fit your child's needs and abilities.

Tactile Activities

Tactile activities are anything that involves a child's sense of touch. One versatile tactile activity is to fill a container about the size of a shoebox with dry beans or rice and add a few small toys. Have your child put his hands or feet in the rice and try to find the toys. If you do this outside, fill the container with water and let your child splash and play. If your child uses a wheelchair, place the container on a table or on his tray and help him place his hands inside. Give your child different objects and help him to explore the different textures. Have him feel scratchy sandpaper, soft feathers and sticky glue or gently brush his hands and cheeks with different textures. You can also use vibrating toothbrushes or other toys. Allow your child to play with these or place them on his hands and face.

Messy Play Activities

Messy play activities help children with disabilities or sensory issues to become more tolerant of different textures or experiences. Help your child to finger paint or play with small amounts of shaving cream. You can even do messy play activities with food. Place a spoonful of applesauce or pudding on your child's tray or table and have her spread it around with her fingers. Encourage your child to lick the food off her hands. If your child is very resistant to messy textures, put a small amount of paint or pudding in a resealable sandwich bag and press out the air. Have your child touch, squeeze and handle the bag to provide the sensory experience without the mess.

Heavy Work Activities

Heavy work activities are those that involve heavy resistance and increased input. They are especially helpful for children who are overactive or have trouble sitting still. Heavy work activities can be as simple as having your child help push a shopping trolley or put away books or cans of food. You can play tug of war with your child or encourage him to squeeze and pull Silly Putty or modelling clay. Chewing crunchy or sticky foods such as beef jerky or gum is an excellent heavy work activity for children who are able, as is blowing bubbles. If you use a heavy work activity before a quiet one, your child will be more able to focus and concentrate.

Movement Activities

Movement activities are essential for any child, but they can be more challenging for kids with disabilities. Creativity is the key. Water is an excellent sensory medium for any child. Children with lower muscle tone work harder and gain strength in the water, while warm water loosens up children with increased tone. In a shallow pool, hold your child and have her splash the water or stretch and reach for floating toys. If your child enjoys swinging but cannot sit up in a swing, you can use supportive pillows and have her sit in a glider or rocking chair.