This is in continuation to our earlier articles on sensory processing dysfunction and sensory diet. This article is all about the different sensory activities you can try at home. Since it’s important that you know about the activities in relation to the sensory systems they target, I have listed them down in regard to the systems. These can be used either individually or in combination with two or more activities, depending on your child’s sensory needs. The list is just a baseline and I’m sure that once you start implementing them, you may innovate a few ideas on your own. So here goes the list:
Children love to be hugged. So be sure to give your little one plenty of bear hugs. For double impact, hug them after swaddling them up in a comforter or quilt. Give them a body massage using their favorite oils and lotions (stimulates the olfactory system too) followed by a warm bath. This does wonders to calm a restless child. During bath time, remember to add some squeaky toys and a sponge that your child can use to squeeze out the water from.
For a child with tactile sensitivity, slowly introduce play using clay, finger painting, sand play etc. Always remember to be patient as children need some time to adjust to the new sensations and once they show progress, reward them for every successful adjustment no matter how small.
For movement related activities, you can take a walk, run, or play catch or teach your child to swim or cycle. Play your favorite music and get dancing, or show them various animal walks (like bear, elephant, crab, frog etc) and encourage them to do the same. Rearrange your furniture and create an obstacle course in which your child has to crawl, climb and run around the furniture. Stair climbing, learning to play on a monkey gym, jumping on a trampoline or old pillows placed on your floor are all great simple methods to provide vestibular and proprioceptive input.
Involve them in your shopping, by taking out the required items, placing them in your cart and pushing it along the aisles (under supervision of course!). At home, they can help you pack it away too.
If possible, put up a swing, as it can be used both for providing sensory stimulation and also to help you bond with your child through story-telling, singing etc. While giving movements, remember that a smooth rhythmic movement is given to calm your child, whereas an erratic, speedy movement can arouse them.
Sing a song, hum a tune or create a lovely playlist for your child containing soothing music and their all time favorites and fill your house with the joyous sound of music. You can also spend a quiet time and point out the various musical notes of the nature around us.
If your child is defensive to any stimuli (for e.g. sound of mixers, phones ringing etc), you can allow your child to use an ear plug or headphones to drown out the sound. Your therapist can also teach you how to desensitize your child to these sounds.
For visual input, use fluorescent lights, colored light bulbs, optic fiber lights and bubble lamps etc to add hues to your household. Paint a room with vibrant colors to stimulate your child and have colorful posters on your walls. These posters can also be used to stimulate cognitive skills (e.g. posters of shapes, colors etc). Don’t just pack away your Christmas lights and disco balls, as these are useful in providing visual stimuli to your child.
If your child is sensitive to visual stimuli, paint your walls cream and beige and avoid complicated patterns in your rugs, carpets and curtains. Use of blinds can avoid glares and ensure that your rooms are clutter free. When playing with toys, be sure to place out only 4-5 toys in order to avoid a visual overload.
Scented candles, oils, potpourri, dried flowers, having a small garden are methods of filling your house with sweet smelling aroma. Vanilla rose and sweet orange smells are usually calming while lemon, peppermint is more energizing.
For oral stimuli, use lollipops and other textured food stuff (crunchy, chewy, creamy etc) to provide the needed experience. When giving food, you can alternate between warm, cool and frozen foods and experiment with the tastes (sweet, salt, sour, spicy and bitter). As mentioned with textured games, children take time in accustoming to textured food and tastes, therefore introduce one type a week. Observe your child for readiness and introduce foods accordingly.
To facilitate the development of oral skills like sucking, chewing, biting, blowing etc, you can give lollipops, teach them to blow a bubble, drink using a straw and give items like biscuits for biting.
Do share your experiences and the activities that you found most useful for your child, so that others can also benefit from the same.
Sarah Mary Joseph
Sr. Occupational Therapist
Prayatna, Centre for Child Development, Cochin