C and I have tried out a whole lot of sensory stuff for kids. This post shares our favorite (and least favorite) products for everyday use. FYI, this list contains affiliate links, so if you end up buying from them I get an itty bitty commission.
My 5 year old son, C, is one of a kind. He is the most imaginative person I have ever met. He lives in a world full of magic, but visits our mundane planet to spend time with the people he loves (and for the chocolate).
The sensations on this planet can be hard for him to handle. Some noises are so loud or distracting that he has to plug his ears. Some places are so quiet that it makes his head hurt. He is afraid of the dark, but bright lights make him edgy (even if he doesn’t realize it). His sense of smell and taste can be troublesome too. He’s actually part wolf, and that makes him an extra good smeller and taster. Flavors and scents that might be pleasant to me are overwhelming to him.
Worse than the smells and sounds on Earth are the crazy customs of Earthlings. They insist that you stuff your feet into uncomfortable shoes every single day instead of running barefoot as nature intended. Their silly human clothes have scratchy tags, tricky zippers, and pinchy spots, making it impossible to relax or to move the way he wants to. Plus? They have this ridiculous idea that clothes be divided into girls and boys sections. As if genetalia were a requirement for color preferences.
Then there are the people, themselves. Impossible creatures! They don’t understand him at all. Even though he mastered Earth language at an early age, he has a habit of forgetting it when he gets nervous, and humans definitely make him nervous. Maybe it’s because he never really knows what they are going to do? They are endlessly confusing, and it can be hard to tell which ones are friendly and which ones are dangerous.
Also, humans have WAY too many rules, and most of them don’t even make sense. Everyone thinks they can tell him what to do, where to go, how to act, what to say, even who to be. Sometimes it feels like he has no control over his own life, and that makes him angry.
I’m his mom, and I love him just the way he is. I always will. I don’t want to change him, but I do need to find a way to make him feel more at home here on Earth. (If only all of these humans would learn to loosen up a little.) So, we have a great many tools that we use on a regular basis that help him adjust to all the weirdness going on down here on this planet of mine. I thought I might share them with you. While they are pretty much essential for a neuro-diverse kid, they can be helpful for any child who needs a little extra (or a little less) sensory input.
C’s Favorite Sensory Stuff for Kids
The name of this thing is simply ridiculous, but it hasn’t changed much from when we were kids. The spinning motion of this toy helps him exercise his vestibular senses and strengthen his core. This thing tires him out pretty quickly, so it’s only helpful for short bursts, but anything that helps get him moving in a helpful way is a win.
This is basically a glorified electric toothbrush, but it really does have a magic effect on my kid. This little stick vibrates like mad, and it has a chewy head (that you can swap out for multiple shapes) that lets the kids jam the tool right into their mouth and buzz their little brains out. This is a great tool for kids when they are feeling overstimulated. It gives him something very clear to focus on instead of whatever is flipping him out. Also a great choice for kids with oral fixations.
When the world gets to be too much, C can put a barrier between it and himself by putting on a pair of headphones. He prefers the heavy duty noise canceling kind, but in a pinch he will use whatever is on hand. He’ll resort to his hands if nothing else is available. We got a pair in his favorite color and we call them him “magic purple headphones”. We carry them pretty much everywhere, and he often doesn’t even need to wear them as much as he needs to know they are there. He needs to know he has an escape plan if he gets too overstimulated.
When it comes to sensory stuff for kids, this thing is pure gold. We call it the “calm down swing” and it has paused many a meltdown. It’s not a magic pill. Nothing is. But it can really help him to bring down the level of intensity. Sometimes he swings in silence, but swing time is also a great opportunity to make calm conversation with him when he’s in the mood. The feeling of being hugged helps keep him from being overly reactive, and I find that difficult discussions go much better when we have them while swinging.
These are an integral part of C’s human disguise. He pops them on whenever he wants to hide in plain sight. They are great for putting some distance between him and the rest of the world. He takes a pair to school every day along with his headphones. The ones he takes to school (these ones) supposedly block blue light too, which is another thing that can sketch kids out. He also has his favorite pair, which we call his “magic purple sunglasses” that give him special invisibility powers. Those go with us on trips or on days when he’s feeling extra freaked out.
He LOVES having a tiny trampoline in the living room. I mean, what kid wouldn’t? In addition to making him happy, jumping satisfies his craving for deep pressure, exercises his body, flexes his vestibular senses, and helps him focus. It’s the greatest thing ever and I only wish we had gotten it sooner. We were lucky enough to score one from a neighbor, and it happened to be an adult sport mini trampoline. Since our kid is pretty solid and I don’t think he’ll stop wanting to jump anytime soon, I am really glad that’s how it worked out. After seeing him in action I am pretty sure he would have destroyed a Little Tikes trampoline by now.
This thing is basically a kid-sized spandex pouch. The idea is simple: put kid in, kid chills out. And it works pretty well. He can choose to leave his head out and walk around in the pouch as long as he likes, or he can button himself inside and really get away from it all. The resistance that he gets when he pushes against the walls of the sack is also super satisfying and qualifies as deep pressure – something lots of kids crave.
Believe it or not, we actually have TWO swings in our living room. The one I mentioned earlier is to help him calm down. This one serves the opposite purpose. It helps him burn off energy and get some wiggles out. By default, this is the swing hanging from the doorway at any given time. We tuck the calm down swing over the doorway bar and pull it down whenever it’s needed. Meanwhile, the kids swing away like monkeys on the play swing. We got ours at Ikea, but you can find ones just like it on Amazon.
Sensory Stuff for Kids That Did NOT Work Out For Us
Now that I’ve shared our favorite sensory stuff for kids, I will share some of the things we’ve tried with less success. Remember though, this is just our personal experience with our own little space alien. It isn’t always clear why one thing is a hit and another is not, but I am certain it all varies kid to kid.
I’ll start by confessing that he LOVED this thing. Like really, really loved it. The feeling of smashing his body into something just seemed to douse him in happiness, and I loved having a place for him to do that without actually destroying anything or hurting himself. There was one problem though, it was GIGANTIC. That, and our cats like to revenge pee on things that are large, soft, and covered in fabric. Yeah. Sorry, C. The crash pad had to go. But if we had less cats and more space it definitely would have stayed.
These are so expensive, and when you have a neuro-diverse child it seems like you are always spending on sensory stuff for kids. So first I tried (and failed) to make my own. Then I researched which one to get. After that I waited for the perfect time to buy it. It finally came! I was so excited to try it out and I was convinced that it would be just the thing he needed to quit freaking out every night before bedtime. I presented it to him like it was a rare treasure, and then I laid it over him and started to read him a book. The kid SCREAMED. It hurt. It was too heavy. It was killing him. He hated it. Ugh. We tried a few more times, but each time he lost it. I still think it’s awesome though and like to wear it myself. Haha.
Every Play Tent Ever
He thinks he wants these things. I think he wants these things. I always buy him these things. He does not want these things. He wants to pull apart all of our furniture and drag the blankets off of my bed and across the dirty floor. That’s what he wants, and no fancy-pants store bought fort making solution will ever stop him from doing this EVERY SINGLE DAY.
It’s the devil. End of story.
What are Your Favorites?
Do you have any recommendations for sensory stuff for kids? I’d love to hear them! Share your picks in the comments or give me a shout on FB or IG. I’m always on the lookout for new sensory stuff for kids. Give me your ideas!