Sensory Ideas for Home

April 15, 2020

If your child has sensory needs, you’ve likely heard the therapists at TOTS talk about spinning them on the swing or asking them to carry a weighted ball up the stairs. These are sensory techniques that we use to achieve sensory organization in the clinic. Once you know you have a child with different sensory needs, determining when your child is seeking sensory input is the easy part. However, it can be difficult to determine the types of sensory activities that will be the most helpful to your child. In order to improve your child’s sensory organization at home, below is a list of different types of sensory activities, and when would be the most helpful to use each type.

Vestibular input can be achieved through any task which stimulates the fluid-filled canals within the inner ear. These canals assist with balance and the position of our body in space. Typically, children labeled as “sensory-seekers” are pursuing this type of input and do so because they know that their bodies will feel calm and organized once they receive vestibular input. If you notice that your child is spinning themselves in circles, likes to hang upside-down, do cartwheels, or even jump-rope, they are most likely seeking vestibular input. Build in some of the following activities into their daily routine to provide them with input and reduce the sensory seeking behaviors. Vestibular activities could include: (1) hanging upside-down from a couch, (2) animal walks with their head upside-down, (3) kid’s yoga, (4) swinging (this does not have to only include spinning), (5) merry-go-rounds or spinning playground equipment, (6) somersaults, (6) log rolls, and (7) jumping rope. If you child has not engaged in many vestibular activities, slowly introduce these tasks and then monitor your child’s response after. If your child is calm and following directions, they received the type of sensory input they were searching. However, if you child becomes motion sick then you have provided them with too much vestibular input.

The proprioceptive system is another very important sensory system, which receives input when our joints and muscles engage in “heavy work”. Heavy work includes any task where we are using our muscles, and allows us to perceive where our body is in space, also known as “body awareness”. Generally, with our sensory-seekers we follow vestibular tasks with proprioceptive tasks, to help calm the system after the excitatory vestibular input. However, in our “sensory under-responders”, or those who need sensory input but do not independently seek it out, they require proprioceptive input first. This proprioceptive input can give sensory under-responders enough sensory input that they become sensory-seekers, and generally require vestibular input following proprioceptive tasks. Proprioceptive activities could include: (1) throwing a weighted ball, (2) climbing stairs with weights, (3) crashing into a bean bag, (4) chewing crunchy or sour foods, (5) pushing a full laundry basket or grocery cart, and (6) outdoor yard work such as shoveling, digging, or raking leaves. If your child is not wanting to engage in vestibular sensory tasks, try implementing one of these proprioceptive tasks to help them achieve sensory organization.

Finally, the deep tactile system is a sensory system that can induce calming when stimulated. Deep tactile input is obtained through deep pressure, and generally is helpful to implement during bedtime or following vestibular and proprioceptive tasks to help calm the sensory system. Both sensory-seekers and sensor under-responders can benefit from deep tactile input, however the effects will be most obvious if your child is having a difficult time sitting still. Deep tactile input can be obtained through the following tasks: (1) squeezing your child under pillows or couch cushions, (2) tight hugs, (3) rolling your child up tight in a blanket, (4) using sensory brushes, and (5) compressive clothing. It is important to note that light touch can be excitatory, so deep pressure (without harming your child) is important to obtain the calming effects.

While there are some general trends regarding the types and order of sensory activities, each child is different and may benefit from a slightly different schedule of sensory activities. As a rule of thumb, begin with vestibular tasks if your child is a sensory-seeker, and proprioceptive tasks if your child is a sensory under-responder. Monitor your child’s response to the sensory activities, as you want the sensory diet to be something the child finds helpful, not aversive. Some sensory tasks within one category might work better for your child or your family and that is okay! Sensory is not a black and white topic, but rather an experience in learning and growing for all. Finally, as a parent take time to make sure your own sensory system is intact, whether this means working out, taking a bath, eating crunchy snacks, or having alone time. It will be much easier to care for your sensory child when your own sensory system is organized.

Cosmic Kids Yoga is a great way to get vestibular and proprioceptive input at home!
For more input into both systems do the yoga on a mini trampoline!
Hanging upside down, or inversion, is a great way to give vestibular input. A mini-trampoline is a great way to provide inversion.
Doing sit ups from the inverted position is a great way to add proprioceptive (heavy work) to the activity.
Throw in a ball to add some body awareness work to the activity.
Jumping is great vestibular and proprioceptive input. You can spin, knee drop, or seat drop to add more sensory input!
Trampolines are very versatile laying on them to do school work is a great way to give the body more sensory input.
Doing puzzles on the trampoline is a good way to give input to the arms.

Hopefully these give you some ideas to try at home! Please let us know if you have any questions!

Melanie Witkowski, OTR, Clinic Director


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