Sensory toys can make a great gift for kids. If your child responds to sensory input differently, they might be one of the many kids out there with Sensory Processing Disorder.
So, what is Sensory Processing Disorder, and is it more common in kids with ADHD? What are some of the best sensory toys for kids? Today, we'll answer those questions and give you the details about popular sensory toys and how they can benefit your child.
What Is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?
Sensory Processing Disorder affects the way your brain processes sensory information. It can impact the way people experience touch, taste, scent, sight, or sounds. Some people with Sensory Processing Disorder find themselves over-stimulated by one or more of the senses, whereas other children and adults may find themselves under-stimulated. People can also experience both over and under-stimulation.
Examples of how Sensory Processing Disorder can affect a person include but aren't limited to:
- Finding lights too bright when others don't.
- Intense discomfort due to features of certain clothes, like fabrics (e.g., "too itchy"), tags, or seams.
- Difficulty eating foods with different textures or flavors, sometimes to the extent that this causes a limited palette or nutrient deficiencies.
- Being bothered by noises (e.g., "the refrigerator is buzzing too loudly") that others don't find as disruptive.
- Feeling overloaded, overwhelmed, sick, or otherwise uncomfortable due to certain smells (e.g., strong perfumes).
Sensory overload can lead to extreme distress. While not all kids express sensory challenges the same way, some experience outbursts or cry due to sensory processing issues. If a child with SPD feels overwhelmed by sensory overload or unmet sensory needs, they are highly uncomfortable and aren't overreacting. It's crucial to recognize that people with Sensory Processing Disorder sincerely take in input differently than others.
Sensory issues do not always go away, but for some, they do. Though Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD isn't a formal medical condition, sensory issues are real and recognized in the medical community.
Sensory Stimulation And ADHD
It isn't uncommon for children with ADHD to have sensory needs of some kind. Studies show that sensory issues are more prevalent among kids with certain conditions, including ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, not every child with ADHD or ASD will face sensory processing difficulties. Similarly, not every child with sensory needs will meet the criteria for ADHD or ASD. If your child has SPD, sensory toys and other forms of sensory support or stimuli can be fantastic tools. In fact, sensory toys are used by many professionals, like occupational therapists, who work with kids.
Even for kids without SPD, sensory toys can be enjoyable and helpful. So, what are some of the best toys for kids with sensory needs?
Which Toys Are Best for Kids with Sensory Needs?
Sensory toys work in different ways. Sensory seekers may be drawn to toys that provide sensory stimulation or input, for example. Toys that provide sensory stimulation may include toys with bright colors, fun sounds, or various textures. Other sensory toys or objects, like weighted blankets, may soothe the senses. With that in mind, here are some sensory toy options for the child or children in your life.
Let's start with our favorite first - Joon.
Joon is an app designed for kids with ADHD aged 6-12 and their parents. In the app, parents set a list of tasks for a child to finish in real life, like brushing their teeth, doing a homework assignment, or picking up their toys. Once kids complete these tasks, they get rewards in the game that allow them to care for a virtual pet.
Joon motivates children and encourages independence. 90% of kids with the Joon app complete all of the tasks, also called quests, assigned by their parents. Even better, Joon is backed by occupational therapists, teachers, and child psychologists.
We offer a 7-day free trial so that you can try Joon before you purchase one of our monthly or annual plans.
Click here to download the app and get started, or search for Joon in the app store.
Kinetic sand comes in various bright colors. It is soft, squishy, and moldable, and it also encourages creativity. You can find kinetic sand kits, or you can look for themed boxes of kinetic sand. Packets and small packages of this sensory toy might go for under $10, but the kits can cost anywhere from around $11.99-30.
Lava lamps are an example of a sensory toy that stimulates the visual senses. Like kinetic sand, they are relatively accessible and easy to find in stores. Most often, you’ll be able to find a lava lamp for around $12-25.
Weighted blankets come in different sizes and have gained popularity over the years. For younger children, opt for lighter blankets. Older children and adults may benefit most from the heavier blankets. Once again, check the age range before you make your purchase. The price of weighted blankets varies based on how heavy they are, but you can find them for as low as $40 at major retailers.
Note: Joon is a new game and to-do app for children with ADHD. We're rated an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars in the app store, with a total of over 3.6k reviews. Parents must have an Apple device to download Joon, but kids can connect to the game from an Amazon or Android device.
Stress balls, alongside weighted blankets, are likely one of the most well-known sensory objects out there. They’re inexpensive, and you may be able to find similar "squishy toys" for kids in different shapes, like dinosaurs. Young kids especially might find the shaped toys more appealing.
Often, stress balls and similar toys go for $3-10. Sometimes, you can even find them at the dollar store.
Sensory sox are wearable pouches marketed toward children with sensory issues or sensory needs. They act as a "hug" for the whole body, calming the sensory system and soothing anxiety and stress in kids. You can purchase sensory sox for about $20-40, and they come in a range of sizes.
Chew toys, including chewelry, are well-loved among many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other concerns, like SPD. Chewelry refers to necklaces with chew toys on them. The chew toys on chewelry (also called chew necklaces) come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. You can find chew necklaces online for about $10-20.
Most often, Chewelry is regarded as safe for kids over the age of five, but make sure that you always check before you give it to your child.
Compression clothing is exactly what it sounds like, referring to clothes that offer gentle compression. Though it can be used for other purposes, compression clothing can be soothing for children who require more sensory stimulation. On the other hand, kids who are overwhelmed by seams and other input from their clothes might benefit most from seamless clothing. As with most other apparel, compression clothes will vary in price.
Fidget spinners offer not just sensory activity but can also help children with ADHD focus. Though fidget spinners and similar products are hand-held small toys, they can be a way to let out excess energy. Fidget spinners usually cost about $5-15.
For kids who experience sensory overload due to sound, noise-canceling headphones can be incredibly therapeutic and soothing. Many adults use them, too. You can find noise-canceling headphones for children for around $20-50, though they can go up to the $100+ range based on the brand of the item.
Sensory swings are popular sensory tools among parents of young children with sensory needs. A sensory swing is most often an indoor swing that a child sits in for relief from meltdowns, overload, or general sensory distress. You can purchase sensory swings for roughly $30-100, depending on the size and where you buy it.
Sensory brushes are an example of a sensory tool an occupational therapist or a similar professional might use for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and/or stand-alone sensory issues. These sensory toys work by providing relief for sensory dysregulation and tactile sensitivity, sensory seeking, and even hyperactivity.
Sensory brushes cost anywhere from $6-25 and can be purchased online.
Benefits Of Sensory Toys
Though they can soothe the sensory system, some sensory toys come with other benefits, too. Depending on the specific object, benefits of sensory toys and sensory play can include but aren't limited to:
- Self-regulation and relief.
- Improvement in fine motor skills, spatial awareness, and hand-eye coordination.
- Social interaction (depending on the toy and environment).
Sensory issues are statistically more common among kids with ADHD and other diagnoses, like Autism Spectrum Disorder. Sensory toys can offer beneficial sensory experiences or take away some of the distress caused by sensory overload. Other toys and games, like Joon, can motivate positive behavioral changes, promote independence, and boost self-esteem.