Guide to Sensory Tools: Help Children with Special Needs Feel Safe and Entertained

If you’ve recently found out that your child has or might have autism spectrum disorder, you’re probably anxious about what comes next. No parent is ever prepared to hear that their child is sick in any way or form, and an ASD or any physical, emotional, behavioural, or learning disability or impairment diagnosis can be frightening. You may be unsure about how to best move forward but one thing is for you – you’re not alone in this.

While it is true that ASD is not something that simply goes away one day there are many treatments and soothing techniques that can help children with ASD and special needs have a pleasant life, learn new things and overcome a wide variety of developmental challenges.

The awareness of these conditions is ever-growing and there are products made specifically for children with special needs. Whether this is your child you’re looking to soothe or you’re just looking to get educated on the subject, here are 4 different ways and tools to ​​help children with special needs feel safe, relaxed, entertained and energized.

Sensory Feeding Tools

Feeding child with sensory feeding tools

Consistency is key in creating healthy habits for children with special needs. Additionally, feeding them at a regular time helps minimize distress and anxiety. First, prepare everything you may need and then announce that it’s feeding time. Of course, the condition and the needs of your child vary, but I’d like to present you with a general idea of what is it that you’re going to need for a sensory feeding tool collection.

  • Coated spoons and “sporks” in the appropriate size;
  • Sectioned plates or small bowls with a lip on the sides to help self-feeders;
  • Sippy cups or mugs with handles for self-feeders or mugs with lip-block straws;
  • Positive attitude: stay calm at all times, smile at your child, don’t show frustrations with any difficulties during the meal, instead, give them lots of encouragement;
  • Take breaks as necessary, and consult with your doctor if your child shows any fears or discomfort related to feeding;

Ways to Soothe Meltdowns and Anxiety

Meltdown child

There are going to be times of distress with any child and this is not exclusive to just children – anxiety rules the lives of many adults as well. An overwhelming sensation of anxiety could lead to a meltdown if left unattended. A meltdown is an intense response to overwhelming situations for the person experiencing it. It could cause a loss of control and panic.

Although there are differences between a child’s tantrum, meltdown, distress and more, common triggers include sensory, emotional and informational overload. Luckily there are many ways and tools which can help minimize these occurrences. The following list consists of things you should consider having around to help soothe your child where you can prevent a meltdown from happening.

  • Noise-cancelling headphones can help calm autistic children when the noise gets too loud for them. And as we know, sensory listening improves focus and concentration ;
  • Weighted blanket or vest;
  • Sunglasses can help them when you’re outside and it is too sunny or the fluorescent lights are too bright during the evenings;
  • Weighted blankets and lap pads are helpful in times of distress. Pressure can be one answer to how to calm an autistic child;
  • Chewy or crunchy snacks;
  • Essential oils with a scent your child likes to cancel out strong odours in the environment;
  • Repetitive and simple toys that can offer calmness to your child when they get agitated such as fidgeting, squeezing sensory water beads, interactive teddy bear and more.

Sensory Toys and Activities for Children with Special Needs

Sensory toys and activities

You want to keep your child focused, occupied and entertained. Plus, in the process of teaching them new skills and helping them become more independent (depending on the age and condition) you want to set aside time for recreation where they can get messy and creative. This has not only short-term benefits but in the long run, you’re helping parts of their brain sharpen and develop better. Some of the many activities which you can gently introduce your child to are:

  • Threading edible jewellery;
  • Easy jigsaw puzzles;
  • Painting or making collages;
  • Interactive “Whack a Frog” game;
  • Memory games, etc.

Stimulating Physical Exercises for Your Child

Kid exercising with his coach

When teaching a child with autism a new exercise, it’s important to do so in a quiet, supportive and loving environment. Use positive reinforcement and remain patient. Also, use verbal or hands-on cues to help guide them through the movements and decrease the chances of them getting scared and upset. Be consistent. Children with ASD and other disabilities have a hard time applying what they’ve learned in one setting (such as the therapist’s office or school) to another place, including the home.

For example, your child may use some sort of signalling when bored or upset but never think to do so at home. Creating consistency in your child’s environment and routine is the best way to reinforce learning. Find out what your child’s therapists are doing, or the specific environment they’re in and try to continue their techniques at home to the best of your abilities.

Throwing weighted objects like medicine balls stimulates the muscles and may improve their core strength, balance and coordination. It may also have therapeutic benefits and can stimulate neurological activity.

Easy jumping tasks are help improve cardiovascular endurance, strengthen the body, and increase body awareness. Physical exercises help boost your child’s confidence in themselves.

Children with disabilities have a hard time interacting with others or the environment. Mirror exercises encourage the child to copy what another person is doing, which can increase coordination, body awareness, and social skills.