Sensory Tool Kits
Many children with Autism, and other special needs, come with sensory processing challenges. Some kids struggle to find out where their bodies are in space, causing concerns with personal space and crashing into anything and anyone in their path. Other kids are either over-sensitive or under-sensitive to certain sensory stimuli, such as textures, smells, tastes, sounds and even sights. As a result, some kids may withdrawal from social situations and display aggression, sadness, becoming too intrusive, fear or becoming too active.
No matter how different their sensory processing challenges may be, they all seem to share one common trait…they struggle to self-regulate. Since their brains have trouble processing sensory input, this puts their nervous system in a constant state of high alert, making them more prone to a wide variety of behaviors. Having some “tools” available to help them stay regulated can go a long way and assist your kiddo in ways that their bodies crave!
What exactly is a Sensory Tool Kit?
A Sensory Tool Kit is usually a box or bin full of sensory items that help your child stay calm, focused or stimulate your child’s sensory system. You can look to your sensory tool kit when you notice your child is overstimulated, feeling sluggish, looks bored or uninterested, or having a hard time dealing with a stressful task.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to have these sensory bins placed in multiple rooms in your house to ensure your child can access them wherever your child is most likely to hang out at home. At first, your child may not seek these items out on their own so you may need to guide them and encourage them to use their new tools. It’s also a good idea to make a portable Sensory Took Kit, placing various sensory items in a travel bag to have them handy when on the go.
What’s inside the Sensory Tool Kits?
First, you should ask yourself what type of items your child likes and dislikes? If you don’t know the answer to this, you can take your child to the store to introduce a few items and see what they gravitate towards and what they avoid. It’s a good idea to have a mixture of both to help expand sensory input.
Next, you’ll want to find items that help keep your child both calm and alert so you can use these items when deemed appropriate contingent on their current sensory state. Think of items that will reduce stress and items that will engage your child for better focus. Examples of calming items might be noise-cancelling headphones or a squishy ball. Items that may assist with focus might be a small fidget cube or chewing gum.
Here is a List of Sensory Items to help you make your kit:
How & When to use Sensory Tool Kits?
Once you have all your sensory materials set up, your child may not seek them out on their own. You may need to engage with your child and explore the new items together at random. You can also explain their purpose and encourage them to use them when they need to calm down, focus or feel like they need to regulate their body. If your child does not know what his body needs, start pairing items with specific information. In example, when you notice your child is overactive, hand them a calming sensory toy and say, “Here is a squishy ball, it can help your body calm down since it looks like you have a lot of energy right now.”
If you create a travel sensory kit, start introducing items when you get into the car. Once you reach your destination, help your child choose appropriate sensory items to bring with them. You could even get them a small book bag so they have easy access and start independently getting them out or putting them away on their own.
When using your sensory tool kit, you want to look for times your child actually needs the tools to avoid them becoming regular toys that don’t serve a purpose. Your child should have their own toys to play with when they are naturally self-regulated. You also don’t want to push these toys too much, so introduce these items gradually to avoid any power struggles.
Again, this process will all be trial and error. It will take some time to figure out what your child likes and needs to help with sensory processing. Be patient and flexible! Once things fall into place, you will create a great tool kit to help your child (and you!) stay stress-free and happily regulated!
Guide by Ms. Michelle , RBT
ABCS Senior Behavior Therapist