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Activities for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory processing, or sensory integration, refers to the way our nervous system interprets sensory messages and turns them into the appropriate physical responses.

Your body processes sensory input whether you’re eating or reading, but some children have a condition that jumbles up sensory signals and makes day-to-day tasks become troublesome hurdles. This condition is referred to as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Occupational therapists can help create a sensory menu—or list of individualized sensory regulation activities—that help kids with sensory processing disorder behave more functionally.

sensory regulation activities

Proprioception Activities    

Proprioception is the sense of knowing where your body is positioned in relation to other body parts without needing to look at it. Proprioception activities that an occupational therapist recommends for a sensory diet depend on the patient. These activities are a key part of sensory integration therapy activities, designed to improve the body's ability to respond and regulate sensory input effectively. Examples include: 

  • For toddlers:
    - Practicing pushing a stroller.
    - Rolling up in a blanket, similar to a burrito.
  • For older children:
    - Jumping on a trampoline.
    - Pushing heavier objects, like a vacuum cleaner.

Tactile Activities

Your tactile sense allows you to detect light and deep pressure, vibrations, an object’s temperature, pain, and texture. Tactile activities for sensory integration are designed to enhance this sense and improve the body's ability to process and respond to tactile stimuli effectively. Tactile activities that can be beneficial for a child, as part of sensory regulation strategies, may include:

  • Simple play activities:
    - Playing with soap and sand.
    - Engaging in arts and crafts.
  • Culinary experiences:
    - Baking pastries.
    - Tasting foods with varying textures and temperatures.
  • Hobbies offering diverse tactile stimulation:
    - Gardening.
    - Scrapbooking.
    - Sewing.

Vestibular Activities

Your vestibular system uses organs in your inner ear to give you a sense of balance, help you sense movement, and keep you upright, as explained by to Brain Training Associates, Inc. Movements such as swinging, hanging, and spinning provide your body with the longest-lasting input, though any movement should stimulate your vestibular receptors. Some examples of vestibular integration therapy activities are: 

  • Swinging on a swing set.
  • Rolling down a grassy hill.
  • Dancing to music.
  • Doing jumping jacks.

Visual Activities

Visual inputs encompass the information our eyes receive from the surrounding environment. However, visual input may overwhelm you if you have sensory integration dysfunction. By engaging in sensory integration activities that focus on visual inputs, individuals can gradually improve their ability to process and respond to visual stimuli, leading to a more balanced sensory experience and enhanced overall well-being. Activities that may help a child with visual system problems include:

  • Fine motor skills activities:
    - Stringing beads.
    - Engaging in object-finding picture games.
  • Memory and recognition games:
    - Playing card-matching games.
    - "I Spy" Books or Games.
  • Interactive light-based activities:
    - Playing flashlight games, such as moving a flashlight on the wall to follow another flashlight's movements.
    - Shadow puppet play - creating engaging stories with hand or puppet shadows on the wall.

An occupational therapist may recommend that you limit visual stimuli surrounding your child to avoid overwhelming the system. It’s important to consult your therapist about how much stimulation is good for your child. In some cases, a reduction in extraneous stimulation could include clearing a classroom of clutter and asking the teacher to place her at the front where there are less distractions.

Hearing and Listening Activities

Hearing and listening activities are essential for a child's sensory development. Your child’s occupational therapist may recommend that you help improve your child’s auditory system by engaging in sensory regulation activities. These activities could include:

  • Sound-centric games:
    - Imitating drum rhythms with a stick.
    - Guessing the origins of various sounds.
  • Simple listening activities:
    - Listening to favorite songs.
    - Visiting the beach to hear the sounds of the ocean.
    - Taking a hike to listen to nature sounds.

Additionally, there are several products available to purchase that can help create a multi-sensory therapy experience at home. An example is music and movement-based program by Soundsory, which uses specialized headphones and a forty-day program to improve sensory processing, emotional regulation, and development of cognitive skills.

Tasting and Smelling Activities

Your child’s sense of smell and taste are closely linked and should allow the ability to enjoy positive flavors and scents, or react poorly to unpleasant or dangerous ones. Your child’s occupational therapist will specify the tasting and smelling activities that she thinks will help your child’s unique condition. These might include:

  • For children lacking sensitivity to smell and taste:
    - Guessing the smell of various scratch-and-sniff stickers.
    - Playing blindfolded food-guessing games.
  • For children who are extra sensitive to certain flavors:
    - Gradually incorporating new flavors into familiar foods.
    - Scented Play Dough play - engaging your child in sensory play using scented play dough to explore different smells in a fun and relaxed setting.

FAQs on Sensory Regulation Activities 

Common questions about sensory regulation activities often revolve around their effectiveness, the age at which they can be started, and how to tailor them to individual needs.

Why is sensory regulation important?

Sensory regulation is crucial because it helps individuals, especially children, process and respond to sensory information in a way that is adaptive and appropriate. Proper sensory regulation enables a child to maintain an optimal level of arousal and focus, which is essential for learning, social interaction, and daily functioning. When sensory input is not regulated effectively, it can lead to issues like sensory overload, under-responsiveness, or difficulty in engaging with the environment, impacting a child's emotional well-being and development.

What age should you start sensory play?

Sensory play can be introduced at a very early age, as it is a critical part of infant development. Even newborns benefit from gentle sensory therapy activities like skin-to-skin contact, soft music, or different textures. As infants grow into toddlers and young children, the range and complexity of sensory integration activities can expand. The key is to introduce sensory experiences in a safe, supervised, and age-appropriate manner, allowing children to explore and learn at their own pace. Starting early can aid in the development of motor skills, language, cognitive growth, and foster an overall sense of curiosity and exploration.

What are the best sensory regulation techniques for my child?

The best sensory regulation techniques for your child depend on their unique sensory needs and preferences. It's essential to observe and understand whether your child seeks or avoids certain sensory experiences. Consulting with an occupational therapist who specializes in sensory integration therapy can provide personalized strategies and activities tailored to your child's specific sensory profile.

Final Words

Children with SPD may benefit from specialized sensory-stimulating activities during therapy, and with a solid home program. An occupational therapist who is well-trained in how to manage SPD can help teach you the speech therapy activities that are best for your child so to live their happiest, fullest life. If you care for a child with SPD, talk to their doctor or therapist for more information about how you can help.

Additional Resources


Amy BOREL, Speech-Language Pathologist
Amy BOREL, Speech-Language Pathologist
Amy Borel is an American Speech-Language Pathologist, Writer, Editor, and English Teaching Professional. She graduated with her Master's degree from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan in the United States. Now living in Northern France, she enjoys writing and editing English for French organizations and teaching English to adult students.

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