Today I’m sharing the best gifts for sensory kids. I hope that this sensory processing disorder gift guide will help your family learn to manage and improve those important skills!
Do you have a child who struggles with what I call sensory STUFF? What is sensory stuff? Well, it’s a catch-all term that I use to describe a certain type of kiddo who seeks and/or avoids sensory input. It could be that the child has symptoms of:
- Sensory processing disorder (SPD)
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD)
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Whatever the cause, some children have sensory needs that are quite different from the norm. These children seek certain sensory input and avoid other. They may struggle with attention and focus. They may display unwanted behaviors. They may benefit from direct instruction of coping skills.
As the mother of a child with sensory stuff, I’m right there in the trenches with you. Today, I’d like to share the tools, books, toys, and resources that have helped us navigate the world of SPD, anxiety, and attentional challenges. These are, in my opinion, the best sensory gifts for kids. When you are done reading, I’d love to hear your favorite gifts for kids with sensory stuff. By sharing, you’ll be helping other parents who are starting out on this wild ride!
Sensory Processing Disorder Gift Guide
*Disclosure: I received Chewigem at no cost in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review and, as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. I only share products that I believe others will love and those that I would use with my own family.
In this post, I’ve listed all of our favorite products for children who struggle with sensory STUFF.
- First, I’ll discuss the practical gifts for children who struggle with sensory challenges.
- Next, I’ll share our favorite toys to give those kiddos the movement they crave. These are great tools for parents, too, because they help wear those energizer bunnies out!
- Finally, I’ll share our favorite tools to calm children down.
And, because it wouldn’t be a My Little Poppies post without some book recommendations, I’ve included heaps of those, too!
Sensory Processing Disorder Gift Guide: Practical Gifts
First, let’s talk about the practical gifts. These are the tools that help us to get through the day. They decrease unwanted behaviors, improve focus and attention, and help to develop those much-needed coping skills.
Do you have a kid who sticks everything in his or her mouth? I have two: both of my boys always have their fingers, shirtsleeves, pencils… whatever… in their mouths. They have ruined shirts, pencil tips, toys, and more. Purchasing a chewable necklace or bracelet has been on my mental list of things to do since Leo was first diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, but for one reason or another I never cross it off the list. That’s where Chewigem comes in! We recently had a chance to try out Chewigem’s Raindrop, a pendant for mild to moderate chewers. Leo loves it. In addition to meeting his chewing needs, the gem is also a great fidget. It resembles worry stones of old and I swear he’s calmer when he’s using it. Bonus? It helps him to focus on homeschooling tasks. In the photo on the right, he is working on his math and you can tell he’s in the zone. Chewigem offers many different styles and designs for mild oral seekers to more intense chewers. If you like what you see here, follow Chewigem on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
I love these things. Love. These. Things. Honestly, these headphones were a game changer over here. When Leo’s SPD was at its height, we taught him to use them as a coping strategy. If he was melting down because someone was watching TV, or due to a thunderstorm, or whatever, he could pop these on and feel better. As a child who struggles to maintain focus, these have helped us with homeschooling as he is able to tune out his younger siblings while working. And, when the SPD and anxiety swells, he relies on them for support. I honestly want my own pair!
Leo used to wiggle so much in his seat that he would literally fall out of it- multiple times. This was disruptive at meal times, as he’d often fall out of his seat while holding a beverage. Spills galore, folks! What helped us during that time was a wiggle cushion and like the one you see here. The cushion provided him with a way to wiggle while allowing him to stay [mostly] in his seat during meals. I love that you can travel with it, and when I was working as a school psychologist we had countless kiddos who would use these during the school day
This was Leo’s kitchen chair until we renovated our kitchen, at which point we realized two things: 1., it was too small for the island and 2., he had outgrown the need for it. Up until that point, this little wobble chair was a godsend. It allowed him freedom to tip, twist, and turn without tipping over, and yet he couldn’t bounce all over the place with it (we tried a yoga ball for a seat first and it was a major fail).
Bouncy Bands is an award-winning sensory tool for active learners. Bouncy Bands can be used on desks or chairs and they are available in several sizes, with customized sizing available. You can read our review here.
Many children who struggle with sensory difficulties benefit from the opportunity to fidget. When Leo was in kindergarten, he would often smuggle one of his various collections to school to fidget with, until they were confiscated by his teacher. It can be helpful to provide these kiddos with an appropriate fidget, something that will not get them in trouble. Also, because these children tend to also struggle with executive functioning, they have a tendency to misplace fidgets. I like Sensory Stixx because they are fun and inexpensive.
Visual timers can significantly reduce power struggles and help children to learn early time management skills. Plus, I love that I don’t have to say the same thing over and over and over again. The timer helps me out, big time! I use the timer for brushing teeth, homeschool assignments, piano practice, clean-up time, and iPad turn-taking. They love to argue with me, but you can’t argue with time.
Sensory Processing Disorder Gift Guide: Gifts to Get kids Moving… in Appropriate Ways
I am a huge advocate of getting all kids outdoors, not just children who struggle with sensory stuff. Nature has been scientifically proven to make people happier and calmer. I love the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv and I recommend it often. That said, sometimes it can be hard to get outdoors. Last winter, for example, we had a major home renovation that rendered much of our yard unsafe. In addition, we had epic snowfall totals and my children were sick all of the time. It was, by far, our worst winter ever. I felt like the universe was against us, as if I was trapped inside the house. It made everyone crabby and we were so thankful when spring appeared here in New England. I keep joking that I have a form of PTSD from last winter. Honestly, in my 37-years on this planet, I’ve never complained about New England winters. I choose to live here, but last winter almost did me in.
This year, I’m ready for winter. I intend to be outdoors as much as possible, as in past winters, but if the universe decides to fight me again, I am prepared. I have gathered all of our sensory-friendly activities, plus a radio, in one section of our basement and we will get adequate exercise come hell or high water. If winter starts to get us down, we’re going to take to the basement to dance, wiggle, jump, and move to the music! Today, I’m sharing some of those activities with you all, so that you can survive winter too!
Our occupational therapist recommended this trampoline and it has been such a wonderful addition to our home. Certainly, it helps Leo when he has too much energy, and especially on days when the weather is not cooperating, but it makes my other two kiddos happy, too. And, I’m not going to lie: I love it, too. In fact, a friend of mine just gave me another trampoline that her children have outgrown so now we will have dueling trampolines in our basement. That will cut down on bickering and increase exercise!
We were given this as a gift several years ago and my kids love it. When Leo was in occupational therapy, his therapist recommended this toy, too! This pogo jumper is safe to use indoors. It won’t damage your floors, but it will give kids the vestibular input that they crave. Full disclosure from a mom with her own sensory issues: it does squeak, but it’s not terrible!
Do you remember these things from when you were little? They are still around! My kids love to have races in our backyard, but this winter I’m planning on taking them inside to our basement. While I fold laundry, the kids can bounce and be goofy and wear themselves out!
I love this little thing! I think of it as Simon for but with a balance component. Children try to keep the board balanced while following directions. When it says red, you must tip the board so that the red corner hits the ground and then go back to center. There is a memory component, as you must follow the order which increases in length and a speed component. It keeps kids busy and works on those very important listening skills! If you don’t like the noise, check out these fantastic balance boards!
Children cannot resist the fun that awaits with these little cars. The best part? They must use their bodies to propel the cars. It’s a perfect way to channel your child’s energy while also working on gross motor skills, coordination, and fitness. I’m putting ours in the basement this winter for those too-cold days.
Flying turtles are awesome. We received these as a gift and, unfortunately, they don’t work well on our sloped driveway so we brought them up north to my parents’ place and they are amazing. And I’m not just saying they are fun for kids, they are super fun for adults. We love to have races. Kids work their core while having a blast.
Another blast from the past, these pogo balls are still around and just as much fun as they were back then. This is a great way to practice balance, use energy, and exercise. Bonus: they don’t take up much space and you can travel with them easily!
Jump ropes are such an easy, wonderful toy. They store easily, can be taken anywhere, and they provide hours of entertainment. Jumping rope is a fantastic physical activity, plus you are working on coordination and gross motor skills. Have a jumping content, jump to music, do tricks, or even use your jump rope for an exciting STEM project– they sky is the limit!
This classic toy gets kids moving and you don’t need a ton of space to use it. This is a great way to let your kids get the movement they crave in a fun way!
This is such an easy way to provide your movement seekers with what they crave! Leave it out, or roll it up to store for a rainy day. You can even make your own mat!
This is such a simple way to wear those kids out. I am putting ours in our basement, along with the items outlined above, so that the kids can wear themselves out while I tackle the never-ending laundry pile!
Sensory Processing Disorder Gift Guide: Calming Gifts
We all know that kids need to move, but sometimes they also need to calm down. It can be challenging to get children who struggle with sensory stuff to calm down. Here are some tips and tricks from our home. I hope they help bring peace to yours!
Children need enough space to be calm. While I wish we had space for this amazing product, all you really need is a cozy spot with calming items available. A corner of your child’s room would work. Pop-up tents are a fantastic way to create a calming area in any room of your house. We actually keep a Worry Basket in one corner of Leo’s room and that has been huge for helping him learn to calm down when he’s struggling.
There is something incredibly calming about bubbles. You can purchase bubble solution in the store, or you can make your own. Then, just enjoy and let relaxation take over!
A reader shared this gem with me back in August! Our little family has fallen in love with Headspace, a daily meditation app. Andy Puddicombe has become an inaugural member of our family. We listen to his meditation nightly and, most nights, at least one child falls asleep! I love that Andy is teaching my children how to calm, and I especially appreciate the wonderful videos that pop up every few days. We love the app so much that we ended up getting the membership and the book. Ten thumbs up!
Our family has been a bit zentangle-obsessed for over a year now. We even got Schizz to do some one afternoon! This book is one of our favorite zentangle books. The wonderful thing about zentangle is that you honestly don’t need to be artistic. It’s just repeating patterns and doodles and it’s incredibly relaxing. We love to zentangle with these pens and these paper tiles. Trust me, you’ll get a bit obsessed yourself if you try it!
Mandala coloring books are fantastic for little worriers. Filling in these geometric shapes is calming for all ages. There is a variety of mandala coloring books online and I have pinned several to my Mindfulness Pinterest board, so be sure to swing by and check them out.
Leo has several guided relaxation CDs in his Worry Basket including the following: Indigo Dreams Relaxation and Stress Management for Children, Indigo Ocean Dreams, Indigo Ocean Dreams, I Can Relax!, and Dreaming of Ponies. In addition, I’m planning on making my own guided relaxation CD for the kids (just like how I made audiobooks for the kids). It will not only save some cash but I also think it will be comforting for the kids to hear my voice when they are afraid at night.
Everyone in our family has a sound machine for sleeping. Schizz and I started using one when we lived in Boston, to drown out the sirens and traffic at night. Then, we used them with both boys who were not good sleepers when they arrived on the scene. Our children now associate the sound machines with sleep and the machines are part of our routine.
I can get lost in these liquid motion desk toys, folks. I used to have a bunch of them in my office and kids never failed to play with them during counseling sessions. There’s something extremely calming about watching the colored liquid. Be sure to check out my Mindfulness Pinterest Board for some tips on DIY calm down tubes.
When Leo was participating in occupational therapy, his therapist recommended a weighted blanket for calming. He doesn’t use it much these days until his worries ramp up and when they do, he loves to snuggle under the blanket and read or listen to a calming CD or audiobook. Part of reducing worries is feeling cozy, and these blankets help with that for sure!
We have used lavender essential oil to make Calm Down Spray and Calm Down Play Dough. Calm Down Spray can be kept in your child’s Worry Basket and used as a calming linen spray at bedtime. You could call it Worries Be Gone Spray and let the child be in charge of the spraying. Calm Down Play Dough can be kept in the Worry Basket as well, depending on the age of the child.Kinetic sand
Have you tried this stuff, folks? Amazing. Once you start touching it, you can’t stop (provided you aren’t tactile defensive). My children find it to be extremely calming, as do I, and it is so much less messy than Play-Doh (which we also love) or actual sand.
I use yoga and meditation myself, and I have used it with students in the past, and so I’ve tried to use it with my own children in the past. My attempts were unsuccessful – due in large part to attention- until just recently. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying introducing my children to mindfulness. They now request a relaxation story before bed each evening. It’s not uncommon for one member of our party to be so relaxed during that story that he drifts off to sleep for the night. Here are the mindfulness and meditation books that are in our library:
- A Pebble for Your Pocket by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud
- Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents by Sarah Conover
- Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee Maclean
- Peaceful Piggy Yoga by Kerry Lee Maclean
- Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh
- You Are a Lion! And Other Fun Yoga Poses by Tae-Eun You
- The Buddha’s Apprentice at Bedtime: Tales of Compassion and Kindness for You to Read with Your Child – to Delight and Inspire by Dharmachari Nagaraja
Sensory Processing Disorder Gift Guide: Books for Children
Bibliotherapy can work wonders for young kids. If one of my kids is struggling with worries, or attention, or separation anxiety, or anything, I often head to the library and grab a book as the starting point for family conversation. Thankfully, there are a lot of great books out there on attention challengings and sensory difficulties including these:
- Calm Down Time by Elizabeth Verdick
- I Just Don’t Like the Sound of No! My Story About Accepting No for an Answer and Disagreeing the Right Way! by Julia Cook
- I Just Want to Do it My Way!: My Story About Staying on Task and Asking for Help (Best Me I Can Be!) by Julia Cook
- It’s Hard to Be a Verb! by Julia Cook
- My Mouth Is a Volcano!
- Squirmy Wormy: How I Learned to Help Myself by Lynda Farrington Wilson
- Why Does Izzy Cover Her Ears? Dealing with Sensory Overload by Jennifer Veenendall
Sensory Processing Disorder Gift Guide: Books for Children
Between m training as a school psychologist and the past 8 and 1/2-years of parenting this tornado-full-of-boy, I have read a lot of books about sensory processing disorder and ADHD. Here are some of my favorites:
- Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Ratey, M.D.
- Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues by Lindsey Biel
- Smart But Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
- Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) by Lucy Jane Miller
- Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents by Russell A. Barkley
- The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz
- Understanding Your Child’s Sensory Signals: A Practical Daily Use Handbook for Parents and Teachers by Angie Voss, OTR
Sometimes SPD overlaps with Anxiety
If that is true in your world, this post will help:
Looking for more gifts?
Be sure to check out our gift guides.
Now, it’s your turn. What are your favorite gifts for sensory kids? What would you add to our sensory processing disorder gift guide? Share here!
Cait co-hosts The Homeschool Sisters Podcast and is co-founder of Raising Poppies, a community for parents of gifted and twice-exceptional children. Cait is also founder of the Family Book Club at My Little Poppies, a fantastic community of book-loving parents and the Gameschool Community at My Little Poppies, a vibrant community of gameschoolers.
Cait is a contributing writer for Simple Homeschool and GeekMom. Her work has also appeared on The Huffington Post, The Mighty, and Scary Mommy. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram