Sensory Tool Kits- What are they and how do I make one?
Sensory processing challenges come in many shapes and sizes. Some kids have trouble figuring out where their bodies are in space and avoid certain kinds of movement while others constantly seek out movement.
Some kids are over-sensitive to sensory input (sights, sounds, textures, smells and flavors), while others are under-sensitive.
Some kids withdraw from social situations while others become overly aggressive and intrusive.
No matter how different their sensory processing challenges may be, the one that all sensory-sensitive kids share is being able to effectively respond to stressful events. This skill of emotional regulation is difficult for all kids, but especially difficult for kids with SPD.
Because their brains have trouble processing sensory input, their nervous systems are often in a state of high alert, making them more vulnerable to meltdowns.
But don't worry! Having some "tools" on hand to help keep their sensitive nervous systems regulated can go a long way toward preventing sensory-induced meltdowns. That's where the sensory tool kit comes in...
What is a sensory tool kit?
A sensory tool kit is a portable box, bin, or bag full of sensory tools and toys that help calm or stimulate your child's nervous system.
When you notice your child getting overstimulated, you can grab your handy sensory kit and pull out a calming toy like noise-reducing earmuffs or a squeezy ball.
When he seems sluggish or is having trouble focusing, you can whip out a stimulating toy like this piece of gum (chewing gum is both stimulating and organizing for a child's nervous system).
What goes in a sensory tool kit?
According to one child development specialist, you'll want to include items that will "both help alert and calm children (as these needs occur at different times in a day), items that will reduce stress or sensory triggers, and items that will provide sensory input to your child without being overly distracting to the other children around them."
The specific toys and tools in the kit will be unique to your child's sensory needs; you'll have to do a little trial and error to figure out which ones he responds to best.
Don't feel like you have to fill the tool kit in one fell swoop. We chose three items to start with, then gradually added more.
Here are 25 sensory tool ideas to choose from...
Tools for Oral Input (good for focus and alertness)
Tools for Calming
Tools for Proprioceptive Input (calming and organizing)
How do I use a sensory tool kit?
Once you have a few items in your kit, you'll want to introduce them to your child slowly, when she's calm and regulated (you don't want to spring it on her for the first time when she's in the middle of sensory overload!).
Here's an example of how you can do it-
"Honey, this is a bin that we're going to fill with toys that will help calm you when your body feels like it has too much energy and that can also help wake your body up when it feels like it doesn't have enough energy. Which toy do you want to play with first?"
After he chooses, explain what the toy is for-
"That's called Jacob's Ladder. It's a good one to play with when your body feels like it has too much energy and needs to calm down."
Follow his lead, let him play with it until he's ready to move on to the next one. "This one is called a squeezey ball. It can also help your body calm down when you feel like you have too much energy." Once you've explained each toy, keep the box out where he's playing and let him explore the toys when he wants to.
Start bringing the box with you when you go on outings. When you notice he's needing some help calming down or focusing, cue him to use one of the toys- "It looks like your body has a lot of energy, is there something in your tool kit that might help?"
Don't push it (you want to avoid a power struggle!) and remember to add to it gradually.
Again, it will take some trial and error to figure out which tools your child responds to and, as with most things parenting-related, it will require some patience and flexibility on your part. But, once you've zeroed in what does work, you'll have a fabulous, portable bag of tricks that will go a long way towards keeping your child (and you!) regulated.
Do you have a sensory tool kit for your child? What's in yours? When has it come in handy? Leave a comment below, the Sensory Mom community and I would love to hear what's worked for your child.