Tuesday Toolbox – Giving Your Child a Sensory Diet at Home

by:  Jane Samuel

Like many children from hard places our daughter was diagnosed with sensory issues. As I began to get a grasp on her sensory needs and avoidances and attended OT sessions I kept a running list of what helped her and what would be a good tool to use at home. This Tuesday I am sharing what some things that we found invaluable in our home daily sensory diet.

First, consider creating a home sensory area (aka “gym”). This would allow the child a place to go if they are becoming dysregulated or can be a place to work on play and bonding activities. This can be fancy and take up an entire room, or it can be as simple as a corner of a room. Here are some pictures of a relatively comprehensive home sensory gym to give you an idea of the kinds of things you can create:

sensory1     sensory4     sensory3     sensory2

The construction of the gym will depend on the location you choose and on the way the room is built, and the essential ingredients for your gym will depend on what your child needs. I would say for our daughter the following were so important:

· some type of swing – how you install it will depend on the construction of your home, because it is essential that it be secured into a beam and not simply into plaster or drywall (see more details under costs);

· “proprioceptive” things like lycra sheets (that she can wrap her self in and feel where her body is and get that “joint compression” she craves – a “Body Sox” works well too), trampoline or big gym ball or hoppy ball to hop on, and something to hang on;

· something like a tube of fabric or a tunnel (made of spiral wire and sheeting – usually sold at Toy’s R Us, Ikea or one of the sensory catalogues) that you can crawl through with her/him;

· tactile things like a tent or at least a big bin (flat underbead kind that they have at Target, K-mart, Wal-Mart) to fill with beans (the soy beans or lentils are nice (the lentils don’t roll away from you!) and some scooping items (small cups, spoons, etc) for the tent or bin.

You can swap out the sensory items every so often. Don’t buy stuff, just look around the house and recycle!! Just today I found some old small plastic jars I had that had sprinkles in them – the sprinkles are now gone so I cleaned them out and put them in a basket on the table in the living room for her to discover (she likes it to be her idea!) and then she can fill them, screw the caps on (fine motor – great for handwriting) or do imaginary kitchen play with them.

The cost of a sensory space can be high or low depending on what you want and/or what your child needs. Here are some ballpark numbers.

· Some kind of matting for the floor $100-1,000 (cheap thin mattresses from Ikea (if you are lucky to live near one) or gym mats or plane foam – I think some fabric stores have foam still in big sheets still) AND crash mats $30 each (we have 8 but could have 6 and they cost me about $50 each including fabric and sewing them up and filling them with foam

· swing $20 and up;

· lycra fabric $20- 40 per sheet (2-3 meters long plus cording for the ends of the sheets to fashion so they can be hung up from stuff, if you buy several sheets then you can hang over top of each other and create the multi-layered “clouds”;

· D-Rings $3-5 each (get about 8);

· ropes $20-30: (various lengths – singe the ends so they don’t fray, can get at climbing or army/navy stores or sporting goods shops – should be thick like jump rope, use for hanging stuff or hanging from!);

· elastic cording $15-20 (various lengths cut and singed at edges with match flame and then tied to make loops for hanging lycra or tire swing or what not – gives proprioceptive work as it is like a bungy!);

· gym ball or hoppy ball $15-30;

· tent with bottom and sides and top (sold at toy stores) or bin for beans $15- 30; beans $10-15.

· ceiling plug (you have to hang swings  and climbing equipment from a beam because they must be able to bear lots of weight) NOTE: some of the sensory therapy product companies sell a hanging system for either the door frame (requires nails to be inserted) or a free-standing frame (more expensive but worthwhile if you don’t want to put anything into the walls).

You can also use outside space for sensory work, especially if you live in more temperate climates. Here are some outdoor suggestions:

· a swing (vestibular),

· jump ropes (proprioceptive),

· sand box (tactile),

· Lucite bin with shaving cream and water (again tactile – can use in warm months)

· bubble blowing toys (not hand held blowing machines, the child must do the blowing)

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