10 DIY Sensory Activities for kids with autism

What activities are good for children with autism? Here are 10 DIY sensory activities for autistic children and building a sensory diet.

Why are sensory activities important?

Many children on the autism spectrum need help with sensory inputs. Their brain has difficulty processing all the sensory information bombarding them, or they need more sensory input to provide regulation and calming. At different times, a child may be sensory seeking, or sensory avoiding.

For regulation of emotions, having a proactive sensory diet can help. Building in times throughout the day for physical activity can help with processing of sensory information. A sensory diet can include

  • physical activities using the whole body
  • touch or tactile activities
  • visually stimulating activities
  • activities that give oral (mouth) stimulation
  • sound or auditory activities

1-3: Physical Sensory Activities

Physical activities can help regulate body energy, by getting excess body energy out. This can help with concentration, attention, and regulating emotions.

1. Swinging or bouncing.

If you have a trampoline or swing at home, you don’t need to leave your yard. If not, wander down to your local playground and use the swings, monkeybars, round-a-bouts or mini trampolines that are available at the park. Whether going up and down, forward and back, or around and around, this whole body movement provides great physical sensory input.

See if you can create a circuit of different activities (20 jumps on the trampoline, followed by 30 swings, then cross the monkey bars and return by balancing on the beams). Alternatively, see if you can bounce or move in different ways. For example, bounce like a frog, bounce on your knees, bounce really high, bounce like a kangaroo.

2. Get out cushions for a crash mat or cuddly cubby.

Providing weighted items, places to have safe rough and tumble play, or places to hide in can give sensory stimulation. Try piling a bunch of couch cushions into a giant pile and jumping onto them. You could also stuff an old quilt cover with cushions or soft foam. Fill so that the quilt cover is as thick as it can be, with no gaps, and use it as a crash mat to jump onto. A homemade crash mat can also make rough and tumble play safe. While you have a giant pile of cushions out, rearrange them to make a cubby to hide in. You could also pile cushions, blankets or weighted blankets carefully on top of their body for deep pressure and weighted sensory input.

3. Activate core muscles with funny movement

The bigger the muscle group, the more sensory stimulation. Try funny movement like animal walks (walk like a crab or a frog or a kangaroo), wheelbarrow walking, or using a bike or scooter. You could also try walking around the house with an ‘explorers backpack’. Fill a backpack with heavy items like a full water bottle or weighted items and carry it around the house.

4-6: Touch or Tactile DIY Sensory Activities

4. DIY sensory slimes

There are many different ways of making food-safe slimes at home using kitchen ingredients – no borax required! These squishy, messy, sensory mixtures can provide a calming activity. Leave them in little containers in the fridge and pull them out when a few moments of quiet regulation and calm are required. Being food safe, they won’t last forever, but should keep for a week in the fridge. If slime isn’t as popular, try playdough, plasticine, or clay that can be shaped and moulded.

OPTION 1. Oobleck

  1. Add 1/3 cup of corn starch to ¼ cup of tap water in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add food colouring if you want a different colour.
  3. Mix slowly until it’s all combined.
  4. Pick up a bit in your hand and squeeze firmly- as long as pressure is bring applied, the oobleck will feel solid. Open up your hand and it will flow freely like a liquid.

OPTION 2. Edible Slime

  1. Add 2 tablespoons of psyllium husk into a microwave safe bowl.
  2. Add 1 cup of water, 5 drops of food colouring and mix well.
  3. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Repeat for another 1 minute if it doesn’t look combined and gell-like.
  4. Cool completely (it will be very hot).

OPTION 3. Agar-agar slime

  1. In a small saucepan, add 1 cup of cold water.
  2. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of agar agar powder on top and stir to dissolve. Add 5 drops food colouring as desired.
  3. Bring to a boil while stirring and boil for about a minute.
  4. Allow to cool. At room temperature the agar agar slime will begin to set and have a jelly-like slime consistency.

5. DIY sensory bowls

You’ve heard of Thai Buddha bowls, but what about sensory bowls?! A bowl or shallow baking tray filled with a sensory material can be used to play and touch. It could be used to draw in, or for hiding little toys to find.

Try filling a sensory bowl/tray with:

  • dry pasta – little macaroni makes a good sensory material to run your fingers through and hide toys in.
  • shaving cream – this works well sprayed onto a tray, then finger painting or drawing through the cream.
  • jelly or slime – see the recipes above for food-safe slimes that could fill a bowl with toys hidden inside
  • tapioca pearl water beads – hydrate tapioca pearls to create water beads that make a soft, cool sensory touch for your hands
  • rice, dried beans, bird seed or lentils – go through your pantry and see what dried goods you have in the back! Pour them into a sensory bowl for touching. You can even pour them into a balloon, fabric bag or little bag to make a sensory ball.

6. DIY Sensory Potions

Mixing water, pouring, stirring, and blending colours can provide calming sensory stimulation. Go through the pantry and bathroom and pull out leftover old ingredients like tea leaves, detergent, food colouring or paint, bicarb, vinegar, shaving cream to make magical potions. Follow the Recipe cards for DIY potions to make sensory potions that promote calm.

potion recipe instruction card

7-8: Visual DIY Sensory Activities

Providing visual stimulation could include reading books using a torch, turning on brighter lights, or focusing on busy pictures or objects.

7. DIY Glitter calm jar

A glitter jar can provide sensory input, with constantly changing glittery pieces falling through the water.

Grab a jar with a lid that can screw on. Fill the jar with glitter or tiny pieces of chopped up cellophane or metallic plastic. Add water to fill and food colouring if you want. Use glue to secure the lid firmly in place so it doesn’t leak or come off.

DIY sensory glitter jar

8. Find it jars or bags

A Find-it bag is an easy DIY to make at home. Use a tall clear jar or a plastic bag. Fill it with a base material like rice, beads or lentils. Add little plastic toys, buttons or beads to be the things you find. Beads or toys the shape of sea animals, flowers, or foods work well. Find it jars work best when the items you’re finding are similar in size to the base material. Shake them up and then see what you can find.

9: Oral Sensory Activities

9. DIY chew toy from old clothes

Some kids just need to have something in their mouth. And if a chew toy stops them biting or yelling at other kids, it’s a win. Chewing gum or other chewy food can provide oral sensation, but these are often sweet and aren’t allowed at school. You can buy silicone chew toys, but you can also make DIY chew toys from old clothes or scrap fabric.

If your child love to suck on their clothes, blankets or cushions around the house or when going to bed, consider making a chew toy. Find old clothes or scrap fabric. Cut long strips and plait them together to make a rope. Alter the thickness and texture until you find something that it appealing to chew or suck.

10. Auditory Sensory Activities

10. Silent Disco or my-own-speaker

Listening to favourite music can be calming and provide auditory input. Our son needs background noise (music or a ceiling fan on) otherwise he says everyday environmental sounds are annoying. Hypersensitivity in hearing can be associated with autism. In this case, noise cancelling headphones may help cut out background noises. However, if auditory input is needed instead, try a silent disco.

The whole household probably doesn’t want to listen to your child’s music. So put headphones on and have a silent disco. Dance around or just sit still and listen to your own music in your headphones without bothering other. If headphones are an issue, connect to a small bluetooth speaker and carry around your own music without bothering others.

Conclusion: DIY Sensory Activities

From physical activities using the whole body, to DIY touch or tactile activities. It’s easy to make slime, playdough or tactile sensory bowls at home. But don’t forget to consider other senses than touch. For kids that are looking for visual, oral or auditory input, there are plenty of DIY activities to provide sensory input.

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