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100 Sensory Ideas: Activities for Autistic Children

Linking Sensory Ideas to Learning Intentions

We love sensory ideas, play based learning and developing engaging activities. The importance of sensory experiences in a child’s development is well-known. Engaging in sensory activities helps children build essential skills, including fine and gross motor skills, self-regulation, and emotional regulation. While vestibular activities, which stimulate the sense of balance and spatial orientation, are essential for development, some children may be sensitive to these activities or have conditions that limit their participation. For these children, it’s crucial to provide a variety of other sensory experiences to support their growth and learning.

The Importance of Messy and Heuristic Play For Autistic Children

We have written extensively on different types of play linked to sensory learning ideas and activities. This article on play types may provide you with suggestions on incorporating other targets into sensory or messy play. If you’re looking for more ideas on how to maximise the joy and learning outcomes of play, we can help you explore different play types and their benefits. With sensory play, you can engage a child’s senses and create fun and enriching experiences. Additionally, messy play can encourage creativity and provide opportunities for exploration and learning. By incorporating various targets into sensory or messy play, you can create a multidimensional learning experience that promotes cognitive, physical, and emotional development.

Linking Sensory Activities for Autism to Specific Learning Intentions.

In this article, we will explore a range of sensory resources and their learning intentions . With a focus on the tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, and proprioceptive sensory areas. These activities can be easily incorporated into a child’s daily routine and support their development in line with the UK Pre-Key Stage Standards and Routes for Learning. There are many benefits to using a sensory curriculum.

Below is a table with 30 activities that focus on various sensory areas, benefits to the child, and corresponding learning intentions from the Pre-Key Stage Standards and Routes for Learning. when you are building sensory ideas into your planned learning activities, whether chid initiated or adult directed you can easily link these to your current assessment system. Of course you can just have fun but in schools we need to be able to articulate why the children are doing certain activities.

Sensory Ideas: Learning Intentions Activities for Autistic Children immersive sensory experience

30 Sensory Ideas For Autism: Linked Outcomes

ActivitySensory AreaBenefit to the ChildLearning Intention (Pre-Key Stage Standards/Routes for Learning)
Finger paintingTactile (Touch)Enhances fine motor skills, creativity, and self-expression“Pupils explore a range of materials” (Pre-Key Stage 1: Engaging with the world: materials)
Play-Doh or clay modelingTactile (Touch)Develops fine motor skills, creativity, and tactile exploration“Pupils explore and manipulate objects in a variety of ways” (Routes for Learning: Exploration and Investigation)
Sensory binsTactile (Touch)Encourages tactile exploration, fine motor skills, and imaginative play“Pupils show curiosity about objects” (Pre-Key Stage 1: Myself and my world)
Water playTactile (Touch)Stimulates touch, enhances fine motor skills, and provides calming input“Pupils engage with water play activities” (Routes for Learning: Exploration and Investigation)
Fidget toysTactile (Touch)Reduces stress, improves focus, and supports self-regulation“Pupils manipulate fidget toys to self-regulate” (Routes for Learning: Emotional Responsiveness)
Calming glitter jarsVisual (Sight)Promotes relaxation and focus“Pupils watch objects as they move” (Routes for Learning: Sensory Responsiveness)
Light table activitiesVisual (Sight)Enhances visual perception, creativity, and fine motor skills“Pupils focus on and track sources of light” (Routes for Learning: Sensory Responsiveness)
Liquid motion toysVisual (Sight)Provides visual stimulation, promotes relaxation, and supports focus“Pupils watch objects as they move” (Routes for Learning: Sensory Responsiveness)
Lava lampsVisual (Sight)Encourages visual tracking, relaxation, and focus“Pupils track the movement of the lava lamp” (Routes for Learning: Sensory Responsiveness)
Watching fish in an aquariumVisual (Sight)Provides visual stimulation, promotes relaxation, and encourages focus – See youtube video below.“Pupils watch and track the movement of fish” (Routes for Learning: Sensory Responsiveness)
Listening to calming musicAuditory (Hearing)Reduces stress, improves mood, and supports emotional regulation“Pupils show preferences for particular pieces of music” (Pre-Key Stage 1: Engaging with the world: people and communities)
Sound bottlesAuditory (Hearing)Enhances auditory discrimination, focus, and curiosity“Pupils explore different sounds made by objects” (Routes for Learning: Exploration and Investigation)
RainsticksAuditory (Hearing)Provides calming auditory input, promotes relaxation, and supports focus“Pupils listen and respond to sounds” (Routes for Learning: Sensory Responsiveness)
Ocean drumAuditory (Hearing)Improves auditory discrimination, relaxation, and focus“Pupils explore the sounds of the ocean drum” (Routes for Learning: Exploration and Investigation)
Wind chimesAuditory (Hearing)Enhances auditory discrimination, focus, and relaxation“Pupils listen and respond to the sounds of wind chimes” (Routes for Learning: Sensory Responsiveness)
Aromatherapy diffusersOlfactory (Smell)Calms the nervous system and promotes relaxation“Pupils recognise and respond to familiar smells” (Routes for Learning: Sensory Responsiveness)
Scented play doughOlfactory (Smell)Stimulates the sense of smell, enhances fine motor skills, and supports creativity“Pupils explore a range of materials and scents” (Pre-Key Stage 1: Engaging with the world: materials)
Smell matching gamesOlfactory (Smell)Develops olfactory discrimination and memory skills“Pupils match objects based on their smell” (Routes for Learning: Exploration and Investigation)
Taste testing different foodsGustatory (Taste)Enhances taste exploration, introduces new flavours, and supports healthy eating habits“Pupils explore tastes and textures of different foods” (Pre-Key Stage 1: Engaging with the world: materials)
Cooking activitiesGustatory (Taste)Develops fine motor skills, introduces new flavours, and fosters independence“Pupils follow simple instructions in cooking activities” (Pre-Key Stage 1: Engaging with the world: people and communities)
Sorting by tasteGustatory (Taste)Enhances taste discrimination and categorisation skills“Pupils sort and categorise foods based on taste” (Routes for Learning: Exploration and Investigation)
Texture walkProprioceptiveDevelops body awareness, balance, and sensory exploration“Pupils explore a range of surfaces with their feet” (Pre-Key Stage 1: Engaging with the world: materials)
Weighted blankets or vestsProprioceptiveProvides deep pressure, supports self-regulation, and promotes relaxation“Pupils use weighted blankets or vests for self-regulation” (Routes for Learning: Emotional Responsiveness)
Resistance activitiesProprioceptiveBuilds muscle strength, improves body awareness, and enhances motor planning“Pupils engage in resistance activities to develop body awareness” (Routes for Learning: Physical Skills)
Deep pressure massageProprioceptiveCalms the nervous system, supports self-regulation, and promotes relaxation“Pupils respond positively to deep pressure massage” (Routes for Learning: Emotional Responsiveness)
Animal walksProprioceptiveEnhances body awareness, motor planning, and gross motor skills“Pupils imitate animal movements to develop gross motor skills” (Pre-Key Stage 1: Myself and my world)
Yoga for childrenProprioceptiveImproves body awareness, balance, and self-regulation“Pupils participate in yoga activities to develop body awareness and self-regulation” (Routes for Learning: Emotional Responsiveness)
Building with blocksProprioceptiveDevelops fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and spatial awareness“Pupils manipulate and stack blocks or other objects” (Pre-Key Stage 1: Engaging with the world: materials)
GardeningProprioceptiveEnhances fine motor skills, sensory exploration, and fosters a connection to nature“Pupils engage in gardening activities” (Pre-Key Stage 1: Engaging with the world: people and communities)

100 Further Sensory Ideas.

Here is a more extensive list of sensory ideas that can be beneficial for autistic children. These activities are designed to stimulate their senses and offer a calming or engaging experience. It’s important to note that every child is unique, so it is crucial to personalise these activities based on their preferences and individual requirements. Check out our post on tactile sensory activities in the garden for even more ideas.

By taking the time to adapt these sensory ideas and implementing them effectively, you can help create a tremendously positive and highly supportive environment for autistic children. This nurturing environment aids in their overall development and well-being, enabling them to thrive. It is important to bear in mind, however, that what may prove effective for one child may not necessarily yield the same results for another. It is crucial to remain open-minded and flexible in modifying these suggestions to best cater to the unique needs and requirements of each individual child. You may need to try the idea at another time depending on their mood. Carefully choosing when to introduce an activity can really impact on its effectiveness.

1. Tactile (Touch)

  1. Finger painting
  2. Play-Doh or clay modelling
  3. Sensory bins (filled with rice, beans, sand, etc.)
  4. Water play (with added toys, sponges, or brushes)
  5. Fidget toys (stress balls, putty, etc.)
  6. Squishy bags (filled with gel, hair gel, or shaving cream)
  7. Texture boards (with various materials like fabric, sandpaper, etc.)
  8. Exploring different fabrics (silk, cotton, fleece, etc.)
  9. Foam or bubble play
  10. Soft toys or plushies

2. Visual Sensory Activities (Sight)

  1. Calming glitter jars
  2. Light table activities
  3. Liquid motion toys
  4. Lava lamps
  5. Watching fish in an aquarium
  6. Colour sorting activities
  7. Shadow play
  8. Sticker art
  9. Marble runs
  10. Kaleidoscope or prisms

3. Auditory Sensory Activities(Hearing)

  1. Listening to calming music
  2. Sound bottles (filled with various items that make different noises)
  3. Rainsticks
  4. Ocean drum
  5. Wind chimes
  6. White noise machine
  7. Musical instruments (tambourines, drums, xylophones, etc.)
  8. Audiobooks or storytelling
  9. Singing or humming
  10. Rhythm games (clapping, tapping, stomping)

4. Olfactory (Smell)

  1. Aromatherapy diffusers
  2. Scented play dough, stickers, or markers
  3. Smell matching games
  4. Scented candles (be cautious with open flames)
  5. Exploring natural scents (flowers, herbs, spices)
  6. Scented bubbles
  7. Smelling jars with various scents
  8. Scented hand lotion
  9. Scented sensory bins
  10. Scratch-and-sniff books

5. Gustatory (Taste)

  1. Taste testing different foods (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami)
  2. Food art (using edible materials)
  3. Cooking or baking activities
  4. Drinking through fun straws
  5. Popsicles or ice cream tasting
  6. Smoothie making
  7. Chewing gum
  8. Sipping warm beverages (hot chocolate, herbal tea)
  9. Scented lip balm
  10. Exploring food textures

6. Vestibular (Balance and Movement)

  1. Swinging
  2. Trampoline or bounce house
  3. Rocking chair or hammock
  4. Spinning in a chair
  5. Balance beams or stepping stones
  6. Yoga or stretching exercises
  7. Dancing
  8. Obstacle courses
  9. Scooter boards
  10. Rolling on a therapy ball

7. Proprioceptive Activities (Body Awareness and Position)

  1. Deep pressure activities (weighted blanket, bear hugs, etc.)
  2. Joint compression exercises
  3. Resistance bands
  4. Pushing or pulling activities (wagon, shopping cart)
  5. Climbing activities (playground, rock wall)
  6. Jumping or stomping
  7. Crawling through tunnels
  8. Carrying heavy objects (backpack, weighted vest)
  9. Squeezing stress balls or putty
  10. Animal walks (crab walk, bear crawl, etc.)

8. Fine Motor Activities (Hand and Finger Skills)

  1. Bead threading or lacing
  2. Pegboard activities
  3. Puzzles
  4. Cutting and pasting activities
  5. Tweezers or tongs for sorting and picking up small objects
  6. Building with blocks or Legos
  7. Buttoning, zipping, or snapping activities
  8. Sticker peeling
  9. Finger puppets
  10. Pipe cleaner creations

9. Gross Motor (Large Muscle Skills)

  1. Playing catch or rolling a ball
  2. Hopping, skipping, or jumping
  3. Bicycle riding or scooter riding
  4. Kicking a ball or playing soccer
  5. Swimming or water play
  6. Running or jogging
  7. Playing tag or other chasing games
  8. Tug-of-war
  9. Climbing stairs or hills
  10. Marching or stomping

10. Social and Emotional Sensory Ideas

  1. Emotion games and cards
  2. Role-playing or pretend play
  3. Group games or cooperative activities
  4. Practicing calming techniques (deep breaths, counting, etc.)
  5. Sensory Storytelling or reading books about emotions
  6. Puppets for acting out social scenarios
  7. Taking turns or waiting with games or activities
  8. Sharing a sensory experience with a peer or caregiver
  9. Expressing emotions through sensory art
  10. Practising self-regulation skills (identifying personal triggers, finding calming strategies) using a SPD first aid kit.

Always keep an eye on the little ones while they’re exploring these amazing sensory ideas and activities. Feel free to tweak them to suit each child’s unique abilities and preferences. The main goal is to make sure that every sensory experience is not only fun but also highly beneficial for each child.

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