10 Fun Sensory Activities for Children with Autism

By sandra.caplesc…, 25 October, 2021
A wooden train.

Children who struggle with a sensory processing disorder (SPD) are easily bored and have difficulty regulating their emotions. While sensory activities are fun for every preschool child, it’s highly beneficial for a child on the autism spectrum. Stimulating their senses through sensory play can support development on social, emotional, and cognitive levels.

Art and craft activities that incorporate senses will improve your child’s attention span and self-expression. Moreover, it will significantly reduce anxiety symptoms. Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) need to engage them in sensory play to soothe them, especially now during the coronavirus lockdown. Luckily, there are many fun sensory activities for kids with ASD that are cheap, and you can do them at home.

The Benefits of Sensory Play

Sensory play refers to the activities that engage one of the five senses: touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell. Such exercises improve a child’s concentration, coordination, and cognition. Children with ASD will discover and explore the world, which helps them develop language, motor skills, and even self-control. These crafts are available for kids of any ability and age.

Engaging a child with autism in sensory activities can help with:

  • Language skills—By discussing their experiences, children engaging in sensory play will develop their language skills and increase their vocabulary.
  • Social skills—Children engaging in pretend play build their imagination by learning how to share, plan, and negotiate.
  • Fine motor skills—Through the manipulation of small objects from sensory bins, kids can build hand-eye coordination. It also helps strengthen the muscles in a kid’s hands and wrists.
  • Gross motor skills—Squatting, jumping, or running through sensory play helps a child develop gross motor skills by strengthening their large muscles.
  • Self-control—If a child responds appropriately to sensory stimulation, they will be able to enhance their self-control and self-regulation, as they learn to respect the rules of the activity.

Furthermore, sensory activities have a calming effect for children on the spectrum who are agitated or struggle with anxiety. It’s especially effective if you include it as a part of your child’s daily routine. Speak to a professional about the best type of activities before starting on a sensory diet.

10 Fun Sensory Activities

You can alter the activities however you like. They are not meant to be played in a certain way, and you can change them as you wish to fulfill your child's needs. Remember to interact and play with your kid, not just put the toys in front of them. Make a big deal out of what you are doing, but don’t force it. If your child is not interested, encourage them instead and let them lead. Try more options and see what he likes. So, let’s see the sensory activities, shall we?

1. Bubble Wrap Stomp Painting

Whether it's window painting or footprint painting, any kind of painting is suitable for your special bundle of joy. This fun activity combines art, gross motor skills, and tactile sensory to create a multi-tasking idea. Bubble wrap is super fun to play with and, even if it gets messy, it's easy to clean up. Plus, it's easy on the wallet. If your kid doesn't like the sound, consider using paper towels.

2. Edible Slime

Slimes are a popular craft on the Internet nowadays. There are many recipes online you can try, but don’t forget it’s a messy activity. Homemade slime is stretchy and fun—and can even be safe to eat, especially if your child tends to put things in his mouth. This cross between a liquid and solid will surely interest a child with ASD as they can stretch it, smash it, or chew it.

Use this great glue for slime to get you started. 

3. Ball Pit

A ball pit is slightly more expensive than other activities, but it's worth it for the tremendous hand-eye coordination. For children with autism, ball pools allow them to relax while benefiting from the sensory input. The bright colors, shape, and texture of the balls will help children enjoyably experience sensory stimulation. A giant box of approximately 500 balls is needed so your child can dive in and "swim" around.

4. Sand & Ocean Sensory Bin

Want to teach your kids about the ocean habitat this summer? Then this sand and ocean sensory bin is for you. Many children love playing with sand, so bring the beach home to them. Use kinetic sand and decorate the environment with ocean figures, seashells, and stones. Your kid will splash for hours! You can also create a sand table, sans the water, with buckets and rakes, on an underwater world.

5. Playdough

Like slime, there are many recipes for tactile sensory playdough. You can mix different ingredients to create identifiable smells (what your child likes or dislikes), and you can also add food coloring for an impromptu paint session. It’s also a guessing game, as the child can enjoy different textures and smells. This project is simple for a rainy day and perfect for those who seek oral sensory play. It’s also safe.

6. Sensory Bottles

Sensory bottles are easy to make and are hugely popular. You create them however you like—your imagination is the limit. You can put a multitude of items, from shiny objects to rainbow buttons. Create calming bottles with glitter or things that fall slowly, so everything seems suspended in time. Make lava lamps with lots of colors; your child will stare at the bottles for hours and not get bored.

7. Car Wash

Bowls of water, soap, sponges, and a selection of plastic vehicles—this is all you need to set up a car washing station in the nursery or your garden. Some kids like to play in soapy water, cleaning and drying the pieces off again and again. It's the perfect sensory activity that lets a child explore the nooks and crannies of toy cars.

8. Tasting Game

Guessing games are fun, both for taste or smell. The child tastes different kinds of food while blindfolded, then tries to imagine what it is. The food can vary from what the kid likes to what he dislikes. This is a good game for introducing new tastes and textures, such as cereal, jelly, bananas, bread, etc. Alternatively, you can try the smell guessing game with a mix of fragrant ingredients in small containers.

9. Frozen Toys

It’s a great activity for staying cool this summer. Prepare this activity a day or two ahead, since you have to take a plastic box, fill it with water, then put some toys in. Freeze it overnight until you have three (or more) satisfying layers. Give your child some tools to get the toys out of the ice. This science experiment will stimulate your child’s curious mind. You can also put acrylic paints into an ice tray and let your kid paint.

10. Non-Toxic Water Beads

You’ve seen beads in spas, and they are a tactile sensory seeker’s dream. And there’s so much you can do with water beads. You can freeze them for some cool, icy fun—an excellent activity for a hot day. It feels nice in your little one’s palm, and if they’re made from natural ingredients and are edible, you don’t have to worry about them ending in your kid’s mouth.

Sensory play is fun—and children with autism can enjoy it immensely. As you can see, there are many ways in which you can entertain and engage your child. Of course, you can try many more activities, from matchmaking games to graffiti art, but these are some of the best and cheapest ones. Without too much hassle (although some can get messy), you can do these activities from your home, in your free time, when you can join your child.

If you need more ideas, you can ask your child's therapist for more information on making spending time together enjoyable. The therapist will take your child's interests and challenges into consideration before suggesting some activities.

Be mindful of the fact that finding the best sensory activities may take some trial and error. Activities from school can be an excellent starting place, and siblings or family members can help maintain the social skills your child worked on in the classroom. Sensory activities are vital for developing the body and mind of an autistic child and reducing stress or anxiety. Plus, as a parent, you'll form strong bonds through fun learning experiences. With that being said, are you ready to get started?