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6 Great Gift Ideas to Give a Child with Sensory Needs this Holiday Season

November 14, 2019
by Becky Ferrigno

When your child is diagnosed with a sensory disorder, one of the first terms you become intimately involved with is “the sensory diet.” While it often does have something to do with what they eat, it stretches to all areas of life. Coined by Occupational Therapist (OT) Patricia Wilbarger, the sensory diet refers to “the personalized schedule of sensory activities that give your child the sensory fuel her body needs to become regulated and stay there through all of life’s ups and downs” (Biel & Peske, 2009).

As a sensory parent, you quickly learn this one fact: if you want your child with SPD to be calm through the holidays then you will need to spend a lot of time crafting and executing a variety of activities frequently through every day leading up to the event. Our very wise OT once told me that we needed to build up my daughter’s sensory reservoir so that on the hard days, she had something to draw from to help her keep calm. 

Many sensory diet activities are fun and can be the basis for a great and relatively inexpensive gift. Here is a list of the first six that came to mind. All can be bought through Amazon and many can even be purchased at your local grocery store! 


Gift Idea # 1: A Kid Size Exercise Ball

Exercise balls are great for any child, especially those with SPD!  Often, children with SPD struggle when their bodies are in motion. This is because their vestibular system (the sensory receptors within the inner ear) does not function correctly. Many therapists encourage parents to have their children bounce on a therapy ball to help stimulate the vestibular system. An exercise ball can also be used to provide tactile input (joint compressions) which can calm a wired child. In either situation, less than $20 has bought you a useful and fun tool to help out a child with SPD! By choosing one from a reputable company, like Gaiam, you can ensure that it will withstand the use of a child!

Gift Idea #2 Therapy Putty

Putty is another multipurpose sensory toy! Many children with SPD also have fine motor (think writing, cutting, etc) difficulties. Putty is a fun and hand strengthening toy that the whole family can enjoy! This particular brand offers four levels of thickness in their putty. This provides children (and adults) with the ability to pick the one that feels right.

Putty is great for calming the body as well as strengthening it! When pushed between your hands, it provides a deep pressure (think joint compressions again) that floods the sensory system with soothing energy. Sold in small containers, it is easy to throw a small container in your purse or bag. Then when an event gets too loud or too bright, you can quickly pull the putty out and provide a sensory intervention without any additional bulky equipment.

Gift Idea # 3 A yoga mat

As many adults know, yoga has great sensory and whole-body benefits. It is frequently used by Occupational and Physical Therapists in sessions with kids with sensory processing disorders. Many yoga poses, provide children with much needed joint compressions and vestibular input. When purchasing a mat for a child, it is best to buy a thinner one. While the thicker mats seem like a great idea at first because they are cushier, many children with SPD struggle with balance problems. Thicker mats are harder to maintain your balance and could make a fun activity really hard.

Gift Idea # 4 A sit and spin

There is a toy that requires you to use your own strength to move through space in circles? Do I need to say any more? This is a vestibular, heavy work dream! Plus it is a toy that most children are drawn to and enjoy playing with!

Gift Idea # 5 A Resistance Tunnel

The full title of this particular tunnel is Fun and Function Crawl and Calm Resistance Tunnel for Calm and Workby Fun and Function. More commonly known as a resistance tunnel, this toy has many uses. Wintertime work in this tunnel can help make the transition to playground tunnels much easier in the spring! For those crafty shoppers out there, check out http://asensorylife.com/homemade-resistance-tunnel.html for great DIY directions!

Gift Idea # 6- Ticket Books

Sometimes the gifts that are made with love are the best ones of all. Consider encouraging relatives to make a sensory coupon book. Fill the book with tickets that can be used for a “no hug day” or a “no music day” or a “quiet time pass” or a “lots of bounces break.” Provide the sensory child you love with the ability to communicate his or her needs in a non-verbal manner. By giving them this book, you are showing that you not only understand their needs but that you want them to share with you how they are feeling. The purpose of building a sensory diet is to help a child with SPD learn how to regulate their unique brain wiring. Your support of this journey is sometimes, the best gift you can give.


Want to know another great gift to give this holiday season? The gift of a great story! Buy copies of Blazing a Trail: The Story of Minna Anthony Common at BeckyFerrigno.com/shop and support a local author!