Have you ever felt completely overwhelmed, felt the room start to spin a bit and experienced a “mini meltdown?” It’s happened to all of us at least once, but sensory overload is a regular part of everyday life for children with sensory disorders, ADD/ADHD, and autism, which is why the top sensory break tools and toys are so important. But, what exactly is sensory overload? “Sensory overload happens when a child experiences too much sensory stimulation and his central nervous system is overwhelmed and unable to process all of the input,” says Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP. This can be caused by any of the senses, including sights, sounds, tastes, smells, movements, and even touch.
Unlike a temper tantrum, a sensory overload is your central nervous system’s response to stress, and it triggers a fight or flight response, says Ford-Lanza. Especially when children are young, it requires an adult’s help to have them feel like they’re in control again. One way to prevent this type of meltdown—or treat one—is by taking sensory breaks or timeouts to use tools and toys that calm the senses. This is everything from sky chairs and swings to playsilks to hopper balls and more. Keep reading to see the types of tools and toys we suggest keeping stocked in your sensory break tool kit at all times.
These cat ear headphones are so cute your little one will want to put them on for a sensory break, plus they’re wireless and ultra comfortable so movement isn’t a problem. Although there’s no shortage of therapeutic listening programs, we’re prescribing some tunes for your sensory tool box. Pick tunes with a beat to get your child jumping, running, clapping, and dancing or put on softer songs for a calming effect.
Clay can help to reduce anxiety as your child molds, stretches, and twists the dough in their hands (not only that, it also helps improve motor skills). This specific set of soft clay doesn’t get hands dirty, making it easier to tolerate for children with sensory issues.
The goal is to shake the mini green balls into the holes in this rain stick. It’s great for dexterity and hand-eye coordination, but creates a soothing sound perfect for a sensory break.
Coolsand lets tiny ones feel like they’re playing on the beach without ever having to have grains of sand stuck between their fingers. (It’s because the clay is kinetic and sticks to itself and nothing else). As kids use molds to create different shapes, the texture of the sand will calm them down and play will help them exert their extra energy.
An indoor/outdoor swing like this gives kids a place of comfort and refuge to escape to when they need a sensory timeout. Cotton fabric to swaddle up in helps tiny ones feel secure while sustained swinging leads to vestibular input, helping them to stay alert and perform activities.
A weighted lap pad applies pressure to a child’s body, helping them feel snug and secure and keeps them from fidgeting while working on an activity. Fun fact: you can also place it on your kid’s back while they are resting to help calm them down. This version lets you wipe messes off, making cleanup a cinch.