Sensory activities are a great way to engage autistic babies and toddlers from an early age. Using their senses, this form of activity allows babies and toddlers with autism to play and learn in their surroundings through touch, smell, taste, sight and sound.
Playing, in general, is one of the easiest ways to assist the development of your baby and toddler’s fundamental life skills. Specifically, sensory play can teach babies and toddlers on the autistic spectrum how to self-soothe and later, how to regulate their emotions. With this in mind, we have created a list of useful sensory activities for babies and toddlers with autism that you can try at home.
All children enjoy and benefit from sensory activities, although they are especially beneficial for babies, toddlers and children of all ages who are on the autistic spectrum.
Here are some sensory activity suggestions:
Firstly, Create a Safe Space for Sensory Activities
Before you begin your sensory activities, make sure that the space you will be playing in has little stimulation, except for your activity zone. Babies and toddlers with autism can have difficulty concentrating when there is a lot of stimulation happening at one time. It’s best to keep potential distractions, like your television and radio, switched off during sensory activities. This will allow your little one to get the most out of their play and reduce the chance of meltdowns caused by overstimulation.
Keep their activity simple and allow your baby or toddler to explore it their own way. Of course, provide safety guidelines and be there to supervise, but let them engage with the activity however they want to.
Calming bottles are a brilliant sensory activity that can be used when travelling or when at home. Their content can be anything from water and coloured glitter to dried rice and small objects, like a button or gemstone. To create a Calming Bottle, get a recycled plastic bottle that is cleaned out and add in the likes of colourful glitter, gems and buttons. Next, fill it up with water, (for a slower movement, add clear glue to the mix!) and attach the lid securely. Now it’s time to show your little one what happens to the glitter inside the bottle when it is held upside down and reversed. They can hold it themselves as they watch the glitter and objects float around in the bottle.
(Image from The Mama Notes)
Salt Dough Craft
Make your own salt dough by adding 1-cup of salt, 4-cups of flour, 4 tablespoons of oil, 1 and a ½ cups of water together in a bowl. If you have colour dyes, you can add these to the mix too and create lots of different colours of dough. With this dough, your toddler can shape and mould anything they can think of! If they are too young to create something on their own, they can still engage in sensory play by squishing it into their hands and fingers.
Sand and Water Sensory Bins
Create a sand and water sensory bin to give your child the sensation of playing at the beach from the comfort of home. All you will need is a large bin or water table, sand, seashells, water and blue colourant. You can even add toy dolphins or other marine life and begin to teach your little one about the ocean as they dig in the sand and splash around with the water. At an early age, playing with sand and water will engage your child’s senses in a fun and therapeutic way.
Bubbles are a brilliant way to engage the senses of babies and toddlers as they are so unique, relaxing and unlike anything your little one has seen before. Blow bubbles into the room where your baby is and watch as they follow them with their eyes. For a toddler that is older, you can try letting them blow their own bubbles to engage them further in this sensory experience.
With your little one, try using non-toxic paints to create some art. To engage the senses, try using their hands and feet as painting tools. Place a large sheet of paper on the floor and get your toddler to print their hands and feet on it. Your baby will also be able to play in the paint and rub their hands on the paper to feel the new sensation.
Depending on your baby or toddler’s preference, they may not like the sensation of getting their hands or feet covered in paint. If so, you can use a spray bottle or an object to make a print with, such as a half potato or square cut of carpet. With a spray bottle, you can create cool graffiti effects if you hang the paper upright on an outside wall.
More Sensory Activities
Other sensory activity ideas include calming light shows, taste testing, playing with textures and materials, water beads, Matchstick Monkey's Knitted Hanging Monkey and baby massage using Matchstick Monkey’s Mother & Baby Massage Oil.
Autism Support Network states that playful sensory activities add to the development of coordination, concentration and cognition among all children, but especially those who are on the autistic spectrum.
We hope these activities have provided some inspiration for sensory activities and insight into the benefits of sensory play in the learning and development of babies and toddlers with autism.
Related Blog: 9 Art and Craft Activities for Toddlers