The ADDitude Gift Guide for Kids with Sensory Needs
NERF guns and LEGOs don’t work for every child. Neither do skateboards and pogo sticks. Gift-giving must get creative — and smart — when your child has sensory challenges. Begin your shopping research with this list of sensory toys and gifts, large and small, road-tested by a boy with Sensory Processing Disorder, ODD, ADHD, and anxiety disorder.
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition that interferes with the brain’s ability to convert sensory messages into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. A child with SPD may feel overwhelmed and over-stimulated in certain environments. Or bristle at harsh fabrics, exposed tags, and even a scent of perfume. Or trip and fall a lot. Or crave the sensory stimulation that comes from racing a sled down an icy hill or tackling a friend on the playground.
In other words, SPD comes in many stripes. Understanding exactly how it impacts your child will help you further refine the list of sensory-friendly toys below, all of which are available on Amazon.com, approved by our son, and deemed worthy of inclusion in our tiny, 300-square-foot lifestyle.
Our son, who rebuffs anything that feels “odd” to him, plays with this product for hours at a time. The sand, which is cool to the touch and sticks to itself for easy cleanup, feeds his tactile needs and creativity. We have incorporated it into “roadschooling lessons” where he becomes an architect or an archaeologist. The possibilities are endless!
Going tiny requires each item in our home to pull double duty, and so we use this for our kids’ nightlight. The feeling of the fibrous strands is great for tactile function and the spectacular sight of changing colors is soothing, not overwhelming, for kids who are sensitive to bright or flashing lights.
Another night light option, this old school lamp serves multiple purposes in our house. The slow-moving, shape-shifting "lava" is an excellent calming tool following a meltdown. Our son's SP is partnered with ODD, ADHD, and GAD so his rage episodes sometimes last for hours. This lamp is quiet, soothing, and holds his attention without demanding a response.
Craft time can be beautiful or it can be a disaster — and I am not referring to the inevitable mess of construction paper and crayon shrapnel on the floor. Sometimes, hands gooey with glue and glitter can push our son right over the proverbial edge. Other times, crafts feed his sensory needs in just the right way. The Green Kid crafts came highly recommended by his Occupational Therapist as an effective way to make gains on OT tactile goals. And our son loves the projects made from recycled materials that are delivered monthly to him in the mail.
Maybe your kids aren't ready to dissect frogs or mix stinky chemicals in a lab. Our son's olfactory needs are kept in check with these kid-friendly science experiments that pair wonderfully with his roadschooling lessons, and also make for super fun weekend adventures! The hands-on learning projects are challenging, which he loves. And even our one-year-old daughter gets in on the messy fun!
These “body sox” cover your child from neck to toes in a stretchy fabric that applies gentle pressure when arms and legs are outstretched, protects exposed body parts from touching surfaces, and encourages a child to curl up and be "hugged." As an added bonus, they look hilarious. Our family members all rocks these puppies and we laugh until our bellies hurt!
Our son goes through chewing phases. He might chew his shirt for a month or bite his lips for a week. He once spent several months biting his fingers. These wearable, chewable toys resemble jewelry, but they are safe— and won't result in a big dental bill later.
Other compression tops we’ve tried failed to provide enough gentle pressure, so our son didn’t feel much relief. These shirts, on the other hand, are form-fitting and apply the right amount of pressure over the back, shoulders, and abdomen to provide comfort throughout the day and be hidden under the child's regular, everyday apparel.
Our son will tear off clothing with an itchy tag, folded-over seams, or socks that become mildly crooked inside his shoe. The Cat & Jack line of affordable, stylish clothing for our kids solves the "itchy sweater" problem and looks awesome. Gone are our early-morning tension, hostility, and arguments as he rips off shirt after shirt because they "feel funny," or ditches shorts because they “touch his knees too much.”
One word: life-changing. Our son's need for both gentle compression and a soft, tagless fabric almost requires leggings. We have to do laundry more often because he wants to wear them to bed at night as well as under his shorts or regular pants during the day. This has been our biggest parenting win to date!
These slim-fit batting gloves deliver the compression our son craves, plus better dexterity for things like completing schoolwork and playing outside. Plus, he thinks they look like ninja hands, which is awesome! Our son wears gloves 85 percent of the time. We do not allow gloves inside restaurants, at mealtimes, or when performing personal hygiene like brushing teeth. Do people stare or share their unsolicited opinions? Yes, but his comfort is all that matters to us.
Our son can blast music in the car with his dad and rock out, but when we go to church, he covers his ears and curls into a ball on the seat. A true game changer, these headphones’ padded ear cups offer comfort when he is assaulted by unwanted sounds. They are also Bluetooth ready and can be used with radios, video games, and other devices.
Easy to install with an eye bolt or hook from the ceiling, this swing chair is an awesome investment for fun and sensory relief. Both of our children enjoy this seat for swinging, reading, and spinning. HappyPie also makes adult versions.
This old-school toy allows our son to spin at his own pace, laugh, and play with his sister in an activity they both enjoy. Kids on the spectrum generally enjoy the sensation of spinning. Our son loves it!
A smart gift for kids with excess energy and/or tactile issues, this balance board allows our son to rock, stand, balance, and sway all while reading or watching TV. It’s also teaches muscle memory and dexterity for sports like skateboarding and snowboarding.
A throwback to elementary gym class, these scooter boards are heavily used by OTs to assist with movement, dexterity, and burning up extra energy. They do require a flat surface, and should not be used around tiny fingers and toes that may get steamrolled. But when used carefully, they can provide hours of energy-burning fun.
While our son doesn’t like getting his hands dirty when eating, he loves to dig in the dirt like most boys. This half-sand, half-water table allows both of our kids to play outside, make a mess, and get dirty with no worries. We also like to pack it with snow and bring it inside during the winter so they can play without being exposed to the cold.
These vintage toys deliver tactile sensation, plus my kids can chuck them (in a rage episode or an energy-releasing game of catch) like a real ball without breaking things. They come in a variety of colors and sizes; the smaller ones are perfect for little hands and purses!
When our son’s OT suggested we add this to our bag of tricks, we thought it seemed a little ridiculous. But like most parents of children with special needs, we’ll try most anything once. In this case, we used this little brush filled with soft, plastic bristles to apply pressure to our son’s arms, legs, back, and chest using firm strokes in one direction about 10 times on each appendage. We use this first thing in the morning and last thing during his bedtime routine. As someone without a doctorate, I can't explain the science behind it. But, as a mom I can tell you it works. The pressure and feeling of the bristles somehow relax and calm our boy, and we are grateful for it.
This sensory toy is NOT the spray snow you remember from ’90s storefront window displays at Christmas. This uses the technology of the expanding material inside a diaper (yes, you read that right) to create cold, white material that looks like snow but lasts longer! This is a particularly great item for California or Florida kids who are less likely to experience snow.
This is the ultimate stocking stuffer for kids with tactile sensory needs (and adults seeking a cheap way to relax). This little $5 investment is made of metal prongs with plastic tips that push over the surface of the scalp to provide a calming and relaxation se1nsation. Our son responds so well to positive touch that the gentle pressure and calming comfort of this massager gives him relief from near meltdowns.
NOTE: Please note that all names, models, prices, links, and specifications were accurate and items were in stock at the time of this article's last update on November 15, 2022.
#CommissionsEarned As an Amazon Associate, ADDitude earns a commission from qualifying purchases made by ADDitude readers on the affiliate links we share. However, all products linked in the ADDitude Store have been independently selected by our editors and/or recommended by our readers. Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.