15 sensory developmental games for babies and special needs children

Sensory Games

Helping a child develop their senses is one of the best ways to stimulate their brains, whether a child has special needs or a disability or not. Sensory processing disorder is common in children with autism and other neurological development issues. Developing their brain response can also help children with sensory processing disorder to become adjusted to new sensations. These ideas focus mainly on sight, sound and smell for their olfactory senses, so be sure to see our other articles for ideas for tactile input to develop their sense of touch.

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  1. Get a baby swing or outdoor swing, swing them in your arms or wrap an older child in a blanket and swing them with the help of a partner. Swinging helps a child establish their place in space by feeling gravity on their body. Swing them around, and do twists, turns, spins and flips to also help them feel their body’s movement.
  2. Lay the child on top of an exercise ball and rolling them back and forth is another way to help them feel the pull of gravity. Children who like to swing their heads back and forth or up and down quickly or bang their heads often enjoy this game since it puts them off balance a little and tantalizes their senses.
  3. Play a variety of many types of music and sing, clap, stomp and use instruments to accompany it. Help your child clap, stomp, drum, ring bells and dance to the music. Music is one of the only things that activates the whole brain.
  4. Let your child bang things together. Get a spoon and let them bang on a pot, a book, an empty formula container or coffee container, a cookie sheet, a pipe, a plastic cup, a coffee mug, a hairspray container – anything that will make a good noise.
  5. Whisper to your child. Whisper in one ear and then the other. My daughter loves this and its one of the things that stimulated her to start repeating sounds. Sometimes I hear her lying in bed whispering babble sounds to herself.
  6. Shake a rattle or something that makes noise. First shake it close on one side of their head, then still shaking, move it away, then go closer and towards the other ear then away, and go up and down. Try to see if your child will follow the sound by looking. You can also put the rattle in their hand so they help you hold it and shake it in different places to try to get them involved.
  7. Show pictures of transportation vehicles, like trucks, helicopters, airplanes, trains, cars, motorcycles, boats, construction vehicles, emergency vehicles and more. Show the picture, name the object and imitate the sounds it makes. This helps stimulate children to repeat sounds and is good for speech therapy, as well. If you feel silly yelling “Honk Honk!” and “Chugga chugga woo woo!”, you can find videos online. However, research has shown that when children watch information on a screen, versus being shown that same information by a person, a child’s brain activity is far higher when interacting with another human, showing that a child learns more when they are interacting with a person. If you use a video, hold your child and talk about what’s on the screen. “Oh that’s a red truck! Vroom! Truck goes Vroom!” For children who are frightened or disturbed by new noises, this may help to desensitize them to loud noises outside if they know to expect a loud noise when they see a truck.
  8. Don’t tiptoe around the house. Do everything at your normal volume, even if they are sleeping. It will help them adjust to loud and unexpected sounds in their environment.
  9. Blink or shine a flashlight to get their attention. Try to get your child to follow the light by moving it up and down and around. Or shine it on the floor or a wall and try to get them to track it. Give them the flashlight and show them how to point it at a wall, a mirror, the ceiling, their feet and so on.
  10. Plug in some Christmas lights and, keeping them out of reach, try to get your child to track them visually without moving their head.
  11. Try to get your child to look at toys at different levels. Let them play with something looking down at elbow height, then at chin height, then in front of their face and up to forehead height and higher. Do this in front and on both sides of your child’s vision. Try to encourage them to reach for toys in different spots visually.
  12. Let your child smell lots of different smells, and encourage them to sniff whenever there is something interesting in the air, by sniffing loudly in an exaggerated way. Some items to place near their nose to smell include: lemon juice or lemon zest; cinnamon; curry; ginger; chocolate; vanilla; peanut butter; cumin; mint; coffee grounds; rosemary; cilantro; tomato sauce; perfume; shampoo; scented lotion; cedar wood; pine needles; ashes; garlic powder; onion powder; vinegar; olive oil; orange peel; sawdust; pencil shavings; potting soil. You can put these in a small Tupperware with holes punched or soak cotton balls with liquid. Be careful not to let the child eat or lick the items.
  13. If your child repeatedly bangs his or her head, they are probably looking for sensory input (at least according to docs I’ve heard from). My daughter likes to bang her head on the back of her high chair or car seat repeatedly. We were told to gently rub or gently scratch the back of her head when she starts banging it to provide some sensory input. That works for us to interrupt the banging.
  14. Be sure to frequently stimulate the palms of their hands and soles of their feet with your hands and objects with many textures like soft, rough, bumpy, smooth, furry, etc. A lot of learning happens just from touch.
  15. Whenever you see an interesting texture, rub your child’s hand across it and let them feel it. Metal, fur, rubber, bumps, beads, vinyl, leather, nets, ropes, grass, leaves, paper – everything is game! Just keep the wipes handy to clean dirty hands.

Please comment below and share your experience with us, or give us a feedback about this article. If you think some tips are not included here, please let us know so that we could share them with the rest.