Sensory Play activities and Toys are exceptionally beneficial for the development of children of all age groups, however, these sensory play activities come as a significant help for children with special needs.
Did you know that the development of the seven senses i.e., sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing, proprioception, and vestibular sense is paramount during the early stages of development?
These senses both collectively and separately allow individuals to efficiently maneuver through their surroundings.
Sensory play and Sensory Play toys are specifically curated to isolate as well as enhance each sense in the child by promoting them to willingly and joyfully indulge in exciting autonomous open-ended explorative play.
In fact, Sensory Play is a fun way of integrating valuable and meaningful sensory stimuli into the child’s learning environment without overwhelming or overstimulating them.
Children with special needs like Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorders can face difficulties effectively utilizing their senses and often have Sensory Processing Disorders.
Sensory Processing disorders like Sensory seeking or sensory avoiding behaviors can affect the child’s development process.
If you are a parent or an immediate caregiver of a child with special needs, you would know how difficult it can be for children to effectively conform to traditional learning environments.
For parents and immediate caregivers who are concerned about the effects of sensory play on their child with special needs, look no further, here is a comprehensive guide to sensory play for children with special needs.
What is Sensory Play?
Before jumping on the list of benefits of sensory play for children with special needs it is important to know what sensory play exactly is.
Sensory Play activities are any form of activities that provide the child with isolated and appropriate stimuli to stimulate the child’s senses.
Sensory Play activities generally focus on the development of the main five senses:
- Visual Sense (sight)
- Tactile Sense (touch)
- Auditory Sense (hearing)
- Gustatory Sense (taste)
- Olfactory Sense (smell)
These sensory play activities also promote the development of the other two senses vestibular and proprioceptive senses.
Sensory play is a unique way of allowing your child to safely and autonomously explore different sensorial stimuli and develop an understanding of the world that surrounds them.
Furthermore, sensory play is also a great way of allowing children to utilize their energy on valuable, meaningful, and beneficial activities that allow children to develop as they play.
Why is Sensory Play Important for Children with Special Needs?
Sensory development is vital for the early childhood development process as these skills are vital for children to not only develop an understanding of the world that surrounds them but also allow them to maneuver smoothly through their surroundings.
These play activities integrate valuable and meaningful sensory stimuli that help develop as well as enhance each sense in children.
Children with special needs face difficulties and hardships when attempting to adjust to traditional learning environments.
This is because children with special needs and special educational needs are unable to effectively process sensory stimuli leading them to feel overwhelmed and overstimulated.
Developing sensory skills in children is paramount during the early stages of development as it promotes them to process information and complete tasks.
Sensory play activities and Sensory toys are a fun way of introducing sensory stimuli to the child without overwhelming them.
Sensory play activities integrate the right and appropriate amount of sensory stimuli which not only helps children with special needs to naturally develop their senses but also enhances their language, cognitive, fine motor, and gross motor skills.
What are the Benefits of Sensory Play for Children with Special Needs?
Each of the senses is vital for an individual to function freely and smoothly in their surrounding environment.
Sensory play integrates systematically organized sensory activities and meticulously designed sensory toys that help children with basic foundational skills that are important for future prospects.
Children with Special needs struggle to process sensory input when partaking in basic educational activities making them feel overwhelmed, stressed, and agitated.
In fact, many children with special needs like autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and Down syndrome have sensory processing disorders that may cause them to exhibit sensory seeking and sensory avoidance behaviors.
This is where Sensory Play activities come to your aid, as these fun and engaging open-ended play activities promote children to willingly indulge in explorative play without feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated.
It can be pretty perplexing for parents and immediate caregivers of children with special needs to find the right play activities for your younger one.
Here is a list of benefits of introducing sensory play for special needs children to help seal the deal:
Promotes Cognitive Development:
Cognitive development is paramount for children to perform tasks that require them to think, question, reason, recognize, categorize, and classify.
These skills are essential for performing tasks that require children’s problem-solving skills and critical thinking.
Furthermore, these skills allow children to effectively develop mathematical skills and scientific skills.
Since children learn about the world based on their senses, sensory play activities allow children with special needs to naturally and comfortably develop basic cognitive skills by interacting with different textures, shapes, and colors.
Sensory play promotes children to develop cognitive skills by identifying, recognizing, and categorizing different colors, textures, dimensions, and shapes.
Promotes the Development of Motor Skills:
Children with special needs often face not only sensory issues but also difficulties controlling their motor functions.
Fine motor skills are capabilities that involve the refined movements of smaller muscles present that are in the hands, wrists, and fingers. These abilities involve writing, holding, gripping, and gasping.
Sensory play is a great way of facilitating fine motor development in children as these activities often incorporate smaller components that are to be manipulated, moved, or maneuvered.
Tangibly interacting and manipulating such components can help facilitate the development of fine motor skills in children and strengthen their refined muscles.
Gross motor skills are abilities that involve larger muscles in the body present in the torso, legs, arms, and torso.
These muscles govern the movement of the entire body and often promote the tasks such as balance, bending, walking, jumping, running, throwing, holding, swimming, etc.
Sensory play is a form of open-ended play that provides children with ample opportunities to move around freely and develop their gross motor skills by partaking in activities involving balance boards and outdoor toys.
Furthermore, sensory play involving outdoor activities can also improve the child’s vestibular strength and proprioception.
Promotes the Development of Emotional Skills:
When provided with random sensory stimuli children with special needs can tend to feel overwhelmed and agitated.
Sensory play activities integrate age-appropriate sensory stimuli that not only help children develop essential foundational and preliminary skills by also help develop their emotional resilience.
In fact, indulging in sensory play involving sensory toys can be quite calming and therapeutic for children with special needs.
Playing with objects of different textures like playdough, moon sand, slime, and stress balls can help relieve excess tension and make the child feel joyful, calm, excited, and relieved.
Sensory play also allows children to develop their self-confidence and a sense of self as these activities promote them to make choices based on their personal preferences.
Promotes the Development of Social Skills:
Children with special needs often experience difficulties when indulging in collaborative activities with their classmates and peers.
Sensory play activities allow children with special needs to provide children with opportunities to venture out of their comfort zone and actively participate in collaborative activities with their peers.
These activities are a great way of promoting children with special needs to make friends, explore, discover, and broaden their horizons.
Promotes the Development of Language Skills:
Most traditional means of education opt for the method of rote memorization to facilitate language learning,
Sensory play activities on the other hand provide children with visual and tangible representations of objects.
These activities give children with special needs an opportunity to physically interact with specific sensorial stimuli, to quickly grasp and learn new vocabulary to broaden their horizons.
Sensory play activities integrate effective sensory stimuli that provide a visual representation of objects to help children effectively recognize, identify, and enhance their vocabulary.
Furthermore, sensory play can be a great way to introduce imaginative pretend play to children, which further helps children with autism among other special needs easily develop their communication skills.