Sensory Home Guide for Autism Parents
Life can get hectic after your child receives an autism diagnosis. I know for me it did. Life became an endless stream of therapy, appointments, meetings, late nights, and confusion. I tried to act like a sponge and soak in as much information as I could from all the different medical professionals my son, Levi was seeing. I questioned Levi’s therapists on what exactly I could be doing in the home to help him the most. I’m not a medical professional and before Levi- I had no idea what autism was, so what the heck did I know? We discussed at length different tools, toys, ideas, and activities that could help Levi flourish at home and also things that could help him when he was struggling. Levi sometimes has sensory overloads which can quickly turn into full-blown meltdowns. He also has sensory seeking behaviors that can be harmful to him like headbanging and wandering. Some of the suggestions worked- others didn’t. Sometimes a certain activity would go great and the next day he would hate it but I learned valuable things about my child and how he experiences the world through trying all them. I think these tools and activities are actually great for any family home- not just autism homes. If you’re not sure what some of this stuff is, no worries. I made a picture guide that’s free to download at the bottom of this page, leave a comment on this post if you have a question or a suggestion about sensory ideas that work in your home, or you can do a quick google search if you need more clarity.
Tools for homeI want to give it to you straight. Lord knows we get enough medical terminology and acronyms thrown at us all the time. Here’s a list of tools we use regularly and the reasons why they’ve helped my little one in plain terms- one parent to another.
Weighted and/or compression vest-I love using a weighted vest on my little one. My son is a wild child who has a hard time sitting in one spot. I used the weighted vest when we’re doing sitting activities. It helps him stay focused on his tasks. Ask your child’s doctor or therapist before using a compression or weighted vest. The weight of the vest needs to be a specific amount based on your child’s weight. Also- ask how long your child should keep it on at a time and how much time he or she should NOT wear it. For example: Levi wears his vest for 30 minutes at a time with at least a two hours rest in between uses. The amount of weight varies depending on the therapist but it’s usually somewhere between 3-10% of a person’s body weight. He is about 40lbs and his weighted vest is 2lbs heavy which is 5% of his body weight.
Body sockI had never heard of a body sock until a few months after Levi was diagnosed with autism. Levi goes to an outpatient therapy place once a week for occupational therapy (OT) and speech therapy. (ST) At the beginning of every OT session, Levi goes into a sensory swing that’s made out of really stretchy material. He LOVES it. If it were up to him, he’d spend the entire session in that swing. While I would love to get my own sensory swing at home, I rent my place and don’t want to put a giant hole in the ceiling. Plus, I don’t trust myself to install a something of that caliber. I can hang pictures on the wall- poorly, yes, but my pictures stay up. A body sock provides a similar kind of sensory input he gets from the professional sensory swing at home. He likes closed in spaces and tight hugs so a body sock works great with him. Levi had started having some difficult behavior at school. When I told his therapist about it she suggested that Levi play in the body sock a few minutes before school to help calm him down before he started his day.
TrampolineNana got Levi a Little Tykes 3-foot mini trampoline for Christmas and I’m stoked she did. Levi’s OT had been suggesting that I get a trampoline for him at home but I didn’t want to spend the money. Plus, my place is small. Where the hell was I going to keep it? Levi’s trampoline has a bar that folds down. I can store it on it’s side and it doesn’t take of that much space. Honestly, I wish I had gotten him a trampoline sooner. He loves bouncing on it while he’s watching TV. I love to pull it out when he’s acting extra crazy because it gives him a healthy channel to get out all his energy. At Levi’s outpatient therapy there’s a mini trampoline there that he doesn’t like. I was super surprised to see how much he loves jumping on it at home. Sometimes I put a blanket over the handlebar of the trampoline to create a little blanket fort for him. He gets some proprioceptive sensory input while playing in a fun little blanket shelter.
Noise-canceling headphonesLevi hates most things on his head so noise-canceling headphones only stay on his head for a limited time. He struggles during bath time washing his hair and afterward when I need to brush his hair. I don’t want to cause him any more stress than is necessary to him. I know some people with autism tend to really like noise-canceling headphones so I think it’s apt to include it in a home guide for parents. While we don’t use the headphones for long periods of time, we do use them every day. I like fresh ground coffee in the morning and my coffee is grinder is loud. I also make protein smoothies every day. My blender fills the house with it’s screams. Levi HATES the noise and runs away upstairs unless- I put the headphones on him. They help him during the loudest part of our day and that’s good enough for me.
Weighted blanketMy son’s weighted blanket is the MVP when he goes into a meltdown. It’s my go-to when he’s having a rough day and he needs some snuggles with his mama. I’m always happy to oblige. Our weighted blanket was a handmade gift from one of Levi’s Early Intervention therapist. It’s special to us in many ways. Weighted blankets are also great for anxiety management as well. I like to put the weighted blanket on Levi after he falls asleep. I found the weight of the blankets helps him sleep longer at night with fewer wake-ups in the night. Weighted blankets are super trendy right now so there are tons of options online to purchase or you can make your own if you’re crafty. YouTube has lots of weighted blanket making tutorials.
Fitness ball or just a large bouncy ballLike a trampoline, a giant fitness ball can help a highly energetic child get all the bounces out of them (just like Tigger). A ball is also a great tool for applying deep pressure massages. Applying deep pressure is a great way to relieve anxiety. It’s very calming and soothing. There’s no wrong way to play with a giant fitness ball. What may look like a silly kid hanging all willy-nilly upside-down on a ball is really just a kid getting some excellent vestibular input. It’s just fun to have a giant ball in the house to play with anyway. Need I say more?
Stretch bandsLevi has Hulk-like strength. He’s rough and tough and will break any toy too weak to handle his strength. Stretch bands allow him to pull and stretch his muscles as strong as he can in a safe and productive way. I give him my stretchy hair bands sometimes too. He likes feeling the stretch between his fingers. It keeps him occupied and in one spot for a long period of time which for Levi is about 5 minutes.
Creating a sensory spaceA sensory space is a place your little one can go to decompress. Where they can relax. You can create a separate space or make the place he goes to now better. I’ve done both. My first sensory space for Levi was a designated separate space in the living room that had a mini couch folded out with blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals. The space was topped with a soft canopy so it was enclosed. I also added some light up toys and glow-in-the-dark star stickers to add some visual input. He stopped playing in the living room so I eventually took it down. He began playing in his room more so I made his room into a super cozy space. I got him a giant stuffed bear that he lays on all the time. I also put a really soft and thick rug under his play area. His bed is on the floor right now. I’m not a fan of putting a mattress on floor ever but he kept banging his feet against the bed frame and losing half his toys underneath it. I decided to put the frame in his closet and see how it would change things. Having his bed on the floor has been amazing.
- No toys get lost under the bed
- Levi can’t hide under the bed
- Levi doesn’t hit his feet or legs against the bed frame
- Jumping or falling off the bed is a much shorter and safer distance
- The position of the mattress on the ground enclosed his toy area even more (and he LOVES enclosed places)
Creating a visual scheduleIt seems like every medical professional we’ve come across on our journey has mentioned something about having a visual schedule in the house. Levi’s diagnosing psychologist wrote in the official report that Levi would benefit from having a visual schedule in the house to help with transitions throughout the day. By “transition”‘ I mean moving from one activity to another. The idea a visual schedule is to use it as a talking point in your home. I change our schedule in the morning when we’re waiting for the school bus. I talk to him while I do it even if it seems like he’s not paying attention (which is most of the time). Our conversations sound like this:
- “Now you’re going to school and when you get home we’ll have lunch”
- “Should we go on a bike ride today?”
Sensory GuideThe Autism Parent’s Home Guide is filled with tons of different sensory activities. A lot of the activities seem like normal every day child’s play. Take “blowing bubbles” for example. Blowing bubbles might not seem to special but it can provide visual sensory input. Children with speech delays can learn to work different mouth muscles with the act of blowing air through the bubble wand. The sensory guide is to a tool you can use as a reference for activities. The guide is meant to show you how everyday activities can be transformed into sensory play. Personally, I like to spend 30 minutes every day, one-on-one structured time, with my five-year-old son. We do a lot of tactile play- playdough, kinetic sand, or shaving cream I help him write his name a few times. I also like to count all the things we do and name all the things we touch. Every child with autism is extraordinarily different. You know your kid better than anyone so decide on what YOU think is the best mode of care for your child at home.
Hey, I'm Nicole
I'm a blogger and a single mom blessed with the task of raising an extraordinary child on the autism spectrum.