According to Lindsey Biel, occupational therapist and co-author of “Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues,” children have seven senses -- the five most people are familiar with, including sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing, as well as proprioceptive and vestibular senses. Proprioceptive sense involves body awareness while vestibular sense relates to the ability to move and stay balanced. Biel indicates that sensory smarts are necessary for all children, typically developing or not, and natural practice of activities like running or touching objects will improve your child’s sensory skills.
Modify activities you know your child enjoys. Many daily activities include sensory practice, so you don’t need to reinvent your child’s day, but you might want to consider a more goal-oriented approach to play time. If your child likes splashing water in the bath, give her some bath toys and let her explore the way water moves. This activity gives her a tactile experience that also improves her understanding of the way things work. Consider each activity and ask yourself what senses are being used for it or what you can add to include more sensory input.
Introduce new activities that fill in sensory gaps. Some children do not necessarily enjoy tactile input, so searching for pebbles in a sand box or involving your child in food preparation will help her receive tactile sensory information through an enjoyable activity.
Take your child to the park or with you to the grocery store, where she can use a variety of her senses. Riding a swing works on vestibular senses, and carrying bags of groceries helps with proprioceptive awareness.
Practice activities that have an academic purpose and utilize the entire body, whether the movements use gross or fine motor skills. Teach waiting and listening to verbal directions by doing a freeze dance with music. Teach letters by drawing them with shaving cream or decorating a construction paper letter. Use a hopscotch game to teach numbers.
Purchase age-appropriate toys that work on sensory input and integration. Consider balls that have different materials or textures, touchy-feely books, outdoor tree houses, swings, weighted blankets, trampolines, tunnels, shape sorters, bubble machines, light-up toys or clay putty.
If your child throws a tantrum or becomes frustrated at particular sensory stimuli, such as loud sounds, you might want to consult a doctor, as these symptoms might indicate a sensory processing disorder. If your child receives such a diagnosis, you will likely be referred to an occupational therapist to improve your child’s sensory integration.