Over the past year or two we have shifted our focus with gift giving for our children to therapeutic items. The kids really enjoy them and they provide play with a purpose. If you are more organized than me, you can use them to develop daily sensory diet for your child. Here are a few of my favorites:
We put a jumpolene in our basement, gave it to my 5 year old last year for Christmas. It can be used as a trampoline for children, with a recommendation of two kids at a time and a total weight of 150 pounds or less. Instead of using it as a trampoline, we bought ball pit balls for it in Kmart, $15 per 100 balls, though we did get some of them on sale for $10. I managed to wheedle his grandparents and his uncle into buying some of the balls because you need a lot and they do add up. Our OT has 1,400 balls in her Jumpolene. Be careful where you buy a Jumpolene. I bought it from California Fun Toys and they only offered a warranty of one month. The manufacturer, Intex, told me that they offered a “courtesy replacement” should the Jumpolene start leaking within 3 months. Unfortunately, they didn’t bother printing that information on the box so we didn’t know to call them in time. But I understand Abilitations has a great warranty and will replace it if it starts leaking air before you have it one year. Our OT has had hers replaced free by Abilitations more than once. I can tell you by experience, it is worth a few extra dollars to have the peace of mind of the one year warranty. Be careful if you need to move your Jumpolene, don’t pull it by the top chambers because that tends to break the seams. We also have a mini trampoline, the boys love to use it to jump into the ball pit. Trampolines are good for heavy work, proprioception, and vestibular stimulation. The vestibular sensation, which comes from the inner ear, is responsible for balance. Overstimulation of this sense results in a feeling of dizziness or vertigo, which you may be familiar with from various amusement park rides.
Another great sensory item is “Super shape changers” from Oriental trading company. A size large is only $20. These look almost exactly like Body Sox but they are about 1/3 the price. I think these are good for proprioception, which is the sense of where the various parts of the body are located in relation to each other as well as where the body is in space. If you want the brand name Body Sox, I recently found those for $37 at www.allegromedical.com. Oriental Trading has nice tunnels for crawling through, for about $20. Crawling is good for developing upper body strength and as “heavy work.” Finally, they have some cute pop up dome tents for indoor use, also inexpensive.
Swings are a very commonly used item for kids with sensory integration dysfunction or autism. We have an Ikea Ekorre hanging swing and we love it. See ours here, next to the ballpit: Swing and Jumpolene Ballpit These don’t seem to be available from Ikea any longer, but there are lots to be found on Ebay and they aren’t too expensive. Many of them can be purchased as a “buy it now” rather than going through the hassle of bidding. The hanging swing is grey canvas with a round, red bottom inside into which their round air cushion is inserted. It is enclosed on three sides, offering a safe cozy retreat for the child. Incidentally, Ikea has a lot of great furniture ideas for sensory kids, such as the items listed here. I like the swivel chair with the pull down canopy for a relaxing retreat from a too-bright world. We don’t have it yet, but I’m hoping sometime in the near future. Ikea also has inexpensive pop up tents and a tunnel. Their colorful car rugs with roads on them are a nice item as well, it encourages imaginative play and some crawling while pushing cars around.
Another great sensory swing is the Cuddle Swing from Abilitations or Sammons Preston which are both made of a soft and stretchy material. They are similar to the one recently featured on Extreme Makeover Home Edition, though I never have been able to determine exactly which brand was featured. The Cuddle Swings enclose the child like the body sox do.
I made some crash mats shortly after we got the jumpolene/ballpit, giant (Like 4′ x 6′) pillowcases filled with chunks of furniture foam. You can use clearance priced fabric to do this. Don’t make the mistake I did and buy the foam brand new. Try to find a mattress or furniture company that will give you scraps. My son likes to crawl under these mats like you would with a weighted blanket, as well as jumping onto them. He goes into the ballpit with a flashlight and pulls the crash mats over his head so he can play with the flashlight in the dark. We sit on them together to read books. I also use place one under his feet when he practices piano. It gives him something to rest his feet on and keeps him from kicking me and from resting his foot on top of mine while I try to tap out the rhythm for him.
For weighted items such as vests, blankets, and lap pads at a reasonable price, visit hugsnstitches4u.com She makes very nice handsewn items, you add the weights to save on shipping. She can even make the items with your child’s favorite character. I just got a vest for my 5 year old and it is sewn beautifully.
I like to choose stocking stuffers from http://www.therapyshoppe.com. They have sensory fidgets, oral motor items, fine motor, small games, and much more for very reasonable prices compared to other therapy catalogs. We have purchased many items, such as the motorized wiggle writer, little critter massagers, lots of fidget balls, whistles and string pipes, cute animal mini tape measures, chewy tubes, wikki-stiks, triangular crayons, short jumbo crayons (love these!), and lots of other small items. We also bought the weights for our new vest there, they were very reasonable too. Here is a nice list of other stocking stuffer ideas for sensory integration. http://specialchildren.about.com/od/sensoryintegration/qt/sistockingstuff.htm
Another great item that is helpful for proprioception as well as vestibular stimulation, is a hop ball. Did you ever have a hippity-hop ball as a child? My 5 year old has been enjoying his red hop ball, sized for children 5 and up, for over a year. He is very tall, and loves the color red with a passion. Our 3 year old is just getting big enough to use one. We are giving him the yellow hop ball, which is sized for a children 3 and up, for one of his Christmas gifts this year. How fortunate that his favorite color happens to be yellow! There is also a blue hop ball, for children ages 9 and up, that supports up to 300 pounds. I really like the Gymnic brand, the hop balls have been very durable.
Here is a list of other items in the gross motor category. For balance and coordination there is the Monkey Balance Board or Ducky Balance Board, approximately ages 3-6. EZ Steppers are a good item for both balance and bilateral coordination. We are giving our 3 year old both a balance board and stompers for Christmas. For upper body strengthening, the Twizzler Twist and Spinner Bar or a Trapeze Bar with Rings would be a good choice. Since it is winter here right now, I plan to buy one of these in the spring, probably for my 5 year old’s birthday.
More to follow…