Category Archives: affordable sensory items

Sensory Smart Toys Shopping Ideas

Shopping for sensory smart toys and equipment for a child with sensory processing issues? Here are some ideas I included in the December 2010 edition of the Sensory Smart News.

Sensory Smart Tip: Choose Toys That Are Fun

and Support Development

The number of toys and products marketed to parents and therapists who work with children who have sensory processing disorder and/or autism has exploded since the book Raising a Sensory Smart Child first was published in 2005. In the book, Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, and Nancy Peske recommend 50 favorite toys for kids (included below) and it continues to be an excellent guide for finding toys children both enjoy and use to address sensory issues and developmental skills. If you’re looking for or purchasing gifts for a child with sensory issues these days, here’s some key advice:

You don’t have to spend a lot of money. In fact, some of the best toys and products you can purchase are small and inexpensive. Every small child should have a Play-Doh Fun Factory, for example, which sells for under $10. Bubbles with bubble wands, modeling clay or Silly Putty, Wikki Sticks (wax-covered yarn for crafts), puzzles, handheld games such as Simon, and classic games such as Candyland or Kerplunk are excellent inexpensive toys that promote everything from tactile exploration to fine motor and visual memory skills.  

Buy the classics, and consider classic original versions. There’s a reason certain toys are perennial sellers: Their play value can’t be beat. You may find some of these toys in excellent condition on sites such as eBay and Craig’s List, or even at second-hand stores. Interestingly enough, sometimes the older versions are actually better for our kids because they tend to be sturdier and come without all the annoying chips for sounds and lights that are so distracting. Don’t underestimate how much kids will love Legos and Duplos building blocks, wagons, hand puppets, and so on. Thomas the Tank Engine toys are great for helping children move from cause-and-effect, parallel (independent) play to imaginative, cooperative play.


Buy toys that get kids moving.
 Ask your child’s sensory smart occupational therapist and/or physical therapist what type of movement toys she feels would be appropriate for your child, and ask her if she can work with him on using toys that involve coordination and gross motor skills. You may need to start slowly, such as with a three-wheeled scooter instead of a two-wheeled one, or a very small bike with training wheels rather than a bike that the bike store salesperson says is the correct size for your child (and be sure your child uses a properly fitted helmet).  A Sit-n-Spin can be a good choice for learning motor planning skills while getting vestibular input, but a Dizzy Disc for preschoolers or a Dizzy Disc Jr. for older kids an provide that input to a child with poorer motor planning skills. Sleds and mini trampolines (which are safer than full-sized ones) are great options too.

Have a ball. Balls can be incredibly helpful for developing a multitude of skills and now many modified balls are available, including ones that are easier to catch or throw or which provide sensory input via a textured surface (Gertie balls, koosh balls) or sounds created by movement (such as the Wiggly Giggly ball). Exercise balls are great for kids to sit on for input and for rolling over them to provide deep pressure: Your OT can show you many ways to use them. Why not keep balls in the yard, in your car, and even your purse so that they’re available for your child to get movement or sensory input at any time?

Be cautious about “active” video games.
 Although some of the newer games, particularly Xbox360 with Kinect which requires that the child use her body as the controller, encourage movement, don’t assume that your child will use them to get the aerobic exercise he needs. Wii Fit offers options that provide very little if any aerobic activity (although the quieter games on Wii Fit can be excellent for balance training which many of our kids need help with). I also has game options that will actually help you child work up a sweat, but observe your child to be sure she’s actually using videogames in a very active way. Then too, if your child has her heart set on Super Smash Brothers or another inactive video game, have her jump on a mini-trampoline while playing to give her exercise as well as build her hand-eye coordination.

Choose developmentally appropriate toys.
 One of the challenges of having a child with sensory issues is accepting that our kids may be far behind their peers in being able to play appropriately with particular toys. Offer your child choices that are in the “just right” challenge zone, which build their skills without being overwhelmingly difficult for them to use. If you’re giving a toy as a gift, think about choosing something that he will actually enjoy. Go ahead and buy the therapy toys he will resist at first, but if you feel he might get immediately frustrated by them, think about having your OT introduce them as part of therapy.

Buy books. If your child resists reading, try picture books and visual dictionaries, optical challenge books such as Where’s Waldo?, nonfiction coffee table books on trains, dinosaurs, and the like, pop-up books, scratch-and-sniff books, and so on. If you’re thinking about buying an eReader, note that some children with visual processing issues or vision issues find them much easier to read from than ordinary books due to the adjustable type size, low contrast, and auditory option (available on many books). You can even “gift” an electronic book to a child’s Kindle now and many are very low priced (although selection can be limited). Also consider audio books and mp3 downloads.

While you’re shopping, please consider buying some toys for Toys for Tots or other charities, and for your child’s school OT or PT (they may have a wish list or you could give them a gift card for a therapy catalogue or store such as The Learning Center).

Finally, remember that what kids want even more than toys is our attention. Playing a simple board game with your child or teaching her how to catch a ball may create one of her fondest childhood memories.

Check it out!

Be sure to check out Lindsey and Nancy’s Fifty Favorite Toysl ist in Raising a Sensory Smart Child. Also,you can shop for toys and equipment by developmental skill or sensory channel at:


NEW WEBSITE AND BLOG: Get new and up-to-date information and support for parents of children and teens with sensory processing disorder at and sign up for the newsletter and blog.


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Filed under affordable sensory items, kids toys, Practical tips for sensory issues, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, sensory processing disorder, sensory smart toys and equipment, Uncategorized, Used sensory items

Help Your Sensory Child Get Ready for the School Year

Many kids have already started the new school year. I know many of you are nervous about the changes this year. Be sure to pull that copy of RAISING A SENSORY SMART CHILD off your shelf (and pick up a copy for yourself–even for your child’s teacher!) and do take a look at our chapters on advocating for your child at school, organizational issues, and practical solutions for everyday problems. The book is chock full of practical strategies that I know you’ll find invaluable! It will help you set up a sensory diet for your child, with or without the help of an occupational therapist.

Do you have back to school rituals you share with your child? Do you write a letter to her teacher, or teachers? I’d love to know what you do to help ease this BIG transition each fall for your child with sensory processing disorder.


“Back to school” traditionally means buying fall clothing and school supplies, but there are other equally, if not more, important ways to get your child with sensory issues ready for the new school year.

Prepare your child with information. Sensory kids deal with so much unpredictability in the sensations they experience everyday that they tend to become more anxious about transitions than they would if they didn’t have sensory issues. Your sensory child may have countless questions about the upcoming school year: What will her classroom and teacher be like? Will her best friend be in class with her? What will be the lunch menu the first day? Will she sit by the window? Be patient and understand that the more information she has, the less stressed out and anxious she’ll be. Try to arrange to have her meet her teacher and explore her classroom (and the new school, if she’s changing schools) before school begins.

Prepare her teachers and her special education team, if she has one, for her special needs. Although many kids with sensory issues have IEPs, a new teacher who reads it is not going to take in a full picture of what your child’s special needs are when she hasn’t even put a name to a face for any of her students yet. Consider writing a short, upbeat letter to her new classroom teacher explaining what some of her challenges are, what accommodations work for her, and how well your child articulates her needs, self-advocates, and regulates her system. Can she respond to a verbal warning to “settle down,” or does she need to be reminded to use a specific self-calming technique that works for her? Be sure to keep your letter positive, helpful, and optimistic.

Back to school can be a tough transition for children with sensory processing issues, but there ARE ways to ease the transition.

Prepare him with supplies that work for him. Kids with sensory issues often are very disorganized and need someone to set up and teach them how to use organizational systems for managing their homework and school papers. If your school has a specific assignment notebook students are to use, and systems your child is expected to master right away, it’s best to know ahead of time. Attend parent orientation and consider talking to his teacher before school begins to be sure he’s able to begin using the new system right away without too many bumps in the road. Be sure, too, that he’s given plenty of time and leeway to master the organizational system (no punishments for losing assignments when he’s getting used to a new system!). It will take extra time and patience to figure out why he’s losing papers or forgetting to do assignments. Ask the teacher if you can have your child check in with her at the beginning and end of the day to be sure all necessary materials are where they need to be. Make use of backpacks and folders with many pockets but be sure your child is consistent in using those pockets. It’s helpful for your child to know his snack is always on the outside pocket of his backpack and his homework to be handed in is always in the same folder pocket.

Prepare him with clothes that work for him. Many sensory kids find it difficult to transition from summer clothing into fall clothing, and from favorite summer clothes to school clothing or school uniforms. Be patient, be willing to launder new clothing multiple times to make it softer, and be accepting of his need to wear shorts and sandals longer than the other kids do as autumn arrives. Check these the online stores for soft clothing options that may work for your child:

Get involved in helping your sensory child get organized EARLY. Don’t wait until the homework notices start arriving!


More quick tips for helping your sensory child at school, especially for teachers:

Buying anything this from Amazon and its affiliates such as Drugstore dot com? Please consider buying it through (click on the copy of Raising a Sensory Smart Child and you’ll be at Amazon’s site) or VIA THIS LINK to help offset the costs of the Sensory Smart News and the Sensory Smart Parent website! Thank you for your support!


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Sensitive Scalp? Hairbrushes for Sensory Kids and Adults

Does your sensory child have a sensitive scalp? I still remember the tears and pain of having my waist-length, Brady girl hair brushed back in the 1970s. My son has scalp sensitivities, as does my friend’s teenage daughter, so I was eager to try out a couple of hairbrushes designed for sensitive scalps.


The Goody Ouchless® brush has been available for a few years but has a new design with a gel handle. The core feature of this plastic brush is plastic bristles with rounded tips that retract into the plastic handle very easily when they meet with pressure. This offers a great deal of “give” when brushing, reducing tugging at the scalp. The gel handle gives a bit under pressure, and my sensory son finds it pleasurable to hold (plus, the extra input it provides by shaping itself to the person’s hand may be helpful for some sensory kids, too).


The Knot Genie ® is very new. It’s shaped like a horse’s curry comb and has ultra soft bristles. As with the Goody Ouchless, the plastic bristles have a lot of “give” to reduce tugging at the scalp. However, there are more bristles, closer together, and they are shorter and have more give than the ones on the Goody.


My son preferred the Goody handle, but liked both brushes. Like him, I have fine hair, but I wear mine long. I’ve been using the Goody for a while along with my old trick of starting by brushing the ends and working my way up to the scalp so as not to worsen any snarls on the downstroke (I learned that in my Jan Brady days). The Knot Genie doesn’t give scalp stimulation, but I could brush all the way from my scalp to the ends with no wincing whatsoever. I do find the handle awkward to use even though I have fairly big hands. If my hair were longer and less layered, I’d definitely use the Knot Genie more than the Goody Ouchless®, though.


My friend’s daughter has shoulder length, straight, coarse hair. She absolutely loved the Knot Genie and said it was odd at first not to be able to feel the bristles. She had no problems with the handle and is definitely going to use it. She wishes she’d had it years ago—she, too, remembers the tears and pain of long, snarled hair. I thought it was interesting that despite her coarser hair, the brush did work for detangling.

Goody Ouchless Hairbrush can be great for kids with sensory issues


The Knot Genie has super-soft bristles for sensitive scalps


Knot Genie is shaped a bit like a horse's curry comb

I want to thank Tricia Saunders, mom of a sensory kid who sells the Knot Genie (as well as super soft clothing for sensitive kids) on her site,, for the free Knot Genie brushes to try. If you’d like to buy one, check out her site. If you’d like to try the Goody Ouchless, you might find it in your local drugstore, or you can buy it via  I notice they now make a child-sized one, too, which you can buy HERE, via Amazon/ but I’m not sure if it has the gel handle.


Have you used either brush? What do you think?



Filed under affordable sensory items, grooming, hairbrushing, haircuts, Practical tips for sensory issues, sensory processing disorder, sensory seeking head, tactile issues head, tactile sense, tactile sensitivity,

Strategies to Help Kids with SPD or Autism Focus in the Classroom

Here’s a wonderful blogpiece from National Autism Resources on helping kids focus in the classroom CLICK HERE.

It’s fascinating to see how much difference and inflatable cushion or fidgets can make. There’s a Canadian company called Kid Companions that sells chewable jewelry and you can also find nontoxic chewables, and hand fidgets and inflatable cushions, in catalogues such as Southpaw Enterprises.

Wintertime is especially challenging because kids don’t spend as much time outdoors running around and using playground equipment. Encourage your child at recess time to kick a snow or ice pile, carry snow and make snow forts and snow men, and of course, shovel! But then too, check with him or her, the teacher, and the school OT to ensure your child is getting enough sensory diet activities throughout the day to stay focused in the classroom.

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Filed under affordable sensory items, autism and sensory issues, classroom accommodations sensory, heavy work, OT, playground issues, recess, schools, sensory diet, sensory diet at school, sensory seeking

If Your Child Resists Mittens, Gloves, Scarves, Hats and Other Winter Clothes…

Now that winter has truly arrived (here in Wisconsin, it seems to come in around mid November but today is the official start!), are you struggling to get your child with sensory issues to don all that wonderful winter clothing that will keep her warm when she plays outside?

Here’s a tip: Make winter clothing items more tolerable through desensitization and careful attention to textures and tightness.

Many people prefer one type of scarf material to another, or prefer gloves to mittens or vice versa. With children who have sensory processing differences, these preferences can be very intense. They may actually be deeply distressed by the feel of certain clothing. Yet you don’t want them to get frost nip or, worse, frost bite because they’re underdressed for cold weather. What’s more, playing with snow will make any non-waterproof clothing wet and cold. Fortunately, there are many options available.

Tight or loose? Sometimes, sensory kids can better tolerate clothes if they’re tight or, at least, if tight clothing is worn underneath looser clothing. Consider offering tight long johns, glove liners or tight and fingerless nylon “arthritis gloves,” and spandex caps or face masks (often available in bike shops or sporting goods stores) that give comforting input. These can be worn alone or underneath items such as acrylic hats and nylon snowpants.

Won’t wear mittens? Hand warmer packets kept in the pockets can help keep hands from getting frost nip, at least when they’re in the child’s pockets!  You might also massage the child’s head and hands before she puts on a hat or mittens. Light vibration from a hand-held vibrator or even a vibrating toy or toothbrush may work to desensitize her skin as well, allowing her to handle the sensation of clothing against these parts of the body.

Check his skin! Your child may have dry skin that is exacerbating his discomfort. If he will tolerate lotion or oil that will lock in moisture, use it liberally, especially after a bath or shower when the skin is still warm and moist as it is most effective at these times.  You might consider making baths and showers less frequent to prevent dry skin, and think about adding an essential oil to the bath (but do not use lavender or tea tree oil with boys, however, as some research has indicated these oils act as hormone disrupters in young males).

Keep cheap accessories on hand. It’s a good idea to stock up on cheap hats, gloves, mittens, snowpants, and boots during the summer at second-hand stores and look for ones that are not scratchy (for instance, fleece rather than acrylic or wool), have minimal elastic (such as at the wrists), and which you know your sensory child can tolerate. If he is uncomfortable in a clothing item, ask him if he can express exactly what is bothering him.When you can, have extra dry clothing on hand in case he does get an article wet or loses it.

Try fleece. Keep in mind, too, that fleece repels water fairly well, so if he cannot tolerate nylon you might have him wear fleece.

Finally, do remind your child to drink water during outdoor activities to stay hydrated, which will also help prevent dry skin.

Stay warm and enjoy the winter break!

Happy holidays to all of you!

There are ways to get your sensory kid to tolerate winter clothing!


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Selecting Toys for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder

Shopping for toys or products for a sensory child in your life to help carry out a sensory diet? Here are some of my personal recommendations this year:

Raising a Sensory Smart Child. Buy it for your child’s teacher, therapist, grandparent, nanny, aide, whoever! It’s now available for Nook and Kindle, too.

The Kindle, a dedicated eReader available at For my son who has visual processing issues, this device was THE key to getting him to read. No wriggling black letters on white pages. I wish the Harry Potter series and other faves were on Kindle but there is an excellent selection of kids’ and y.a. books on and most cost well under $10. For my over-40 eyes, the adjustable typeface is heaven. He loves the auditory function (you can set it to read the book to you) and the instant dictionary (place the cursor next to an unfamiliar word and immediately see a dictionary definition). I’ve not tried the Nook–I’m not sure how it compares to Kindle.

Wikki Stix. What a brilliant idea—sticky wax covered yarn that serves as a building toy. I hated the sharp edges of pipe cleaners as a kid. Forget that. Go Wikki. You can get them at Sensory

Vibrating toothbrushes with characters on them. The perfect accompaniment to holiday candy! Santa often leaves a Sponge Bob vibrating toothbrush and a fresh new tube of toothpaste in my son’s stocking. Many sensory kids love vibration, and you can even hold the vibrating handle near other parts of the face to desensitize them to tactile input your child finds distressing (such as to the lips before putting lip balm on).

T-shirts from Teres Kids. My son loves his “dress up” t-shirt with a tie. I’ve tried these out on some other sensory kids and they loved the feel of them too.

Dizzy Disc Jr.  entertains a child and provides helpful sensory input (vestibular in this case) for years, and is totally portable and easy to store. There is a preschool version and a version for older kids.

Santa has a big sleigh and I heard a rumor he might be delivering a “Crash Pad” to our house. This is a bean bag chair that provides “wider coverage” for kids and adults seeking proprioceptive input. For smaller kids there is The Pea Pod available through (you really have to navigate through their site but it’s worth checking out).

If you want to shop by developmental skill or sensory channel, see my Sensory Smarts Shop. If you click through and purchase anything that’s sold by, by the way, I do get a very small monetary reward that helps me to pay the costs of my site, blog, and newsletter. In fact, if you do purchase from Amazon after clicking through to it from my site, or this blog, I will get a little money back which helps defray my costs so I can keep offering more information for you!

NEW WEBSITE AND BLOG! If you liked this article, PLEASE come join me at the new and sign up for my NEW newsletter and blog. Thanks!

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Filed under affordable sensory items, celebrations parties and holidays, kids toys, Nancy Peske, Practical tips for sensory issues, sensory processing disorder, sensory seeking head, Uncategorized, Used sensory items

Rummage Sale Season and Sensory Kids

Sign up for the Sensory Smart News and learn why rummage sales offer more than just bargains for sensory kids!

Some of my greatest “finds” were at rummage sales (or eBay):

* the Radio Flyer sled at the church rummage sale that only need a little repair work, which has lasted five sledding seasons so far

*The Chop Suey game I remembered from childhood: you use chopsticks (or you can buy ZooStix and use those) to fish out oddly shaped plastic pieces from a moving bowl. Great fine motor game!

The vintage Chop Suey game, great for practicing fine motor skills

* An old-fashioned Lite Brite that is challenging but not impossible for a child who needs work on fine motor skills

* Super soft Hanna Andersson all-cotton long johns/pjs for ten cents (retails for $29!)

* Snowpants, snow boots, and rain gear that don’t get enough seasonal use to justify paying full price–and which my son balked at back in his preschool days. When you pay $1 for snowpants he won’t wear, it’s not quite so frustrating!

* A Godzilla game and a Shark Attack game, each for a quarter, that he got countless hours of imagination play out of since they came with no instructions but several cool pieces

* Unused, unopened Tom’s All-Natural Silly Strawberry toothpaste for a quarter at an estate sale where the owners had stocked up

* Collections of Captain Underpants books

What have been your best sensory smart, rummage sale bargains?

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Filed under affordable sensory items, kids toys, sensory processing disorder, Uncategorized, Used sensory items