A Modern Day Fairy Tale: Sensory Seeking on a Budget

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sensory Seeking on a Budget

For children (and adults) with sensory issues, there are generally two types of people- those who seek sensory input and those who avoid it.

My son Shaun is (mostly) a sensory seeker.

So, what does this mean? What does it look like?

Like all things with autism, it can look a little different for each individual but to put it simply, a sensory seeker craves sensory input- they're often in constant motion, like to touch everything, love deep pressure and physical activity. For Shaun, it looks like a bundle of energy- there is a reason that when my husband and I were asked to draw a picture to represent him, we individually came up with The Flash logo! He is always moving- jumping, dancing, spinning, hopping on one foot... even in his sleep he tosses and turns, kicks and flails. He loves flashing lights, watching things spin, vibrant colors. At 7.5 years old, he still mouths absolutely everything and is always wanting to eat- regardless if he just ate a full meal. He touches everything- walls, people, whatever he happens to walk past. He's loud- constantly talking or making noises of some sort... the noisier the toys, the better. He likes to smell things- good or bad, he will sniff it all and seems to remember and recognize scents easier than most. Touch, smell, sight, sound... he wants to take it all in.

On the outside, that sensory seeking looks like a child bouncing off the walls...quite literally. It's climbing, it's jumping, it's spinning, it's constant... and as a mother, it's a little bit exhausting! So, we are always on the lookout for great ways to allow Shaun to get that sensory input he craves at home. The problem? Our budget!

Honestly, in an ideal world I would have a room dedicated to my son's sensory needs- swings, mats to jump on and climb on, tools for deep pressure...the works! Unfortunately, all of these things would quickly add up and are way out of our budget. Autism is expensive! But over the years we have found there are some much less expensive options that can help. Today, I wanted to share how you too can give your sensory seeker a positive sensory experience at home, without breaking the bank:

  • Create a Pillow Fort. Sensory seekers love crashing into soft surfaces. Use a kid tent or build your own fort and fill with pillows and plush toys. This will give your little one a soft place to land and can be quite calming.
  • DIY Ball Pit. You can typically find inexpensive ball pits at toy stores, but they tend to be just big enough for a toddler. Instead, purchase the balls separately and get creative. Use a kiddie pool, fill a tent, use a playpen. There are a ton of great options!
  • Chewing Gum. For a kid who craves oral sensory input, gum can be a must have. Not only does it offer them something to chew (aside from shirts, toys, etc), but also gives them some flavor as well. 
  • Body Pillow Squeezes. Sensory seekers love deep pressure, so for an easy at home trick invest in a body pillow. Have your little one lay on the pillow and squish their legs/bottom in the pillow. (Don't have a body pillow, just squeeze them between a few regular pillows!)
  • Bear Hugs. No extra equipment needed- there is nothing my son loves more than the biggest bear hug I can muster!
  • Play Dough/ Moon Sand/ Clay. These can all provide great sensory input... and is super fun for everyone. Buy Playdoh or create your own more natural/allergy friendly options (recipe coming soon!). For even more fun, hide some small toys within the sand/dough and let your little one search for them!
  • Bargain Toys. Believe it or not, toy bargain bins can be a great resource for sensory friendly toys. Find inexpensive toys with fun lights, cool textures and sounds. Anything squeezable or that spins is ideal! One of my son's current favorites is a Pin Art toy which we found for just $5 at Target! Keep some of these set aside for when your little one really needs them to keep the novelty from wearing off.
  • DIY Weighted Products. I cannot say enough positive things about weighted products, but they are quite price-y. If you are crafty however, you can make your own. (Google for tutorials!)
  • Exercise Ball. You can generally buy a large exercise ball for $10-20... this is a great tool to have on hand. Help your little one bounce on the ball with your support, lay them on their tummy over the ball and roll gently or even just take it outside and roll it into each other.
  • Just Exercise! When my son starts to get overly excited, he'll start doing jumping jacks or push ups. This gives him the physical motion he craves but is more productive than jumping aimlessly.
  • Aromatherapy. For the child who likes smells, aromatherapy can be great. They get the sensory input they crave AND the therapeutically benefits of essential oils. I personally love calming oils like lavender for my overactive son! Plant Therapy offers some wonderful child friendly options at a great price!
  • Check Yard Sales. Chances are you probably won't find actual therapy tools at yard sales, but there are many bargains that will do the job. Anything that spins, has lights, fun textures. Look for small trampolines or a crib mattress for jumping fun. Sit-N-Spins can be great for spinning and a pretty common yard sale find. Also look for lava lamps or other interesting lighting! Use your imagination.
  • The Cocoon. There are many products on the market that allow for a snug 'cocoon like' feel, but again, they can get pretty expensive. But if you have blankets, that's all you need. Break out your swaddling skills and wrap them up. My son LOVES having peace and quiet in his cocoon!
These are just a few of many ways to give your little one a fantastic inexpensive sensory seeking experience. The important thing to remember is to use your imagination. Autism can be very expensive, but it doesn't have to completely break the bank.

Do you have other at home sensory experiences to share? Leave your ideas in the comments below.


  1. These are some great ideas! It's always nice to change up sensory toys.

  2. Awesome ideas. These are all going to help me out with summer approaching!

  3. Great ideas. Thank you for compiling them Randi. I shared on Twitter. I didn't see your Twitter ID to tag you on the share though.

  4. I love the diy ball pit idea!! We have a plastic swimming pool that would be just perfect for it! My son wears a diffusing bracelet that we diffuse essential oils with and it's fabulous :)

  5. These are lovely ideas, thank you for the post.

  6. What great ideas!! Sounds like so much fun!

  7. It is amazing to know that one in 68 Kids are diagnosed with autism now. Kim from http://www.heartofaphilanthropist.com


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