Sensory Activities:
The Essential Guide

By Sensory Swim   Click Here To Download As eBook
Whether a child or adult, we all need activities & exercise to maintain
a healthy lifestyle.   

If a child has sensory issues that prevent them from doing typical
“group” exercise classes or “team” sports, then what are they to

What is a parent suppose to do with their child who can't or won't
participate in routine activities & exercise & who experiences
things differently?

These sensory processing disorder symptoms can range from visual to
tactile to movement.

For example, if a child gets overstimulated easily from visual things
such as bright colors & lights, or even the movement of fans, they
will not have an enjoyable time learning a skill, even if the skill is
as simple as a jumping jack.

If a child that is distracted or fascinated by fans is in a room trying to
do this exercise with a fan within sight, they will not be able to
concentrate on what their body is supposed to be doing.

The same is true for a child who abhors bright colors or loves them.

If you put this child in a room with a plethora of bright colors, they will
be totally distracted & not able to perform any task to the best of their

There are children in classrooms that simply cannot sit still that need
the sensory stimulation of moving constantly.

If they could
  • sit
  • spin
  • swing
they might be more likely to take an interest in the material they are 
supposed to learn.

Instead, they are focused on sitting still as told by their teachers,
which is really hard for them to do.

If allowed to move & get comfortable, they would excel & thrive in this
educational setting.

There are no cookie-cutter people, children or adults.

We are all individuals & some of us learn better in quiet settings &
some learn better with a little noise in the background.

Whatever our preference, sensory issues will always be a factor in everything we do.

Some of us like certain noises & can't stand other noises.

There are people that absolutely hate a particular color & others will love that same color. 

This could be a personal preference or it could be sensory related.


Can't Touch This: Uniforms, Clothes & Sensory Activities

What if a child has issues with different textures & either craves the
input of touching certain fabrics & surfaces or those same ones
completely turn them off?

Would this interfere or help with their daily activities & learning?

Suppose a child cannot stand to feel a tag on their clothes & they
must wear a certain sports uniform shirt with tags?

Would this be so distracting for them that it could effect the way they

These are all areas to be considered when enrolling your child in
sensory activities.

They should also be enjoyable for your child & bring about benefits
that can spill over to other areas of their lives.

Any sensory activity, when handled with care & compassion can help
children with special needs.

It can assist with improvement in their cognitive skills as well.

In addition, if a child has trouble with balance or coordination, they
usually lack the self-confidence it takes to succeed in any kind of
sport, whether individual or team.

They may have some gross motor delays that prevent them 
from doing any activity that requires synchronized 
movements, which includes sports.

So where is this child supposed to get their healthy daily dose of

The answer is in sensory activities that are tailor-made to fit that
individual child & their needs.

There are so many activities out there that involve team sports, or
individual sports, that are of no interest to certain children &

However, there are specific activities that are of great benefit.

Some sensory activities can actually assist people that have sensory
issues to overcome fears, build muscle, improve balance & coordination
& help them conquer their sensory issues.

If a parent has a child who is extremely sensitive to noises & gets
overstimulated easily, they must seek out sensory activities
that are good for their child.

That is quite a task – to find an activity their child enjoys, can reach
goals no matter how small, & develop a relationship of trust.

There are many activities & therapies that claim to accomplish this,
but do they?

Can they address the individual's needs & allow the child to love that


Hold Onto Your Horses

Horseback riding is one of the most popular sensory activities.

When a person has social problems or other physical issues or sensory
challenges, this activity is beneficial.

For example, when a child who is autistic & is dealing with other
issues, social & physical, they can develop a relationship with
the horse – can feel like the horse is his friend.

During the horse-back riding lesson, the child learns to take care of
the horse, brush it, saddle it & relate to it.

For some children who have tactile issues, who don't like to touch
animal fur or are apprehensive about animals in general, this can
help them overcome such fears.

In addition, there is a trust that is built between the horse & rider.

Just getting up on a horse, using strength & coordination is great
exercise & use of the muscles.    

For a parent to see their autistic child who has a difficult time getting
out of his world & making eye contact with others, even his parents,
to get to a point where he is looking directly at the horse's face, is
reassuring & provides hope.

The parent prays for this kind of contact with their child at home, but
every effort seems in vain.

Then, they take their child to horse-back riding lessons to discover that
the child is developing a unique relationship with the horse.

That's why a good number of autistic children can bond with different
animals, & love to participate in this type of activity.


Arnold Fears The Sensory Motor Gym

Another of the sensory activities that creates development in children
& adults with special needs is gymnastics.

Some gyms who serve the special needs community are called
sensory motor gyms & have groups & individual lessons that
create an occupational therapy environment.

They deal with gross motor skills & motor planning (going from A to B
to C in that order).

Children get to climb, jump on trampolines, roll down mats, run &
tumble & learn how to get that extra energy out of their systems.

Children who are able to join small groups may get to do certain
physical activities with others, experience waiting in line, taking
their turn, relating to the other students & following directions.

Children who are not able to participate in groups, even small ones,
do individual lessons at these gyms to improve their physical skills
& overcome specific challenges.

Sometimes it's difficult to find a gym where the instructors have the
natural ability to teach these children & relate to them, while 
showing them how to have fun.

So this can be a good choice as far as sensory activities are concerned
for a child who is very physical or for one who needs more movement.

Sometimes when parents find out that their son or daughter is autistic,
they look to different therapies for assistance.

There are physical therapists who deal with certain issues &
occupational therapists who deal with other issues.

Physical therapy is not a type of sensory activity, per Se; however,
occupational therapy deals more along these lines.

For instance, you may find a small motor gym in some occupational
therapists office, where they can work with their patients & clients
on achieving better balance, improving coordination, & improving
gross motor skills.

They may also have a room or station that is set up to deal with a
child who has fine motor skill difficulties.

If a child has fine motor skill delays, they may have a tough time trying
to color, write, or even hold a pencil, crayon or pen.

In the occupational therapist's office, this child can work on building
strength & coordination in their hands & fingers individually to be
able to reach goals in this area.

So in this case, this sensory activity is not only worthwhile, but should
be conducted in such a way where the child has fun learning.

Some autistic children have great hand/eye coordination & get
enjoyment out of throwing a ball or catching a ball.

So parents enroll their child with special needs into tennis lessons,
thinking this will give their child great exercise & be a good
sensory activity for them.

For some children, this is a good activity & improves their

For others, they get bored or frustrated with the strict learning process
& the plethora of levels of skills needed.

Parents think that if they enroll their child in small group sensory
, their child will succeed & gain social skills in the

This is not always true.

If a child has their own battles with sensory issues &  is in a group
with a child with the opposite reaction to this sensory stimulation,
it may not only inhibit your child's progress in this activity or
sport, it may be harmful & cause your child to regress in
areas where they have achieved some success already.

I have heard of parents whose son had some “stemming” issues with
his hands.

He went into a small social group & did various sensory activities
& other social exercises with various autistic children.

However, the parents were noticing that their son was picking up on
the other child's stemming.

This was evident because he was not only doing constant same
movements with his hands like before, but he started doing
some stemming with his feet & motions that mimicked one
of other boys in his group.

Along with this, he also started making strange noises, which
apparently was what one of the little girls in his group would
do to get attention.

Not all situations have results like this.

In some cases, not all that common, an autistic child may pick up cues
& observe others in his group in a positive way, trying to speak more,


Sensory Activity: Private Swimming Lessons
When it comes to activities specifically designed to focus on sensory
issues, special needs swimming seems to be extremely popular.

There are so many reasons why this sensory activity ranks highest, if
not the highest for special needs children & adults. 

When a parent enrolls their child in a swim class, they are usually
doing it because they want their child to be safe when near water
& know how to swim if God forbid they fall into a body of water.

Some autistic children are just drawn to water.

Unfortunately, there are statistics that back up the fact that many
autistic children have been drawn to water, fell or jumped in & 

There are also a large number of autistic children who are repulsed
& frightened by water, even to the point where they don't want their
heads or faces getting wet for any reason. 

This is very much like having a sensory processing disorder

They have a sensory issue with water which prevents their parents
from bathing in the normal fashion.

Some of these children actually have meltdowns when confronted
with any activity or possibility of getting wet.

Still, there are other children & adults who are frightened of water
& the possibility that they will not be able to learn how to swim.

If a child is enrolled in a group swimming class where the instructor is
not experienced & familiar with sensory issues, that child may have
to repeat certain levels, or may get frustrated & quit altogether.

If that same child is then put into a semi-private or private instruction
for swimming, they stand a better chance of picking up on the
method of swimming.

However, again, if that teacher does not have a clear understanding
of certain issues & fears that some have with water, again, that
child may frustrate the instructor or coach, as well as have
meltdowns & fits of anger.

It's always a two-way street.

Don't let anybody convince you that your kid can't learn to swim even
if they autism or another special need.

When working with special needs children, a teacher must have
patience & compassion every step of the way.

In addition, that teacher must also have an innate sense of when the
child is just being manipulative to get out of doing a particular task,
or when that child is having problems that require special

If a swimming coach tries to get a child who has fear of the water or
intense fear about getting his face wet, to put his head under the
water, it may scare that child & keep him from ever getting in the
pool again.

But if that instructor takes their time with this child & plays games
& creates different ways for the child to put his face and then
head in the water, there will be a greater chance for success.   

The most beneficial way for a child or adult to reach goals at
swimming or any of the sensory activities, is to make sure
there is trust built between the instructor & the student.

If a strong report is developed & the student can relax & learn to trust
their teacher, they stand  a much better chance at learning how to
swim, or do any activity.

If the teacher or coach gets frustrated with the students &  is “out of
their league” as far as teaching this type of student, they may get
angry & raise their voice or display other signs of their frustration.

This reaction will never help that student make progress.  

All of us have sensory issues; have fears of some type or another,
&  need a little understanding to face them & work through them.

So much more is the case when we are trying to learn any new skills,
especially a life-saving skill like swimming.

It's so important that we can trust our instructor; that they have an
understanding or our fears or apprehensiveness.

That way, if things move too quickly & we are pushed way beyond our
comfort level, we won't damage the progress we have already made
or hinder any progress yet to come.

The same is true for someone who may not be able to communicate
as we do, for example, a child who cannot hear or see or be around
other comfortably.

They are battling with several major things already & then trying to
learn something new in addition.

This at times can be overwhelming when attempting new challenges.

The appropriate sensory activities can provide a whole new world for
a child or adult, if the teacher is experienced, not just certified & 
qualified on paper.

That teacher needs to have the “out-of-the-box” type attitude
& compassion & patience that will bring about success.

The instructor must have a relationship with the student based on

It may take some time to build, but is imperative that it exists.

When that perfect fit comes about, the student gains confidence
in each goal they accomplish.

If the child wouldn't put their face in the water & then through great
instruction & patience, learns to do so, they are filled with pride.

This pride in their accomplishment shows in other areas of their life as

If a child learns to pet a horse & not be afraid, chances are they will
have a more enjoyable time with other animals and feel bigger than
life when facing other things that are scary to them.   

There is no stopping a child or adult who overcomes their fears
& accomplishes things they perceived as impossible.

There is also no better way to make this happen then to find an
instructor who is worth their weight in gold or silver (whichever
holds the most value these days).

If you are investing in your child's future, really aiming to see them
safe & healthy, you will do your research not just on the sensory
for which you enroll them, but the teachers who will be
with them.

Make sure that your child or dependent adult with special needs
desires to be there and are not only being taught, but having a
good time.

That way, their world will expand & they will be encouraged to do
& experience more things that will make life sweeter for them.

Never take for granted that because a certain activity is reported to
have worked for a child with autism or a child with cerebral palsy,
etc., that the results will be the same for your child.

Find out where their interests lie &  if it is a skill that will help them in
their daily life, make sure it is approached as something fun & 
exciting, not just another “therapy”.

Therapy is helpful in so many ways, but a child who does something
for the fun of it, without realizing the therapeutic benefits they are
also receiving, will make progress by leaps & bounds

Remember, there are many sensory activities available & of great benefit.

Choose wise & always make sure the activity is wrapped up in “fun”.

Things will go smoother for all concerned, the parent, the instructor,
& the student.