7 DIY Sensory Activities for Autistic Children
Published on: December 22, 2022
By: Kristin Bartlett

The benefits of sensory activities for autistic children

Sensory activities for autistic children can be some of the most helpful in helping with emotional regulation, cognitive development and behavior. Sensory play is a great way for autistic children to relax, de-stress, explore and have fun. Did you know you can do these fun sensory activities at home without any special equipment? 

During the holiday season, when there is less structure, a different routine, and higher anxiety levels due to change, it’s especially important to keep your child entertained and engaged at home. Here are 7 DIY sensory activities that will keep your child entertained and well regulated and they are great for all ages!

Homemade musical instruments

Musical instruments can be a valuable part of a child’s early development. Music can be a powerful tool for teaching and connecting with autistic children as music can help to reduce stress and encourage creativity. As part of the benefits, fine and gross motor skills are developed, sensory development is supported, and patience is taught. 

As children learn through all their senses, playing with instruments provides a wonderful sensory experience involving movement, sight, hearing and touch. Playing percussion instruments, those that are hit, slapped, or tapped are especially valuable to a child’s development. Your child will begin to understand, for example, that banging a drum slowly and softly creates a different sound than banging it quickly and forcefully. As kids learn to manipulate instruments they also improve their body awareness. It teaches them that they can make sounds with their bodies, that they can blow into some instruments with their breath, that they need to control the instruments using their hands, etc. 

Homemade instruments also provide an opportunity for children to express themselves in a safe and fun environment. By providing your child with the opportunity to create their own instruments and explore sound, they can gain a sense of independence and confidence. Additionally, making homemade instruments can be a great way of promoting social interaction between your child and their peers. Through music, children can learn to appreciate different sounds and create their own unique compositions.  As well as bringing joy and happiness, music is a great source of relaxation. It is good for the soul and an art form that children can learn to appreciate.

How to create homemade musical instruments:

Include your child in the process of creating their musical instruments. Besides improving their motor skills and hand-eye coordination, they’ll also feel proud of themselves for creating something with their own hands.

  • Shakers: fill plastic bottles with rice or dried beans
  • Rattles: thread buttons and beads onto some string
  • Drums: Use wooden spoons to beat on plastic tubs
  • Chimes: Hang up some bottle tops or shells

Finger painting

It’s easy to turn a dull afternoon into an enjoyable, creative activity with finger painting – but why should we stop there? You can make your own finger paint! Kids can even help make homemade finger paint by mixing up their favorite colors. 

Play with paint indoors on days when you can’t easily go outside. Or if the weather is nice, your child can paint outside to minimize the clean-up. Not only is this a fun and creative activity, but your child will be working on their fine motor skills while exploring tactile sensory play!

How to make finger paint:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • Food coloring
  • Glitter (optional)
  1. Mix flour and water together until mixture is smooth.
  2. Separate into containers (like baby food jars) or bowls.
  3. Add about 4 drops of food colouring to each and mix.

Make your own slime

Making homemade slime can be a beneficial activity for autistic kids. It can help to provide a calming, sensory-based experience that allows your child to practice their fine motor skills and develop their creative thinking. The activity also offers opportunities for kids to practice problem solving, as they figure out how to mix the right ingredients in the right quantities to make the perfect slime. Making slime can also provide an engaging and fun activity that can be done with family members or friends, helping children to develop social skills and build relationships. All in all, making homemade slime can be a great way to help autistic children to engage with their environment and gain valuable skills.

How to make slime at home:

  • 3 tablespoons of green-coloured dish soap
  • 4 tablespoons of cornstarch

Stir mixture well until you reach a doughy consistency. 

Create an obstacle course 

There’s nothing like an obstacle course to keep kids entertained, and you can make it different every time so it never gets boring. Obstacle courses are great for kids of all ages – you can have the younger ones complete all of the obstacles while the older ones can race against each other. 

Using  obstacle courses can be a fun way to engage your child in active movement. The obstacle course can be customized using various household items and sensory toys. Obstacle courses provide many different opportunities to experience and understand sensory input of all kinds and at the same time, will put your child’s balance and strength to the test in different ways. By balancing, squishing through and jumping over objects, children will engage their vestibular and proprioceptive senses while working on their gross motor skills too.

Understanding how to move through the obstacle course stations is a lesson in sequencing, problem solving, and motor planning. It can also help children learn how to take turns, communicate and follow directions through obstacle course play. Additionally, getting through each step of the course is great for building confidence.

Make sure that you design an engaging course that incorporates a variety of motions (jumping, crawling, balancing, etc.) and makes use of a large space. Take advantage of these creative ideas to help make the course and include your kids in the making of the course, they will love you for it:

  • Hula hoops to jump through
  • Line of tape to balance on
  • Couch cushions to hurdle over
  • Table to crawl under
  • Blanket over 2 chairs to crawl through
  • Tupperware containers to hop over
  • Stuffed animals to roll over
  • Plastic cups to run around

Upside down walking for sensory benefits

When it comes to vestibular activities, it may be beneficial for kids to flip upside down to get the required input. As adults, we often engage in these activities too, exploring different yoga poses, for example, that provide us with the same experience as hanging upside down. This gravity-defying position contributes to better posture, improved circulation, improved mood, improved flexibility, improved balance, stronger upper body and core muscles, to name a few.

Don’t redirect your child when they are hanging upside down!  Instead, guide and encourage them to give their vestibular, proprioceptive, visual, and tactile systems the input they need!

Turn upside down with these activities:

  • Wheelbarrow walks
  • Kids Yoga
  • Somersaults and cartwheels

Sensory bin 

Creating a sensory bin for autistic children can be a great way to help them explore their environment, encourage creative thinking and help them develop important social skills. Sensory bins are filled with tactile objects such as sand, rice, or water beads that can help autistic children develop their sensory and motor skills. Through sensory play, kids can explore a variety of textures, colors, and shapes. Playing with or touching these objects could be soothing for an overstimulated child, or calming for a child who is wound up and sensory seeking. Furthermore, sensory bins can help autistic children learn to regulate their emotions and reduce their anxiety. Creating a sensory bin is a fun and engaging activity that can help your child build skills and gain a better understanding of their environment. 

A sensory bin is normally a plastic tub or a large container filled with objects and  materials designed to explore the senses. The best part of creating your own sensory bin at home is that you can customize it to your child’s sensory needs and their interests. 

How to create a sensory bin:

  1. Make sure you have a large or sturdy washable container
  2. Decide on a filler or two
  3. Gather some sensory toys, objects or tools to go inside.

Some ideas to explore:

Dry Fillers: 

  1. Dry rice, beans, and/or pasta 
  2. Popcorn seeds
  3. Sand 
  4. Cotton balls 
  5. Shredded paper 
  6. Soil
  7. Beads
  8. Leaves

Wet fillers:

  1. Water
  2. Shaving cream
  3. Water beads
  4. Kinetic sand

Household items that can be incorporated: 

  • Small plastic toys to hide and search for
  • Measuring cups
  • Spoons 
  • Sieve 
  • Cookie cutters

Crash pad

Crash pads can be a great tool for autistic children to receive the sensory input that they need. Proprioceptive input is especially important for autistic children, as it can help them regulate their bodies and provide a sense of grounding. This input is provided through activities such as squishing, jumping, and crashing on the crash pad. Not only that, but the crash pad also offers tactile and vestibular input. This can help autistic children with motor planning, balance, orientation, and coordination. By providing both tactile and vestibular sensory input, a crash pad can be a great way to help autistic children learn how to move their bodies and coordinate their movements. 

Another great benefit of crash pads is that they can be used in both indoor and outdoor settings. This means that autistic children can use them in any environment, whether it be at home, at school, or in the park. With such a versatile tool, it’s easy to see why crash pads are a favorite among parents, teachers, and therapists. 

Finally, crash pads can be used in a variety of ways, from providing sensory input, to helping with motor planning, to simply having fun! By offering a variety of activities, crash pads can be an invaluable resource.

Make your own crash pad at home by unzipping a large duvet cover and stuffing it as full as you can with pillows, blankets and soft towels. Once it is full, zip it closed and let your kid crash in it. 

You can accommodate a variety of sensory input and/or motor skill activities on your crash pad, including:

  • Jumping into the crash pad
  • Throwing a ball to your child as they fall onto the crash pad and try to catch it
  • As if a tree were falling, standing upright and stiff and falling into the crash pad
  • Rolling from one side to the other
  • Taking a nap, relaxing  and watching a movie together in the crash pad

Final thoughts

Providing a safe nurturing environment where your child can explore their senses and learn new things is crucial. It is important to remember that the sensory needs of autistic children vary and may change over time. Some children will need toys that provide a constant source of sensory input and others may want to explore their senses through play. It is important to be patient, understanding, and supportive when helping our children explore their senses. 

Continue to find safe activities that can help your child learn about their senses and how to process them. But most importantly, have fun! 

Unlock your child’s potential with our online course – giving you the tools to create a home program for your autistic child with everyday materials, activities and loads of sensory activity ideas that you can implement in your home environment!