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Sensory Calming Quicklist

Center of Development Pediatric Therapies 931-372-2567 [email protected]

Quick List of Organizing Sensory Activities to fit into Daily Schedules

Sensory input is a natural calming drug for the brain, we all need it to stay calm, focused, and feel "put together," children w/ SID need more of it & more often...

Calming and Organizing Input:

  • Vestibular: linear swinging or gently rocking back and forth

  • Proprioceptive: wearing weighted vests, joint compressions (including wheelbarrow walking and jumping), creeping and crawling, jumping, "row, row row your boat" pulling and pushing on joints, wearing ankle weights, trampolines, pushing weighted laundry basket or carts.

  • Oral motor: chewing firm and crunchy snacks. Water bottles can help with focus and organization. Oral toys, bubbles, blow paints, and other oral blowing toys are great as well!

  • Calming spaces: it is very important that a child with SID have a way out of an environment that causes them stress. Each classroom should have a quiet space in which there is minimal visual and auditory stimuli. A reading corner behind a bookshelf, under a table with pillows or bean bag chair, rocking chair in a corner behind a curtain, a small tent, or a swing that only goes in a linear direction the classroom are great ways to provide a calming time. Children will often choose these areas on their own, just make adaptions to make sure other children are not invading their quiet time. Let them have a way of telling you they need a break as well before a meltdown occurs.

  • Posture: make sure that the desks and chairs are at the right height for each child, feet touching the floor all the way (not on toes), elbows resting comfortably on desk without humped shoulders, 90 degree rule for all joints.

    Some children need inclined writing boards to help with posture, as well as the move and sit seat wedges, weighted vests, and proper pencil grips to stay seated and focused for harder fine motor and table top tasks.

  • Motor planning: to help children with motor planning difficulties try to give short instructions with one step at a time, use other students to model and buddy with the student. Use multi sensory approach to teaching new skills: remember all senses when teaching. Remember the child=s best learning sense, find what that is, and teach first with that sense!

    Address need for a sensory diet rich in vestibular, proprioceptive, and deep pressure touch sensations to help the brain stem regulate and process sensations appropriate and maintain a neutral learning state and decrease stress chemicals.

    First address vestibular registration processing by: Vestibular input is the strongest of the brain stem sensations and lasts the longest in the brain chemical release. It is the fastest way to calm anyone with slow, gentle, rhythmic swinging from a single hung point. Decreases stress chemicals the fastest.

  • Getting a swing that is hung from a single point will give her more effective and stronger, longer lasting vestibular input. Swinging on a swing is the ideal source of Vestibular input, and if done for 15 minutes on a swing can last up to 8 hours in the central nervous system, the other types of input only last 2 hours or so, so they must be done more often. I would highly recommend swinging for at least two 15 minute sessions a day one first thing in the a.m. and again in the afternoon. This will help give the calming and organized vestibular input that is needed to help keep an individual responding to sensory input appropriately. May help to swing and rock gently before bedtime as well if sleeping is a problem. If swinging can be a calming choice throughout the day, then I would highly recommend it above anything else in the home & classroom. You can have a swing hung from the ceiling or from a "hammock swing stand" and let them swing themselves, just make sure it is slow, rhythmical, and not erratic. When on the playground, try to encourage linear swinging, and avoid rotary at this time as rotary swinging may "hype" them up too much.

(See resource list for equipment to places to get swings, Lowe's and Walmart often carry in season, and all parts to hang can be gotten at Lowe's. There are also a lot of hammock swing dealers on the internet)

***Other options for vestibular input include (remember these are not nearly as effective as swinging linearly from a single suspended point):

  • porch swing or hammock outside or in room hang a hammock or swing in doorway

  • holding the individual on a large ball, bouncing, rocking back and forth onto hands and feet, rocking gently to calm with their head down towards the floor, give good strong input to hands when coming down to the floor while over the ball. Then walk out onto hands with the ball under them then under their feet.

  • rocking in chair or swinging in a blanket (two people hold on either side) & gliders

  • Rocking on all fours on a water bed mattress filled with air

  • wrapping in blanket (weighted blankets are best) and rolling


  • trampolines

  • Dancing, gymnastics, karate, marching, power walking with weights, aerobics for children, horseback riding

  • water beds

Proprioceptive input is next after vestibular input and brushing, best if done for 20 minutes every 2 hours.

Next address muscle tone, strength and proprioceptive modulation by giving strong doses of joint and muscle input:

Proprioceptive input is sensory input to the joints and muscles and is best to do every 2 hours . Proprioception helps the joints and muscles be "awake" and more responsive to motor control and helps with motor coordination as well as calming the brain. Proprioceptive input also helps with maintaining good muscle tone and coordination. Proprioceptive input is the best source of sensory input to help keep a good balance of serotonin in the brain which helps to regulate all the other brain chemistry and keep a neutral and relaxed learning state. Proprioceptive input is the best type of input to help with sensory modulation & regulation disorders.

Some activities include:

  • JOINT COMPRESSIONS to a level joint don't forget fingers, thumb, wrist, elbow, shoulder, ankles, knees, and hips a minimum of 10 times each joint. Strong, quick compressions are best! You can do joint compressions even if you can't do the brushing, you can do them more often than the brushing as well. Trying them during more difficult times such as while walking in the hall, in the car, in the grocery store, when having to sit and attend for longer periods of time, it is the best "quick" sensory diet choice! Try giving this input before, during, and after a difficult task such as a test or quiet work time as well!

  • Deep pressure down the spine through pressure on each shoulder pushing down 10 times, wearing a weighted vest, and wearing weights. You can also make a neck wrap that is weighted to wrap over the shoulders (fill a very long tube sock with large feed corn or beans), this can also be laid over the lap when sitting or over the shoulders.

    ****Crawling (on belly) and Creeping (on all fours) are vital to joint input as well as a great way to help with eye hand coordination, left and right awareness (laterality and directionality), fine motor skills, muscle strength and endurance, and reading and math. Crawling and creeping are the most important developmental milestone and going back to that developmental stage helps the two hemispheres of the brain talk again and communicate better which is essential to good attention, reading, and other academic tasks! Set up the house and classroom with lots of tunnels, tents, air mattresses, and other things to crawl over, under, and on! For younger children they love to play animal walk games and imitate dog, cat, bear walks. This is a great way to give a sensory motor break in the classroom as well! Many teachers place hand and feet stickers on the floor and students "follow the trail" in the room for a break from sit down work and to "wake up the brain". Do creeping and crawling for at least 5 minutes each a day!

  • laying on tummy over ball, you can use the bumpy side of the ball for more input (large pink massage ball at Walmart for $11 is great!) or the smooth exercise ball, or the ab roller work well too (all under $15 at walmart) in the exercise section! Rock slowly and rhythmically to hands and feet, with a strong push into the floor with good input to their hands at least 20 times. Give firm touch on their back. You can end this with a wheelbarrow walk or just a handstand off the ball for a few minutes, or as long as tolerated.

  • waterbed air mattress, fill with air (walmart for approximately $35) is a great way to give vestibular and proprioceptive input together. Ask them to remain on all fours, and rock. Then task load by asking them to lift a certain leg (right leg, then left arm) etc. And maintain this position for the count of 10. Very calming also to just lay on belly on the air pillow and rock gently. Great calmer before bed as well and in a.m.

  • Any weighted tasks, pushing, pulling, lifting, stacking wearing weights or lifting heavy objects above shoulder level

  • Elevate anything to make them reach up high to promote stretching and elongation

  • Vibration & Massager to limbs, hands, feet, mouth, and back. Do not place vibration on neck, stomach or chest area (they can do it to those areas, but from another person it is too strong to these sensitive areas).

  • For younger children play in a tent, tunnel, laundry basket, or big tub or kiddie pool filled with balls, rice, beans, sand, etc. Encourage crawling, rolling, laying on tummy, and pushing up from tummy position to weight bear as much as possible. This may be too exciting for some, and may be only appropriate for a big reward time, when they can get more excited and not be expected to sit and attend soon afterward.

  • Jumping on a trampoline (watch for over arousal) keep it organized by counting to 100, doing times tables, saying ABC's for each jump.

  • scooter boards laying on tummy and pushing with hands, playing hide and seek (the looker is on the scooter board) or pushing a therapy ball with their head to a certain designated place, or picking up weighted items along the way.

  • Anything with weight, weighted vest, wrist and ankle weights, carrying or pushing heavy grocery cart, throwing weighted ball above head, stacking books or blocks. (Weighted exercise balls or medicine balls can also be purchased at walmart for under $10 and are a great way to give good input, throw at a target lifting above shoulder level is best). Play basketball with the weighted ball!

  • Weighted Vest worn every hour for up to 20 minutes. (10% of body weight evenly distributed)

  • Hanging from monkey bars and pull ups

  • Trampoline and jumping

  • gymnastics

The last power sensation to keep in a daily sensory diet is Deep Pressure Touch.

Deep Pressure Touch is very important every 2 hours and helps keep the brain focused, clear, and enables us to concentrate and stay with a task longer. Dopamine & Serotonin is released when there is pressure touch.

Caution: Avoid light touch and textures that they do not like, NEVER FORCE TOUCH OR TEXTURES OR ANYTHING!!! You can try new textures after all this has been given, but never force any textures onto a child!

Deep pressure touch is the total opposite of light touch. Your body has two different touch systems: Light touch is the one that is there to "protect and Defend" by telling you that someone is near by a light brush on the arm, a bug has landed on your skin, etc. This light touch system causes a Sympathetic Nervous System response which results in a "Flight or Fright" response in the body and brain chemicals are released that may cause aggression, fear, anxiety, and overall a stressor. When an individual has Sensory Defensiveness, then this light touch system in heightened and reacts very easily. This is why they often touch you too firmly, or push, wrestle, or play hard (they are giving you the input they crave: deep touch).

The best way to give deep pressure touch is make sure you are giving the Wilbarger Brushing and Joint Compression Routine every 2 hours.

Other Deep Pressure Touch activities:

  • Deep, firm massages (unscented lotions are usually best, ask the child to pick) Use the flat of palm and fingers rather than fingertips. Tell body parts in a calming voice to help with body awareness. Give firm, long strokes for calming input.

  • Slow but firm stroking down the arms, back, head, and legs

  • Wrapping in spandex, lycra, or other firm yet stretchy material.

  • Some wear ace bandages under their clothing

  • Weighted vests again!

  • Lay under or wrap in a massaging, weighted, very heavy soft blanket, roll ball over their body while they lay on their belly starting at upper back down to feet, the ab roller elliptical ball works well for this and the bumpy massage ball as well. Let them chose the ball and blanket they want. You can also use the ball or a bean bag and Play "What kind of sandwich are you? Turkey!" and give deep pressure squeezes.

  • Pressure Vest (can be purchased in therapy catalogs on resource page or made easily if you sew, just wraps around the chest, stomach, and back firmly)

  • Fidget toys available at the work areas to squeeze, rub, and hold such as putty, dog and cat chew toys, balloon filled with flour or rice, stress balls, etc. Go shopping and let child pick a hand held quiet fidget toy, often it is an eraser or something simple that they can carry in their pockets!

  • May need other options for clothing such as seamless socks found in Sensory Comfort catalog online.

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