3 Benefits of a Sensory Gym for Your Child with Special Needs
The joys of parenting hold true no matter what your child’s abilities are. But when your child has a sensory processing disorder (SPD), you face a set of challenges most parents do not. Everyday settings often don’t accommodate children with SPD. A child who is over-sensitive might find stimuli like light, physical touch, or food overwhelming. Children who are under-sensitive, on the other hand, might crave so much stimulation it’s hard to meet their needs.
For kids on either end of the spectrum, sudden changes in their environment or new settings can lead to tantrums that are difficult to come down from. It’s understandable that behaving appropriately under such distress is challenging for them.
The goal of any parent who copes with these challenges is to improve the child’s sensory integration, and sensory gyms — safe play areas that encourage sensory development — make achieving that goal easier. Sensory gyms provide these children with the space and resources they need to feel secure while playing and to grow at their own pace.
Here are just a few of the ways sensory gyms can aid in your child’s development.
1. Amplifying Therapy
Sensory gyms are not meant to be the end of the line for treating sensory disorders, rather another tool in a therapist’s or parent’s kit — a highly useful tool. When combined with medicine and behavioral therapy, sensory gyms can increase independence, ease stress in social situations, and raise tolerance to new stimuli.
A therapist can guide a child through activities involving brightly colored pillows, swings, ball pits, bubble fans, or tunnels to cultivate appropriate responses to stimuli. Eventually, these reactions become more natural for the child, which helps her participate in more typical activities both academically and socially.
Through guided play on equipment that meets their needs, children with sensory processing disorders improve fine motor skills, body awareness, cause-and-effect reasoning, and social skills. One study demonstrates that gyms help children exercise independence, communicate better, and strengthen their self-care habits and attention spans.
2. Bringing Sensory Development Home
One of the best ways to reap the benefits of a sensory gym is to create one at home. If you can dedicate an entire room to the cause, that’s wonderful, but setting up even a small gym in part of a room will facilitate growth.
You can often use items you already have on hand, so it doesn’t have to be an expensive project. Use a fan for exploring the sensation of air on skin or beanbags for tactile stimulation. Decorate with brightly colored paper or tape, donate old kitchen items for auditory and visual stimuli, or fill bins with sand, gravel, or dry pasta for tactile stimulation. If your child is able, ask her to help you prepare the space — she’ll enjoy the gym even more if she helped bring it together.
Having a sensory gym at home is ideal because it’s always available, even on Christmas Day and at 5 a.m. Plus, it fits your child’s needs. Ask your therapist to help you design a personalized home gym with the most beneficial elements for your child. You might even see siblings enjoying the space as much as your child with special needs.
3. Creating Fun
Sensory gyms help with developmental improvements largely because they’re fun. If your little one doesn’t process an environment like most children, school and play centers can be stressful and overwhelming. That’s hard on both kids and their parents — what parent doesn’t want her child to play freely?
But these gyms are designed specifically for kids with sensory processing disorders, meaning these children can play without stress. The risk-free activities in a sensory gym foster calmness. Learning becomes enjoyable, not taxing. While parents and therapists aim for developmental improvements, the child just sees fun.
There’s no doubt parenting a child with special needs has its challenges. Sometimes the process of making your child healthier and happier feels like one step forward, two steps back. But whether they’re at a large facility or in your living room, sensory gyms can create more steps forward in caring for your child.