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Sensory Toys and Gifts for the Holidays: A Pediatric and Adolescent Occupational Therapist's Guide

Updated: Jan 29



The holiday season is a time of joy, excitement, and togetherness for families. For children and adolescents with sensory processing challenges, the holidays can be both thrilling and overwhelming. That's where sensory toys and gifts come into play, offering a unique and thoughtful way to enhance the holiday experience.


As a pediatric and adolescent occupational therapist, my passion is helping children and teens thrive by supporting their sensory development. In this blog post, we will delve into the fascinating world of sensory systems, processing, and integration. We will also explore how sensory toys and gifts can make a significant impact during the holiday season, providing valuable tools for sensory enrichment and regulation. Plus, I will offer a special recommendation for those seeking high-quality sensory products - a visit to the Roots To Thrive OT Amazon store.



Understanding the Sensory Systems


Before we dive into the world of sensory toys and gifts, let's start by understanding the sensory systems. These systems play a crucial role in how children and adolescents perceive and interact with their environment. There are seven primary sensory systems, each serving a unique purpose:


a. Visual System: This system allows us to process and interpret visual information. It helps us recognize colors, shapes, and movements, and it plays a vital role in spatial awareness and visual perception.


b. Auditory System: The auditory system is responsible for processing sounds. It also enables us to locate the source of sounds, discriminate between different pitches, and recognize patterns in speech and music.


c. Tactile System: The tactile system involves the sense of touch. It helps us perceive textures, temperature, and pressure, and it is essential for our body awareness, allowing us to feel sensations like pain, pressure, or softness.


d. Gustatory System: The gustatory system is all about taste. It allows us to savor the flavors of food and beverages, recognize sweet, sour, bitter, and salty tastes, and enjoy the pleasure of eating.


e. Olfactory System: This system deals with our sense of smell. It enables us to detect and differentiate various odors, which can evoke powerful memories and emotions.


f. Vestibular System: The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and is crucial for our sense of balance and spatial orientation. It helps us maintain postural control, coordinate movements, and feel a sense of equilibrium.


g. Proprioceptive System: The proprioceptive system provides us with information about the position and movement of our body in space. It plays a crucial role in body awareness, muscle tone, and motor planning.


h. Interoceptive System: The interoceptive system helps individuals recognize and interpret internal bodily sensations, such as hunger, thirst, and the need for sensory regulation, contributing to self-awareness and emotional regulation.



Sensory Processing: A Basic Overview


Sensory processing refers to the brain's ability to receive, organize, and interpret sensory input from the environment. It is an intricate and dynamic process that allows individuals to make sense of the world around them. Sensory processing occurs continuously, often without conscious awareness, and it influences how we react and respond to various stimuli.


For most children, sensory processing is an efficient and adaptable system. They can filter and process sensory information seamlessly, which allows them to engage in everyday activities without difficulty. However, some children and adolescents may experience sensory processing challenges, which can lead to sensory sensitivities or sensory-seeking behaviors.



Understanding Sensory Sensitivities and Sensory-Seeking Behaviors:


- Sensory Sensitivities: Children with sensory sensitivities may have a heightened or intense response to certain sensory stimuli. For instance, they might be extremely bothered by loud noises, bright lights, or scratchy textures. These sensitivities can lead to discomfort and anxiety.


- Sensory-Seeking Behaviors: On the other hand, some children may actively seek out sensory input to feel more regulated. They might enjoy activities like swinging, jumping, or deep pressure touch to satisfy their sensory needs.



Sensory Integration: A Basic Overview


Sensory integration is the process of organizing and making sense of the sensory input we receive. It enables us to integrate information from multiple sensory systems, helping us create a comprehensive understanding of our surroundings and ourselves. Sensory integration is vital for developing skills such as fine and gross motor coordination, attention and focus, and emotional regulation.


For children and adolescents with sensory processing challenges, the process of sensory integration may not occur as smoothly. This can lead to difficulties in regulating their responses to sensory input, which in turn can impact their daily functioning and overall well-being. Sensory integration therapy, offered by occupational therapists, aims to help individuals develop better sensory processing and integration skills.



How Sensory Toys and Gifts Can Be Helpful


The holiday season offers an excellent opportunity to provide children and adolescents with sensory toys and gifts that can cater to their unique sensory needs. Here are some ways in which these toys and gifts can be beneficial:


a. Sensory Regulation: Sensory toys can provide the sensory input that children may be seeking or needing to calm themselves. For instance, fidget toys, weighted blankets, and sensory-friendly textured items can help children self-regulate and manage anxiety.


b. Skill Development: Many sensory toys are designed to support the development of fine and gross motor skills. For example, building toys like LEGO sets or kinetic sand can enhance hand-eye coordination and creativity.


c. Emotional Expression: Sensory toys and gifts can serve as outlets for emotional expression. Art supplies, sensory-friendly art kits, and stress-relief toys like stress balls or squishy toys can help children express their feelings and reduce stress.


d. Social Interaction: Some sensory toys, such as cooperative board games or social interaction kits, encourage social engagement. These activities can promote teamwork, communication, and bonding among family and friends.


e. Cognitive Stimulation: Toys that challenge the brain, such as puzzles, memory games, and sensory-friendly books, can stimulate cognitive development and problem-solving skills.


f. Personalized Support: Selecting sensory toys and gifts that match an individual's sensory preferences and sensitivities can be incredibly beneficial. Understanding the specific sensory needs of a child can guide you in choosing the most appropriate gifts.




Roots To Thrive OT offers a carefully curated selection of sensory toys, tools, and resources that are designed to enhance sensory development, sensory processing, and sensory integration. When you shop at the Roots To Thrive OT Amazon store, you can trust that you are selecting products that have been handpicked by professionals who understand the importance of sensory support for children and adolescents.


In closing, the holiday season is a time for giving, sharing, and creating cherished memories with loved ones. For children and adolescents with sensory processing challenges, the right sensory toys and gifts can make a significant difference in their holiday experience. Understanding the sensory systems, sensory processing, and sensory integration is the first step in choosing gifts that cater to their unique needs.


By selecting sensory toys and gifts that offer sensory regulation, skill development, emotional expression, social interaction, and cognitive stimulation, you can create a holiday season filled with joy and support for the children in your life. And for those looking for a reliable source of high-quality sensory products, a visit to the Roots To Thrive OT Amazon store is the perfect way to start your holiday shopping journey.


This holiday season, let's ensure that every child and adolescent can experience the magic of the holidays with the right sensory tools and gifts that help them thrive.


Click here to find sensory toys and gifts.


Happy Holidays!


~ Kasey

Kasey O'Haren, MSOT, OTR/L, RYT is an occupational therapist and the owner of Roots to Thrive Therapy and Wellness. She specializes in sensory regulation and self-regulation with neurodiverse individuals of all ages. For more information, contact Kasey at info@rootstothriveot.com.


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