Create a "Sensory Bag"

by Polly Godwin Emmons and Liz McKendry Anderson

Cover image courtesy of Jessica Kingsley Publishers

[Reprinted from the book Understanding Sensory Dysfunction: Learning, Development and Sensory Dysfunction in Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADHD, Learning Disabilities and Bipolar Disorder by Polly Godwin Emmons and Liz McKendry Anderson. copyright © 2005 Polly Godwin Emmons and Liz McKendry Anderson; published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Reprinted with permission. This article may not be reproduced for any other use without permission.]

Another useful suggestion is to create a "sensory bag" or "sensory basket" that can go from environment to environment with the child ... home to daycare ... to school ... to Grandma's ... to wherever! The idea is that if the child starts to lose composure due to sensory input or overload, the "sensory bag" can be accessed to use a sensory approach to help manage the arousal state or behaviors. While each child's "bag" should be based on his or her individual sensory needs, here are some suggestions that may help you get started:

  • something to squeeze -- stress balls, etc.
  • two footprints that can be put on the floor for jumping or stomping
  • lotion with one of the more calming scents, such as vanilla
  • two handprints that can be placed on a wall as a deep pressure "push place"
  • a washcloth or small towel to wipe off anger
  • a write-on, wipe-off board and dry erase markers
  • an unbreakable mirror so the child can see his or her emotions
  • words or pictures to help the child begin to identify these emotions
  • a visual or auditory timer to guide a child to continue to use the sensory activities until calmer
  • an oral/motor blow toy (like a whistle) with any ability to make sound removed.

Whether you are a parent, daycare provider, or teacher of a child with sensory integration issues, this sensory approach to behavior management can be extremely effective.

 Our experience has been that while initially children may need to be directed to use the sensory bag, they will soon be open to it as a suggestion and may quickly gravitate toward using it independently. Why? Because it makes them feel better and helps them regain composure using a positive, proactive approach. The other aspect of the sensory bag that is extremely valuable is that it will give those working or living with the child valuable "clues" as to which sensory activities help the child to calm and regroup. For example, if the child often chooses to blow on the oral motor toy then taking five deep breaths may work well as a calming tool. Or if the child often chooses a deep pressure activity such as "pushing the wall" or jumping or stomping on the footprints, then this may be a child who responds well to heavy work as a calming tool.

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