Neurodiversity: Definitions, Suggestions & Sensory Toys for Kids

What is Neurodiversity?

“Neurodiversity” describes variations of cognitive functioning in people, meaning that people experience the world and interact with those around them in different ways.

It is a term includes both “neurotypical” and “neurodiverse” individuals because every brain is unique, and every person has a different set of abilities and needs. Some neurological conditions included on the “neurodivergent” end of the spectrum include Autism, ADHD, Dyspraxia, and Dyslexia.

Neurodivergent children and adults may have unique approaches to learning, behaving, and communicating, some of which can be challenging. But these neurodiverse thought processes can also result in creative problem-solving, innovation, and community enrichment.

On Neurodiversity Pride Day this June, we honor all that is wonderful, interesting, and challenging about out-of-the-box thinkers. Here’s a list of just a few amazing individuals with diagnoses of autism or other neurodiverse conditions:

  • Actor, Comedian & Musician Dan Ackroyd
  • Actor & Activist Daryl Hannah
  • Award-Winning Actor Sir Anthony Hopkins
  • Best-Selling Author Helen Hoang
  • Computer Programmer Bram Cohen
  • Fashion Model Heather Kuzmich
  • Singer-Songwriter Courtney Love
  • Piano Prodigy Matt Savage
  • Pokémon mastermind Satoshi Tajiri
  • Environmental Activist Greta Thunberg
  • Animal Behavior Researcher Dr. Temple Grandin

 

How can I make my home or classroom a welcoming place for neurodiverse children?

Among the things the above superstars, and many neurodiverse individuals, find challenging are high-pressure social interactions (parties, large gatherings, first day of school or job), high-stimulation objects and environments (loud, bright, high-contrast/high-texture), and transitions to new routines, places, and situations.

Of course, every person and every brain, whether neurotypical or neurodivergent, is unique. Neurodivergence and autism are not one-size-fits-all terms, but here are some suggestions for creating a comfortable environment for kids on the neurodiversity and autism spectrum.

Space

Create a quiet space to separate from group activities and loud sounds equipped with items such as a comfortable play mat, a weighted blanket, or a cocoon-type swing chair; stock your classroom with an assortment of calming (fidget spinners, stress balls) and sensory (visually interesting, cause-and-effect) toys for both learning and relaxing.

Sound

Alert children to anticipated loud noises (such as the start of a video, a fire drill alarm); be mindful of music and sound volume levels; make noise-cancelling headphones available.

Movement

Incorporate extra movement breaks into your routines; be flexible with seating options and requirements; allow the use of fidget and comfort toys.

Communication

Offer clear and concise verbal and written instructions; break tasks down into steps; be aware that euphemisms, puns, and other wordplay may not be understood.

Etiquette

Explain social rules and don’t assume a child is being deliberately rude; when possible, give advance notice and explanations for changes in plans; model how to ask others about their preferences and needs.

Always

Be patient and kind.

 

Sensory Toys for Kids

What are sensory toys and how are they helpful for neurodiverse learners?

In creating a welcoming and relaxing space for neurodiverse children, sensory toys are always a top recommendation. Sensory toys stimulate one or more of the senses. Such toys can be used to calm children, support motor skill development, encourage creativity, and increase interaction, participation and taking turns. Since they are beneficial for all ages and abilities, it’s a terrific idea have sensory toys for babies and toddlers. Sensory toys for autism may be particularly helpful because they can help children relax and focus while providing the sensory experiences they want or need.

Here are some of our favorite sensory toys:

Strictly Briks Big Brik Tower Set

Strictly Briks Big Briks Tower Set

Supports: Fine motor, spatial, visual, and analytical skills

Of Note: Plastic building bricks, such as Strictly Briks and LEGOs, are recognized in the greater world, as toy models and even art forms, and provide opportunities for long-term social skill-building

Recommended for Ages: 2 & Up

 

Tadpoles Foam Playmat Set

Tadpoles 16 Piece Foam Playmat Set, First Shapes sensory toys for kids

Supports: Gross motor skills, sensory integration

Of Note: Soft, durable, washable foam mat provides a comfy and interesting play space; pieces interlock tightly; can be combined with other playmat sets for multiple themes and interests

Recommended for Ages: 3 & Up

 

Original Stationery Soft Clay

Original Stationery Soft Clay sensory toys for kids

Supports: Creativity, tactile exploration, and cooperative play

Of Note: Soft and stretchy; add glue or shaving foam to make slime and colors to make rainbow slime

Recommended for Ages: 3 & Up

 

GirlZone Mermaid Treasures Play Sand

GirlZone Mermaid Treasures Play Sand For Kids

Supports: Creativity, tactile exploration, imagination, and cooperative play

Of Note: Comes with machine-washable playmat; includes plastic gems for colorful sensory play

Recommended for Ages: 3 & Up

 

Marble Genius Marble Run Super Set

Marble Genius Marble Run Super Set

Supports: Relaxation, fine motor skills, and cooperative play

Of Note: Great for individual and group/family play, marble runs also make a great gift and a fun intergenerational toy

Recommended for Ages: 3 to 103!

(Small parts are a choking hazard for younger children)

 

EpiqueOne 750-Piece Arts & Crafts Kit

EpiqueOne 750 Piece Arts And Craft Kit

Supports: Creativity, fine motor skills, and cooperative play

Of Note: This kit comes loaded with soft chenille stems (pipe cleaners), multicolor pompoms, and googly eyes for sensory-inspired crafts

Recommended for Ages: 3 & Up

 

Final Notes on Sensory Toys for Kids

When choosing toys and gear for neurodiverse children, it is important to consider their interests, their developmental aptitudes, and their age. Here are a few useful guidelines

  1. Will the child enjoy this toy?
  2. Will this toy hold their interest?
  3. Is this toy socially appropriate?
  4. Can they use it alongside their peers?

Having too many toys to choose from can be distracting and overstimulated for any child, including children with ASD (Autism spectrum disorder). Try limiting the number of toys available on any given day by rotating your toy shelf assortment.

Happy Neurodiversity Pride Day (and week, and month, and year) and cheers to all those outside-the-box thinkers who make our world more magical!

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