DIY Sensory Table for Autism: Creating an Inclusive Space

Discover how to build a DIY sensory table for autism, fostering developmental growth through sensory play.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
May 7, 2024
10 min read
min read

DIY Sensory Table Ideas

Creating an inclusive and engaging play space for children with Autism can be a rewarding experience for both the child and the parent. One versatile and effective tool that can be used to stimulate the senses is a sensory table. This article will explore the benefits of sensory play and discuss how to create a DIY sensory table for autism.

Benefits of Sensory Play

Sensory play is a crucial part of early childhood education, providing children with a plethora of learning opportunities. It involves engaging with different textures, colors, and materials, stimulating the senses, and promoting cognitive development.

Sensory play activities for autism can help retrain the brain's response to sensory information, aiding children in coping with different sounds, textures, lights, scents, and taste, ultimately contributing to better sensory processing. This form of play is particularly important for children with special needs like Down syndrome or autism spectrum disorder [1].

Sensory play activities are especially beneficial for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They offer unique benefits to these children, helping them cope with reactions to touch, sound, scent, sight, movement, and taste. Sensory integration therapy, including Ayres Sensory Integration (ASI), has been proven effective in children with a variety of conditions, including cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, developmental disorder, and intellectual disability [4].

Creating a Sensory Play Space

Creating a sensory play space involves setting up an environment that encourages exploration and learning. A sensory table is the perfect addition to any sensory play space, allowing children the opportunity to explore different textures, colors, and materials.

When creating a DIY sensory table for autism, it's important to consider the child's specific sensory needs. Some children may prefer certain textures or materials, while others may be more sensitive to certain sounds or scents. By understanding the child's unique sensory profile, parents can customize the sensory table to meet their child's needs.

The sensory table should be easily accessible, safe, and comfortable for the child. It should be placed at a height that is suitable for the child and should be sturdy enough to withstand vigorous play. The materials used in the sensory table should be non-toxic and safe for the child to handle. Parents may choose to include a variety of materials such as sand, water, beads, foam, rice, or even food items.

By creating a DIY sensory table for autism, parents can provide a fun and engaging play space that also promotes sensory integration and cognitive development. With a little creativity and planning, a sensory table can become a valuable tool in a child's learning and development journey.

Water-Based Sensory Tables

Water-based sensory tables are an excellent tool for children with autism as they provide an engaging and therapeutic way to explore the world. These tables can be easily set up at home and can be customized to meet the unique interests and needs of each child.

Water Table with Crank

One of the many ways to create a DIY sensory table for autism is through a water table with a crank. This setup can generate interest in play for children on the autism spectrum, leading to increased playtime and improvements in social skills.

For instance, one child was able to fill cups with water and engage in parallel play with his sibling, fostering a healthier relationship between them. This interactive feature can encourage children to explore different ways of manipulating water, thereby stimulating their curiosity and creativity.

The simple act of turning the crank can also provide a sensory experience, as the child can feel the resistance of the mechanism and observe the resulting movements in the water. This can enhance their understanding of cause and effect, a critical cognitive skill.

To set up a water table with a crank, you can use a large container filled with water and a hand-cranked water pump. You can also add various water toys, cups, and funnels to provide more opportunities for exploration.

Sensory Benefits of Water Play

Water play can provide various sensory benefits for children with autism. The movement and texture of water can have a soothing effect, helping to calm children who may be overstimulated. The sensory stimulation provided by water can also help improve sensory processing and motor skills.

Furthermore, water play can foster social interaction. For example, the water table implemented for Joey positively impacted his relationship with his brother, Jeremy, encouraging parallel play and enhancing their interaction.

In addition, water play can promote cognitive development. As children splash, pour, and observe the properties of water, they are learning about concepts such as volume, gravity, and buoyancy.

Overall, a water-based sensory table can be a valuable addition to your child's sensory play space, providing a fun and engaging way to learn and grow.

Sand-Based Sensory Tables

Sand-based sensory tables are an excellent resource for children with autism. They offer unique sensory stimulation and can be used in many ways to encourage play, creativity, and learning.

Sand Table Exploration

A sand table is an accessible sensory table that appeals to the senses differently than water, encouraging engagement with siblings [5]. This sensory setting invites children to explore using their hands, tools, or toys to dig, sift, pour, and shape the sand.

Creating a sand table for your child can be as simple as filling a large, shallow container with play sand. Including various items like buckets, shovels, sifters, and molds can add to the sensory experience. The versatility of a sand table makes it an ideal choice for a DIY sensory table for autism, allowing you to customize it according to your child's preferences and needs.

Benefits of Playing with Sand

Playing with sand provides many benefits for children with autism. It is a calming activity that can help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. The tactile experience of feeling the sand can also help develop sensory awareness and fine motor skills, such as gripping and manipulation.

In addition to its sensory benefits, a sand table can also foster healthier sibling relationships by encouraging shared play and interaction. It can also improve communication skills as children express their thoughts, ideas, and emotions through their sand play.

In conclusion, sand-based sensory tables are a valuable tool for children with autism. They offer a fun, engaging, and therapeutic way to explore and learn, making them a great addition to any home or therapy setting.

Alternative Sensory Table Ideas

In addition to the classic water and sand sensory tables, there are other innovative options that can spark a child's interest and cater to their unique sensory preferences. Here are two DIY sensory table ideas that can be both educational and engaging for children with autism.

Moon Dough Table

A moon dough table is a creative twist on sensory play that can particularly appeal to children interested in science. This DIY sensory table requires only flour and baby oil to create a substance that has a texture similar to sand but with a unique squishy feel. This sensory experience can be both fun and educational, as children can explore the properties of moon dough and even attempt to shape it into different forms.

To set up a moon dough table, mix eight parts flour with one part baby oil until the mixture has a crumbly but moldable consistency. You can then place the moon dough in a large, shallow container and add various tools or toys for your child to manipulate the dough with. This could include things like cookie cutters, plastic utensils, or toy vehicles. Remember to supervise your child while they're playing to ensure they don't ingest the moon dough.

Mud and Bug Table

Encouraging scientific discovery and sensory exploration, a DIY mud and bug table can be a captivating sensory play option, especially for children inclined to put things in their mouths. This table uses toy bugs, food coloring, and other safe ingredients to mimic the texture and experience of mud play without the mess or potential allergies.

To create a mud table, you can mix soil or brown food coloring with a sensory-safe substance like cooked spaghetti or oatmeal. Then, add plastic bugs or other creatures for your child to find and examine. You can also include tools like magnifying glasses or tweezers to encourage fine motor skills and scientific inquiry. Always remember, supervision is key to ensure safety during play.

These alternative DIY sensory table ideas offer unique opportunities for sensory exploration and learning. Whether it's the squishy moon dough or the explorative mud and bug table, these activities can provide engaging and beneficial experiences for children with autism.

DIY Sensory Name Activity

Sensory play is a vital part of early childhood education, particularly for children with special needs like autism. Therefore, creating a DIY sensory table for autism can be a valuable tool for promoting cognitive development and learning. One of the many sensory activities that can be incorporated into such a table is the "spell my sensory name" game.

Build Your Name Sensory Bin - Pre-K Printable Fun

Spell My Sensory Name Table

The "spell my sensory name" table is a fun and engaging activity that can assist children in articulating sounds and learning letters. This activity is especially beneficial for children who are just starting to speak.

To create this sensory activity, you will need:

  1. A shallow table or bin
  2. Sensory materials such as sand, rice, or water beads
  3. Alphabet letters, either plastic, wooden, or foam

First, fill the table or bin with the sensory material of your choice. Then, scatter the alphabet letters throughout the bin. Encourage your child to search for the letters that spell their name. This multi-sensory approach not only aids in letter recognition, but also enhances fine motor skills as the child manipulates the letters and sensory material.

Language Development Benefits

Sensory play activities, such as the "spell my sensory name" table, offer significant benefits to children's cognitive, emotional, physical, social, and communication development, engaging all areas of the brain and aiding various aspects of growth and learning [2].

In addition to promoting letter recognition and articulation skills, this activity can also help enhance language development. Sensory bins provide children with opportunities to form new ideas, concepts, and words while engaging in sensory activities [6]. By naming the letters and saying their name aloud, children can begin to make verbal connections and expand their vocabulary.

Moreover, sensory bins can assist in improving concentration in children with autism. This quiet and calming activity requires children to sit still for a certain period, helping to lengthen their concentration span over time [6].

Through the "spell my sensory name" table, children with autism can enjoy a fun, hands-on learning experience while boosting their language skills. This DIY sensory table for autism is just one of many ways parents can create an inclusive, engaging, and educational environment for their child at home.

Sensory Bins for Autism

In the quest to create an engaging and beneficial environment for children with autism, sensory bins serve as an effective tool. They not only capture the children's interest but also aid in their development, particularly in fine motor skills and vocabulary building.

Fine Motor Development

Sensory bins facilitate fine motor development in children with autism, engaging the use of small muscles in the hands and fingers. This involvement enhances strength and control, contributing to the refinement of motor skills. The variety of textures and objects in a sensory bin encourage children to scoop, pour, grasp, and release, thus exercising these motor skills in a fun and engaging manner.

The calming nature of sensory bins also offers therapeutic value for children with autism. As they transition from noisy play to quiet time and relaxation, the substances in the bins serve as a stress reliever, helping improve concentration over time.

Building Vocabulary

In addition to motor skills, sensory bins also contribute significantly to language development for children with autism. These bins provide opportunities to learn new words and make verbal connections. As children explore the different elements in the bin, they inherently form new ideas and concepts, thus building their vocabulary [6].

The sensory experiences offered by these bins foster an environment of learning and exploration, helping to improve imaginative play. As children interact with the various objects and textures in the bin, they are prompted to describe their experiences, thus enhancing their verbal communication skills.

In essence, sensory bins are extremely beneficial for children with autism. They provide sensory input as a calming activity, simultaneously offering opportunities for learning, exploring, practicing fine motor skills, and improving imaginative play [6].

Sensory Boards for Autism

Sensory boards play a vital role in autism therapy, providing individuals with autism an opportunity to engage in sensory play and exploration. These boards are designed to stimulate the senses and provide a structured environment for sensory activities [7].

Creating a Sensory Board

Setting up a sensory board for a child with autism involves deliberate planning and consideration. The board should be set up in a safe and comfortable space, with sensory materials organized for easy access and engagement. It's important to consider individual preferences, sensory sensitivities, and specific needs when setting up a sensory board.

Items to include on a sensory board may vary based on the child's specific needs and interests but can include textured materials such as sandpaper, ribbons, faux fur, or other tactile objects. Consider including interactive elements such as buttons, zippers, or latches to promote motor skills.

Structured Sensory Exploration

Sensory boards are crucial for individuals with autism as they provide a structured and controlled environment for sensory exploration, helping regulate and integrate sensory stimuli. These boards can enhance sensory processing skills, improve focus, and contribute to overall well-being in individuals with autism.

Providing sensory play opportunities through sensory boards, bins, outside exploration, sand and water tables, and sensory toys can be a valuable educational and interactive way to meet the sensory needs of children with autism. These activities can help build confidence with different sensory activities and provide a safe environment for exploration [8].

Sensory boards for autism can be a key way to engage autistic children while meeting some of their sensory input needs and having fun. Sensory integration and having and fulfilling a sensory diet for a child diagnosed with autism can be quick and easy.

In conclusion, sensory boards provide an effective tool in the diy sensory table for autism toolkit. They offer structured sensory exploration opportunities that can help improve focus, enhance sensory processing skills, and contribute to the overall well-being of individuals with autism.










steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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