20 Creative Play Ideas for Visual Stimmers
Welcome to my series of Sensory Processing blogs.
Disclaimer: I am NOT a medical professional of any kind. Or qualified teacher. I teach my children at home but they attend an SEN school. These blogs are full of what I've learned from various sources and my own experience over the last 12 years. I truly hope they're helpful and inspiring. Let's get started!
Humans are sensory creatures. So much of our lives, particularly as adults, is desperately lacking in a rich sensory diet. We can learn from our children about this! Especially children with a sensory processing difference. They are often masters of find and engage in sensory play to the benefit of their mind and body.
Sensory play is AMAZING both for children and adults. Sensory play builds connections in the brain and helps to cement learning by accessing different senses together.
When you mix sensory play with creativity the results can be extraordinary.
I have an exciting list here. Check this out!
Creativity plus sensory play:
+ supports cognitive growth,
+ hones fine and gross motor skills,
+ improves problem solving skills,
+ boosts imagination,
+ helps establish identity,
+ improves social and play skills,
+ builds communication skills
+ improves observation skills,
+ sparks curiosity,
+ develops hand-eye coordination,
+ improves focus and attention,
+ supports emotional regulation,
+ boosts memory,
+ builds self-esteem
and creates opportunities for CONNECTION
There are different types of sensory input. You'll know of course the classic 5:
Sight/visual, sound/auditory, taste/gustatory, smell/olafactory and touch/tactile.
But did you know about these?
Vestibular, proprioceptive and interoception.
Our vestibular system is how we receive and process information relating to our body's orientation (standing up, lying down, upside down), movement and balance. Examples of vestibular actions are: swinging on a swing, going down a slide or zip line, balancing on a beam/on one leg. cartwheels, hand or headstands etc...
Our proprioceptive system processes pressure and gravity and how our body relates to an environment. For example, we receive proprioceptive information when we hold someone's hand, sit on a chair, squeeze a stress ball, are swaddled/wrapped in a blanket, get pushed or pulled etc...
Our interoceptive system is our body's inner sensations like pain, hunger, thirst, itches, temperature, feeling dizzy or sick etc...
All of us have these sensory systems and they give our mind and body a LOT of information all day every day. For most of us we are able to process this information efficiently and without issue, but those with a sensory processing disorder will have areas where they are over or under-sensitive to various or all of these senses.
Today I'm talking about VISUAL STIMMERS.
You may know this already but in case you don't I'll just go over briefly what stimming is. There's still a lot of stigma, taboo, judgement and shame around stimming that is so frustrating. If only everyone understood what stimming is and how it helps!
So stimming is self-stimulatory actions or behaviours. When we stim we are controlling sensory input in order to do a few things: to bring pleasure, get excited, calm down, to focus or block/reduce other input.
For example, your child who's sitting in the corner of the room spinning the wheels of their toy car could be doing it because it makes them happy/excited, it calms them down, it makes them better able to hear what you're saying or it helps them block out say, the noise of the vacuum cleaner or the bright lights or the baby crying. The child in the classroom who rocks on their chair, hums or taps their pencil is likely doing the same thing. So many children in school would have an easier time learning if our stims were accepted and nurtured rather than punished and shut down. The schools that provide movement breaks, active sitting chairs and stools, elastics on chair legs for springing the legs and who allow fidget toys in the classroom - these are what I want to see more of. Because these things are helping the children to focus and stay emotionally regulated.
I want to share here as well a video by the brilliant Agony Autie. She has a series of videos on her You Tube. This one is all about STIMMING!
So: visual stimming! Visual stimming is brilliant. Many of us who are blessed to have sight frankly take it for granted. Folks who stim with visuals will be embracing everything that's marvellous about our sight. I would say that the input of visual stims is the one that creates the most awe and wonder. Think about the "ooos" and "aaaahs" people exclaim at seeing fireworks, rainbows, light shows, water fountain displays etc...
Here are a few things your child might do that could point to them being a visual stimmer:
Gazing for extended periods and 'getting lost' (aka finding themselves) looking at:
* Reflections in water
* Paint swirling in water
* Oil on the surface of water
* Rain trailing down a window
* Spinning the wheels on a toy car
* Fibre optic and lava lamps
* Sand or oil and water timers
Try this little experiment some time: block out sound with ear defenders/noise- cancelling headphones or just create as quiet an environment as you can, make the room you're in dark and allow your eyes some time to adjust.
Then slowly introduce small amounts of light. A dimmable torch is great for this, or little fairy lights or a fibre optic lamp etc...
Move the light around the space and really look.
Take in all the information given to you by your super-smart eyes.
Watch how the light moves over different surfaces and reveals shape, colour and texture. Now imagine what this would be like when your sensory perception is sensitive; heightened.
You're zen, in the zone, processing loads of beautiful information.
Imagine now that your parent/carer comes into your space and starts banging around, making noise, turning lights on and makes a bunch of requests from you, snapping you out of your bliss and into a reality that's full of too much stimulus.
Sounds like the kind of thing that could lead to a meltdown, right? And often it does.
That reaction - as always - isn't the child's fault.
This exercise is to illustrate a point: that when your child is in their zone with their stim; go very gently when you need them to pay attention to you and move on to the next thing. Transitions are hard enough, transitions when you're being pulled from a place of wonder and bliss to one of excessive stimulus and demands? Really hard. So go gentle and be patient best you can.
Now here are some inspirations and creative play ideas for your wide-eyed wonderers:
Holding safety mirrors to images to see their opposite
Glitter (swirled in water, added to paintings or drawings with glue, added to slime)
Sequins (stitched to felt puppets, threaded onto bracelets or added to paintings and drawings)
Photographing giant bubbles *
Soothing bottles (including mica powder)
Sandscape/ sand art
Light spinners/wands/fairy lights photography/videos
Glow in the dark paint/stickers/glue
Paint/food colouring colour mixing
Shaving foam marble paper
Metallic paint/crayons on black paper
Plastic, translucent, coloured sheets to make glasses
Tissue paper layered collage
DIY handheld windmill
Basic flick book/2 image animation roller
* A note on photography: Either hold the camera/phone and ask your child to press the shutter or if you have a rugged phone case and tempered glass screen protector - which I highly recommend! - you can let the child hold and take photos. I started giving my kids my phone to take photos from about 3 years old and so many times I've been blown away by the photos they've taken. My eldest has his own section in our gallery shop where you can buy prints of his amazing photos. Yes many of them are blurry but it's so easy to delete the dodgy ones isn't it? Just let them play. And remember that the word 'photography' literally means 'drawing with light' so it's a fantastic type of creativity for visual stimmers.
In my Facebook community group I've done a couple of 'create with us' videos that tick some of these boxes and we'll be doing much more going forward so if you'd like to join in please head over there to like and follow the page so you'll know when and what we're going to be doing for some awesome creative and sensory play! If you can't join live, don't worry, the videos will be kept on the page for you to watch in your own time.
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Did you learn anything about yourself or your children's sensory processing system reading this? I'd love to know if you'd like to share! I've learned so much about myself over the years raising my special boys. Aren't our bodies just fascinating?!
Feel free to share this blog if you like but please share it directly from this page.
Thanks so much!
Have a wonderful time exploring fun activities with your visual stimmers!