Equipping your home to adapt to a child with sensory needs can be expensive. I was astonished to find just how expensive some of the sensory tools were. Five of our kids have Sensory Processing Disorder so the search for sensory solutions that wouldn’t break the bank is a journey I have been on for many years now. I have managed to come up with a lot of low cost options that work just as well as the items that are sold by specialty stores for a fraction of the cost.
Here are some of the items we have adapted or found a lower cost solution for:
Weighted vests, capes or clothing
Many children have a much easier time regulating themselves when they are wearing weighted vests or clothing. Sewing your own may save money. I don’t know how to sew though.
If you are like me and don’t sew, you can buy a vest with pockets such as a fly fishing vest and add weights to the pockets.
Weighted neck rolls can be as effective for some children as weighted capes are and are usually much less money.
For some of my kids, wearing very tight fitting outfits underneath their clothing is as effective, if not more effective than weighted clothing. We accomplish this by buying gymnastics suits that are a few sizes too small and having them wear them under their regular clothes. In this way, they still get the feeling of the extra pressure. Gymnastics leotards that go down to the mid-thigh (biketards) and/or have sleeves are what we’ve found to work the best.
You may be able to find second hand gymnastics outfits online, in consignment stores or from friends whose kids have outgrown them. As with all things sensory, it’s best if you can have your child try it on before buying. Avoid things with itchy fabrics like glitter or sequins.
Fidget toys and chewelry
Actual sensory fidget toys are ridiculously expensive! This may sound like the wackiest thing ever, but pet toys can make excellent fidget toys. They are often rich in texture and durability and they are a fraction of the cost of fidget toys!
Obviously, I am recommending that you buy new toys from the pet store or online for your child, not have them play with your dog’s toy!
We make our own sensory balls for pennies. I have full instructions for making your own here.
Knobby balls are fairly inexpensive and can be used as fidget toys or for sensory activities.
Other low cost things that work for fidget toys include playdough (this recipe for homemade Lavender Scented Playdough is calming as well), silly putty (you can make your own easily), pencil toppers or pencil grips, sponges (from the Dollar store!), ribbons, stones, beads (also from the Dollar store), rubber band balls, and baby toys.
Lanyards can double as chewlery and are much less expensive. My kids also like using those coil keychains that are often given away by companies at Trade Fairs as bracelets that they can chew on.
One of my readers suggested buying teething beads in the baby section and stringing them onto a pretty ribbon to make a necklace (homemade chewlry).
Some of our kids have Movin’ Sit cushions but they are a bit pricey. Another solution is to buy therabands (exercise bands) and put them around the legs of the chair or desk. An even cheaper solution is to do this with scraps of stretchy fabric or old nylons. This will provide your child with sensory feedback when they swing their legs.
Bean bag chairs can be another solution for sitting but they also tend to be a bit pricey.
Textured disks like the kind you can buy at Ikea make good seat disks.
You can fill a large sock with rice to make a weighted lap snake. Those microwaveable heat packs also make good weighted lap pads. These can help with staying seated and feeling more regulated while seated.
Weighted blankets are expensive. There’s really no way to sugar coat it. You can make your own if you know how to sew or you can make a very heavy quilt or blanket. My aunt made some heavy blankets for our kids using old jeans. The denim is very heavy (and free if you collect ripped jeans from people you know).
If you don’t know how to sew (and don’t have an aunt who will make you blankets out of denim!), you can also try buying heavy down comforters when they go on sale.
If you do decide to buy a weighted blanket, be sure to let your child try it out before you spend the money on it as some kids don’t like them. Only two of our kids with Sensory Processing Disorder like them but two ones that do, love them! I was able to purchase our weighted blankets from Innovaid and were allowed to try them first to ensure that the kids would like them.
There is also an excellent tutorial on how to make your own stretchy sensory sheet.
Larger sensory items
You can save so much money by making your own things from items you can buy at hardware stores, fabric stores and Dollar stores. Examples include such things as making your own hammock, platform swing, tire swing, rock climbing wall, ball pit (you can also make a simpler one using a blow up pool or playpen and balls or cut up pool noodles), parachute, and lycra swings. (Click on each of the words to be taken to a tutorial for how to make these yourself.) You can make a crash pad by filling a duvet cover with foam pieces.
There are some things that are almost essential to have when you have a child with sensory needs but that just are expensive. These include such things as trampolines or mini trampolines and the Hop Bouncer. For items such as these, my best suggestion is to check Kijiji, Craigslist, eBay, Freecycle, the local paper, swap and buy and sell groups online, and garage sales. This should make the prices much more affordable and enable you to save for them and pay cash instead of going into debt to buy new ones.
Other sensory solutions
You can make your own sensory tunnel or tube (often called a Sensory Sock) using stretchy fabric for a fraction of the cost of buying it.
Use old couch cushions for compression sandwiches.
Create your own sensory bins, sensory boards and sensory bottles.
Ikea has some great sensory solutions that are quite inexpensive such as a swing and rings that can be hung indoors, their egg swivel chair, tunnels and small tents, a great hanging chair that swings as well as surrounds them like a small hammock (it’s called the EKORRE), and items such as textured cushions, and soft lights.
For the anxiety often associated with SPD or ASD, I highly recommend my anti-anxiety kit for kids. It works so well with our kids and can be customized to what works with your own child. You can make yours very inexpensively.
Instead of buying expensive noise blocking headphones, try inexpensive ear plugs, cotton or ear muffs.
Drums can be a good outlet for kids with sensory needs but can be made using household items like ice cream pails, pots and pans, and empty coffee tins.
You may also be interested in reading:
Surviving Public Bathrooms with a Child with Sensory Issues
Must Haves for Kids with Sensory Needs
Resources to Teach Kids About Emotions and How to Manage Them
What money saving sensory solutions have you found?
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