Connecting Through Sensory Play: One Mother’s Story

On day two of our sensory play week, I am so excited to have Sarah from Little Bins for Little Hands here to share her story with you. As a parent of a child with special needs, Sarah has a unique perspective on just how amazing and life-changing simple sensory play can be, and I’m so pleased that she took the time to write this post for us! After you read her story, be sure to check out her wonderful blog and connect with her through social media. ¬†Take it away, Sarah!

Connecting Through Sensory Play

Connecting Through Sensory Play

One Mother’s Approach To Play At Home

I was thrilled to be contacted by Stephanie to speak about the parent side of sensory play and sensory processing. What does sensory play mean to a parent and specifically what does it mean to a parent of a child on the autism spectrum and diagnosed with sensory processing disorder? How do parents adjust, grow, change and embrace this new type of play in their homes? I am excited to share what we have learned and are still learning today. I hope my insight, from a mother’s point of view, can help you understand the role sensory play can have in your home.

What would you do as a parent if you couldn’t find a way to connect with your child?

I am by no means an expert and can only speak from my experiences with my son. I was not a teacher or occupational therapist, rather a fitness coach turned stay at home mom. In fact, if my son had happily played with his toys, remained generally calm most of the day and was easily transitioned from one part of the day to the next, I would most likely not be organizing shelves of sensory materials on a weekly basis. As a parent with a child diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), I had to find new solutions. My son was in early intervention from 5 months old and was diagnosed with Aspergers and SPD at 2.6 and then ADHD at 4.

Learning to think past toys created successful play in our house

I was given a break around 12 months. We had taken Liam to a farm with a huge silo filled with corn. He happily sat in it and played. We bought a bag and filled an under bed storage tub at home with it. He happily sat and played with us. We then purchased a large sandbox for the living room and put the corn in it. Again, he happily played with us in it. All of a sudden I had found a key to a lock that had remained a mystery. We were given the chance to play together. From there, we added a rice bin, a sand bin, water play, and so on. The important thing was, we were engaging as mother/son for really the first time. Our sensory play gave us the opportunity to exchange words, looks, feelings and more. His language blossomed as well as his hand/eye coordination. He found his own toys to add and new ways to play. I watched, I studied, I observed the changes in him and continued to find new sensory play materials to entice him. (Please note he did not tend to put things in his mouth and he was always closely supervised.)

Sensory bins and sensory play became a staple in our house for everyday play

As he got older, we tried new sensory bin fillers. We made play doughs and painted with pudding. I made sure his little hands and mind were busy with textures and colors. Part of his SPD is low environmental awareness. He would often walk right past toys, step on them and barely glance at them even to this day. The ability to use sensory play to ground him and bring about awareness has proven remarkable. His little body is always in a rush and the option of keeping his hands busy with sensory play while we engaged made a big impact on his ability and interest to focus on our time together. We have even built an 8’x8′ sandbox in our garage!

As he has gotten older, we have used sensory play for so many early learning activities like books, letters, numbers, colors, fine motor skills and science. He has become a very hands-on child who is visually stimulated. Sensory play provides him with the necessary stimulation to stay connected to me and to his environment. Not every bin or play method I invite him to try works and not everything that works keeps on working. Children on the spectrum tend to demand a higher amount of novelty and sensory play or sensory bins achieve that desired outcome for him but provide a vessel for learning as well. I can not ask him to be something he is not, but I can seek out ways to help him be all that he can be, a happy child!

Wondering if sensory play will work in your house? How do you approach it?

For a long time I was a scared mother wondering what could I possibly do to provide a happier, brighter childhood. I had to change my thinking before I could see change in my son. I had to step outside my comfort zone to help him find his. I have constantly had to search for new ideas, change what is no longer working and embrace the amount of flexibility I needed to try and try again. Sensory play has dramatically changed the way our whole family approaches life.

It may seem daunting, messy, frustrating and sad. Yes, I will say sad because sometimes you just don’t have the energy to go that extra mile and you wish you didn’t always have to. It’s OK, move on and fill a bin with something, anything and invite your child over to play. One step at a time and see what new ways your child will teach you about his life. Be as open to new experiences as you want your child to be and watch him grow!

Come visit with us and see how we incorporate sensory play into everyday activities

I would love for you to take a look at my website to see how we play together! This year I put together a Best of Sensory Bins 2013 for quick reference to many of the ideas we tried. Keep in mind each child is different. I always keep in mind my son’s likes and dislikes when I put together my invitations to play! I hope you will find something to try and share with us. Visit on Facebook to0!

Some articles you might enjoy

Best of 2013 Sensory Play

S is for Sensory Learning

Making a bad day better through sensory play

Getting started with super simple ideas


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  1. Thank you for this great opportunity Stephanie!

    • Stephanie says:

      Of course! And thank YOU for sharing your story so beautifully with us. I think it will help a lot of people!

  2. Such a great post, Sarah! Though I can’t imagine how challenging it must be, I am so glad that you found something that works for your little guy. I know it must mean the world to him. Fabulous job, mama!!!!

    • Thank you Asia. I am happy to find many fun ways to connect with him that may be a little out of the ordinary at times!

  3. Fantastic post, Sarah! Your dedication to helping your son find a way to play and learn that works for him is to be admired. I’m sure this post (and your blog) will be a huge source of support and inspiration for parents in a similar situation.

    • Thank you  Ann! You guys do a lot of awesome sensory play too. Connecting is key especially when you are together all day!

  4. Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your beautiful story of struggle and ultimately success as you learn how to mother your son. Your great love for him is evident and touching. Keep up the great work! I’m sure your blog is such a help and inspiration to other moms.

    • Thank you Kristen. I hope I can provide other parents with the motivation to move forward and try new things. All kids can benefit from sensory play too!

  5. Sarah, this was such a moving and informative post! Thank you so much for always being open and honest about your experiences. My son doesn’t have SPD, but I sometimes work with children who do. What you’ve shared will prove to be a resource for teachers and parents alike. Most importantly, I adore how you found what worked best when connecting with your son . . . and you totally went forward with it. Love, love, love! [P.S. — I already love Little Bins for Little Hands!]

    • Thank you Mary Catherine! Your awesome posts provide great inspiration too! I am happy to hear as a teacher you feel like I have great things to offer for other parents to try!

  6. The “learning to think past toys” paragraph was really amazing. How cool to read about how sensory play was THE thing that allowed you to connect with your son! Thanks for sharing your story, Sarah!

  7. What a great post. My son has PDD-nos and I have recently been trying to incorporate sensory bins into our daily play. He has some sensory aversions and this was my main reason for trying to engage him in more sensory experiences, and your article really highlights for me all of the advantages sensory play has to offer him. It is also nice to be able to relate to another parent who has had to try and embrace more innovative (and messy) forms of play to help their child reach his potential. Thanks for the info!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful story with us all. It is really amazing the power that sensory bins have. Thank you for the wonderful reminder.

  9. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I’m so glad that sensory play allowed you to have fun and get to know your son. now I’m feeling inspired to try doing some sensory play with my son too. :)


  1. […] was thrilled to be contacted by Stephanie at Two-daloo to speak about the parent side of sensory play and sensory processing. Although this type of play […]

  2. […] from¬†Little Bins for Little Hands, a mother of a child with special needs, shares her story on Two Daloo about how sensory play […]