There are a lot of sensory items for sale at Integrations and in school supply catalogs that are effective but kind of pricey, often because they are designed to hold up to the rigors of school, therapeutic, and institutional use.
But you can successfully approximate home-made versions with less expensive items. If you study the catalogs, have a good eye for bargains, and are crafty, you can save a bundle. Ask your occupational therapist for more DIY ideas. Have fun!
Why you want it: they're so much fun, they're social, and they're great for body awareness and interactive games (like finding beanie babies in the pool). Is it fun? Yes. Did I get in it, too? Yes. Yes I did :)
How much $$: if you buy it from a special needs catalog, a LOT. If you do it yourself, really affordable!
Make your own with an inflatable swimming pool (about $10), foam floor squares ($10), and ball pool balls. You need the foam floor squares underneath for cushioning. Sometimes you can find these balls at yard sales (I washed the used ones I bought in the bath tub). It's fun to hide beany babies in the ball pool. Naturally, you would not want to put anything hard in the ball pool. Every so often, you need to vaccum out the empty pool and wash the balls in the tub.
I have found some great finds at Ikea, such as this small light-up table, which delivers the same effect as the larger and far more expensive $$$ light tables sold by school specialty supply stores.
Just add color paddles, tree leaves, and transparent items. This is good for their visual-motor skills.
Here is another Ikea find -- a chair swing. These cost a fortune in therapeutic catalogs. I bought one for a fraction of that cost at Ikea. Swinging is calming for most children with autism.
Young children with autism really have a hard time with pretend play, but it's important, if you can convince them to engage in it. Almost everything you see here I got at yard sales. It was fun and not expensive to create a "home living" center like my son had in his preschool classroom.
Did he actually play with it? Honestly, not much, at least not in a typical way. He explored it. I take that back, I remember he did play with the microwave oven and vaccum cleaner a lot. However, he ADORED watching the little girls who came over play with it. That enchanted him. So it was not a total loss. I think he still learned something. This is just an idea, in case you'd like to set up something similar (or another pretend theme, a camping area, for example).
Why you want it: helps with tactile sensitivity and fine motor skills development. Dry rice is easy on sensitive fingers (much less icky for them than sand boxes) and is easy to clean up, too.
Ultimate rainy day fun.
How much it will cost: Almost nothing. Buy bags of rice and dry beans and add to almost any size container or box. Add kitchen implements, and small toys to pick up with spoons or tongs.
Legal disclaimer: The tools and recommendations on this website are not intended to replace the information, training, and support you may receive from qualified medical and therapeutic professionals. It is the parent's responsibility to verify the accuracy of recommendations and information before implementing changes that may impact the parent's child.