I am a huge believer in spending time helping SPD kiddies access arts and crafts that might possibly be “tough” on a sensory level.
I believe that art and craft activities are good for all children regardless of whether they have sensory difficulties but for sensory kids it is vital. Not only are they getting the normal benefits of doing arts and crafts but they are also often challenging themselves on a sensory level in a fun, relaxing manner.
My kids did not naturally take to art activities but I was determined to work on it, so we did and bit by bit we made progress. It was SLOW but we recognised the small improvements and expanded on them, all the time trying to keep it fun and interesting.
To begin with my daughter really resisted colouring and painting. So we switched to using oil pastels (she liked the feeling of the oil pastels on her fingers and she found the pressure easier to manage than normal pencils)
and then we moved her onto the Woody 3 in 1 pencils. The nice thing about the 3-in-1 pencils was they could be dipped in water and used as water-colour pencils, so we played with that for a while and then when she was happy with that we re-introduced simple water-colour paints. We did not force her to use the orignal pencils that caused all the sensory problems, we tried alternatives and got her comfortable with the alternatives and slowly built from there. Now she enjoys colouring and happily uses a wide range of pencils without complaining about the feeling of them on her hands.
We have also had to practice with glue – yes I know might sound a bit strange – but the feeling of glue on their skin for a child with SPD can be VERY distressing. The first time we tried decopatch both kids hated the glue (Mod-Podge) and got very distressed by it. So we did lots of small projects using the glue. Initially the kids would just glue one or two small pieces of paper onto an old glass jar and then I would help them clean their hands. As they got more comfortable so we worked with the glue for longer and longer periods.
Wet clay was another one. The sticky wet feeling can be quite a challenge for sensory-avoiders. I had to find activities that they really wanted to do in order to encourage them to use the clay. This was one of those examples where I often worked with some clay and the kids would just watch and ask to join me. Initially they sat on my lap and we worked with the clay together (this has helped both my kids get involved in activities they found difficult on a sensory level – them being on my lap and us doing it together – it gives them extra security to try to tolerate that difficult feeling). Also with the clay I have found that we could not leave the interval between using it too long. We once did not work with clay for about 7 months and we had to take a few steps back to get my daughter comfortable with it again.
The key for us has been variety, doing small projects and building up. Keeping it fun and finding themes that they enjoy. We have had a number of false starts but whenever we have tried something that has gone horribly wrong I try to figure out why – was it the feeling of the glue / did they need to press very hard to get a colour and ended up with sore hands / was there a very strong smell that made them gag ? Once I think I understand why it went wrong I try to see if we can practice the issue in small doses – maybe give them a picture that is already partly coloured in and they just need to finish it / maybe using the paint dabbers instead of brushes might help with exhausted hands. Small steps. All the small steps add up and as they get more confident with the different sensory inputs from the arts and crafts they often start asking for more and more activities.
The feeling of glue is now something my daughter is able to tolerate if it means she can complete a craft project. Both kids now enjoy working with wet clay and paint is always popular in our house.
Often art and craft activities can be difficult for kids with SPD as they are having to deal with something that is uncomfortable possibly even distressing on a sensory level. But I do think art and craft activities can be an excellent way to help sensory kids experience those scary feelings in a relaxed, fun, non-threatening enviroment. It has worked well for us and is one of the reasons why we do so many art and craft activities in our home.
Some of the items I mentioned in the post –