As parents of an autistic teenager, you might notice that your child sometimes struggles with sensory issues daily.
Their reactions to sounds, sights, touch, or smells can be either very intense (hypersensitive) or relatively muted (hyposensitive). Sensory difficulties can make it challenging to grasp a sense of the world around them.
Also, your child’s responses to these sensory experiences can change from one day to the next, making it even more crucial to be understanding and patient.
Recognizing and supporting their unique sensory needs and preferences can help create a loving and compassionate environment for your autistic teenager.
What are Sensory Activities?
Sensory activities are designed to engage and stimulate one or more of the five senses providing an enriching and immersive experience.
The Five Senses
- Sight (Visual)
- Hearing (Auditory)
- Touch (Tactile)
- Smell (Olfactory)
- Taste (Gustatory)
Sensory activities benefit autistic teenagers because they can be customized to meet their specific needs.
So, as a caring parent, introducing sensory activities to your teenager’s routine can make a big difference in their overall happiness and development while keeping their sensitivities in mind.
Through a sensory activity, your teen can learn to understand better and process the sensory information surrounding them daily. These experiences can help develop crucial skills such as:
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- Cognitive skills
- Overall well-being
- Language skills
What are the Benefits of Sensory Activities For An Autistic Teenager?
Sensory activities can transform the lives of autistic teenagers by providing a unique and engaging way to explore their world.
In addition, these activities help in nurturing their cognitive, physical, and emotional development while offering a comforting and soothing experience.
Autistic teenagers often face sensory sensitivities, and through these sensory activities, they can gradually learn to navigate their surroundings and better manage sensory overload.
Moreover, these activities foster creativity, improve concentration, and enhance problem-solving skills, paving the way for a brighter and more fulfilling future.
The social and emotional benefits of sensory activities for autistic teens are equally significant. Participating in these activities can help reduce anxiety and stress, promoting a sense of calm and relaxation.
Check out our STRIDE group classes for your teen today!
Sensory Activity Ideas for Autistic Teenagers
Sensory Activities for Sight
For autistic teenagers, sensory activities can be crucial in unlocking their potential, and visual stimulation can be particularly beneficial.
In this section, we will explore nine simple yet creative activities. These activities are designed to captivate and inspire the autistic teenagers in our lives, creating a world of wonder and opportunity for them to grow and thrive.
#1 Colorful Light Patterns
Using a light projector or a lava lamp, you can cast calming, colorful patterns onto the walls, engaging your teenager’s sense of sight and providing a relaxing visual experience.
This activity can become an enjoyable part of their daily routine or a unique way to unwind together after a long day.
#2 DIY Sensory Bottle
Invite your autistic teen to create their own sensory bottle, which can be a fun and therapeutic activity.
To make one, fill a clear plastic bottle with water, then add various items from the list below.
- Colored sand
- Food coloring
- Rubber bands
- Rubber or plastic toys
- Shaving cream
After sealing the bottle, your teen can shake it to see the beautiful creation inside.
This mesmerizing visual experience can be a calming and engaging way for your teenager to explore their sense of sight.
#3 Bubble Blowing
Who doesn’t love bubbles? This timeless activity is a delightful way to engage your autistic teen’s visual senses.
Blow bubbles and encourage them to observe the bubbles as they float, pop, or even try catching them.
This simple but fun activity can provide an opportunity for outdoor play and create precious bonding moments between you and your teenager.
Provide paint and a piece of paper, allowing your teenager to express themselves through colorful artwork. Painting also helps with fine motor skills.
Various types of paint can stimulate the senses, providing an engaging and multisensory experience. Here are some examples:
- Fingerpaint: This type of paint encourages tactile exploration and creativity, as they can use their fingers to create patterns, shapes, and images on paper or other surfaces.
- Textured paint: By adding materials like sand, rice, or small beads to paint, you can create textured paint that offers a unique sensory experience when touched or manipulated.
- Scented paint: Adding a few drops of essential oils or food extracts to paint can create a scented color that engages the sense of smell, enhancing the sensory experience.
- Glow-in-the-dark paint: This paint is charged under light and glows in the dark, providing a visual sensory experience that can be incredibly engaging in dimly lit environments.
- Temperature-sensitive paint: This type changes color with temperature, providing a multisensory experience as individuals can observe the visual changes while feeling the temperature differences.
- Washable paint: Easy to clean and remove, washable paint allows for worry-free sensory exploration without concerns about staining clothes or surfaces. Watercolors are a great option. Acrylic paints are washable but only while still wet.
When using paints for sensory stimulation, always ensure that they are non-toxic and safe, especially if they come into contact with the skin.
#5 Nature Walks
Take a walk in a park or garden, observing the various colors, shapes, and textures of plants, flowers, and trees.
Walking, stooping, and bending over can help your teen with gross motor skills. Check out our blog Best Outdoor Activities for Kids to Learn About Nature All Year Round.
#6 Kaleidoscope Exploration
Introduce your special needs teen to the magical world of kaleidoscopes, where they can explore ever-changing patterns of color and light.
This visually stimulating activity can captivate their attention, offering a unique sensory experience that’s both engaging and soothing.
Here is a super easy way to make your own kaleidoscope at home.
#7 Sensory Wall
Create a sensory wall using textured materials like faux fur, bubble wrap, and sandpaper to engage your autistic teen’s sense of sight.
Encourage them to explore the different textures and patterns visually, making it a fun and interactive way to enhance their sensory experiences.
This can also be an enjoyable project to work on together, customizing the wall to suit your teenager’s preferences.
#8 Mirrored Illusions
Invite your autistic teen to explore the captivating world of mirrored illusions. Experiment with mirrors of different shapes and sizes, observing reflections and angles to create intriguing visual experiences.
This activity can stimulate their sense of sight while sparking curiosity and wonder, providing a unique opportunity for sensory exploration and shared discovery.
#9 Light Table Art
Set up a light table and provide them with various translucent materials, such as colored tissue paper or plastic shapes.
This activity allows your teenager to arrange the materials on the table, creating unique, glowing designs that capture their imagination.
Enjoy watching their artistic talents shine as they explore this visually engaging and delightful sensory experience with you.
Sensory Activities for Hearing
Next, let’s explore the sound world with sensory activities for your autistic teen. As we know, the auditory experiences we encounter every day can have a profound impact on our lives, and this is especially true for teenagers with an autism spectrum disorder.
Here are ten fun activities to captivate their attention and inspire their imagination to support their growth and development.
#10 Karaoke Sessions
As a parent, you might find it fascinating that your special needs teen can often sing better than they can speak. Even if they’re nonverbal, they may still hum along with their favorite tunes, showing how music can touch their hearts and connect with them in an extraordinary way.
Karaoke is a great family activity or one they can do with friends. Give them a chance to choose songs.
#11 Nature Soundscapes
Record calming nature sounds, such as gentle rain, rustling leaves, or bird songs, and immerse them in the soothing audio experience. This can help ease anxiety and stress while promoting relaxation and better focus.
These peaceful nature sounds can make your autistic young adult feel more comfortable in their environment and even help them cope with sensory overload by masking overwhelming noises.
#12 Musical Instruments
Ignite your autistic teen’s love for music by allowing them to try playing various musical instruments. Some are relatively cheap such as harmonica, recorder, and drums.
You can even build diy instruments using household items like a rice-filled bottle shaker or a homemade drum.
Explore different rhythms and sounds together, making this a fun and interactive bonding experience that nurtures their creativity and appreciation for music.
#13 Use Audiobooks
Audiobooks can be a helpful tool for improving your autistic teen’s reading comprehension. Sometimes, teens with autism or other neurodiverse conditions might struggle to pick up on tone or sarcasm when reading.
With audiobooks, they can hear those cues, making it easier for them to understand and enjoy the story. Consider giving audiobooks a try to support your teen’s learning journey and make reading more engaging for them.
#14 Sound Matching Game
A Sound Matching Game for an autistic teen can involve a variety of interesting and distinct sounds to engage their auditory senses. Here are some ideas for different sounds you can mix and match to create a fun and stimulating game:
- Animal sounds: Dog barking, a cat meowing, cow mooing, birds chirping, or a horse neighing.
- Musical instruments: Piano, guitar, drums, violin, or trumpet.
- Nature sounds: Rain, wind, ocean waves, rustling leaves, or a crackling fire.
- Household items: Doorbell, telephone ring, alarm clock, blender, or a kettle whistling.
- Transportation sounds: Car horn, airplane taking off, train whistle, bicycle bell, or a motorcycle revving.
Choose sounds that your teen is familiar with and comfortable hearing. You can create sound clips or use a sound-matching app to set up the game and encourage your teen to identify and match the sounds they hear.
This engaging sensory activity can help improve their listening skills, focus, and auditory memory. Check out our blog on music therapy.
#15 Guided Meditation
Introduce your teenager to the calming power of guided meditation. Play a gentle meditation that promotes relaxation, focus, and self-awareness in a quiet place in your house. Practice deep breathing and calming the mind.
This relaxing activity can help them develop valuable coping skills for stressful situations and create a peaceful space within their daily activities. And meditation is a good idea for people of all ages.
Here’s a short gratitude guided meditation to try.
#16 Echo Game
Play the Echo Game to build your autistic teen’s listening skills and foster interaction. Have them listen to a sound or word you make, and then encourage them to repeat it.
This simple but fun activity can boost their auditory processing and communication skills while promoting a fun connection between you.
#17 Storytelling Circle
Create a storytelling circle by gathering as a family or group and taking turns telling stories. The sillier, the better!
This fun group activity encourages your teenager to listen and contribute their own imaginative tales, fostering creativity, social interaction, and family bonding.
#18 Rhythm and Movement
Expose your autistic teen to various types of music with distinct beats, encouraging them to move, dance, or clap along to the rhythm.
This enjoyable activity can help them develop coordination, body awareness, and a sense of rhythm while having a great time together.
#19 Sound Exploration Walks
Embark on sound exploration walks in your neighborhood or a park, focusing on the different sounds, from the rustle of leaves to the hum of passing cars.
These walks can cultivate mindfulness and auditory awareness in your autistic teen while providing a refreshing opportunity to explore the world together.
Sensory Activities for Touch
Now, it is time to move on to tactile sensory play activities. These ten fun activities are designed to encourage exploration, learning, and growth for your teen.
These hands-on experiences will provide sensory stimulation and help your teenager develop essential motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
#20 Clay or Pottery Fun
Provide soft, colorful clay for your teenager to mold, shape, and create, engaging their tactile senses and sparking creativity.
Make homemade clay with different scents also to incorporate the sense of smell.
Try infusing it with natural scents like lavender, citrus, or vanilla, helping your teenager to enjoy calming or invigorating aromas during play.
This tactile activity can also help them become more comfortable with different sensations while promoting fine motor skills.
#21 Fidget Toys
Fidget toys aren’t just for young children. Teens love these almost as much as video games, especially since they can practically go anywhere with them.
Offer a selection of fidget toys, such as stress balls, putty, or sensory rings, to engage their hands and provide a calming tactile experience.
Check out this blog post for more ideas on using fidget toys to keep autistic children still and focused.
#22 Art with Texture
Encourage your autistic teenager to explore their creativity through textured art, which combines self-expression and sensory exploration.
Here are some ideas to help them dive into the world of textured art:
- Finger Painting: Offer washable, non-toxic paints and large sheets of paper, allowing your teenager to create artwork using their fingers, hands, or feet.
- Collage with Natural Elements: Collect various natural materials, such as leaves, twigs, and small stones. Guide your teenager to create a bird’s nest using these materials, introducing them to various textures and promoting a connection with nature.
- Textured Stamps: Create or purchase textured stamps, like those with raised patterns, and have your teenager experiment with stamping on paper, fabric, or even canvas. They can create t-shirts or tote bags with their designs.
- Layered Paper Art: Encourage your teenager to create multi-layered art using different types of paper, such as tissue paper, construction paper, or corrugated cardboard. This can help them explore depth and texture in their artwork while experimenting with color and shape.
Plant flowers or vegetables together, offering your autistic teen the opportunity to feel the soil, seeds, and plants as they grow and develop.
This hands-on activity nurtures a connection with nature and provides a rich tactile experience.
#24 Cooking and Baking
Include your teenager in simple cooking or baking activities. Allow them to mix ingredients and knead dough to experience various textures.
This can be a great way to spend quality time together while teaching valuable life skills and encouraging sensory exploration.
Quilting can be a rewarding tactile sensory activity for teens, offering numerous benefits for their cognitive, emotional, and social development.
Here are several reasons why quilting can be a beneficial sensory experience:
- Variety of Textures: Quilting involves working with fabrics with a wide range of textures, such as cotton, flannel, velvet, or silk. Handling and manipulating these different materials can provide a rich tactile experience for your teenager.
- Fine Motor Skills: The process of cutting fabric, sewing, and assembling the quilt pieces requires the use of fine motor skills. This can help improve hand-eye coordination, agility, and precision.
- Creativity and Self-Expression: Quilting offers a creative outlet for your teenager. It allows them to choose fabric colors, patterns, and quilt designs that reflect their style and preferences.
- Calming and Therapeutic: The repetitive nature of quilting, such as cutting, sewing, and arranging the fabric, can be calming and therapeutic for many individuals, including autistic teens. This relaxing activity may help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
- Sense of Accomplishment: Completing a quilt can instill a sense of pride and accomplishment in your teenager, boosting their self-esteem and confidence.
- Social Interaction: If your teenager participates in a quilting group or class, it can provide opportunities for social interaction and collaboration, helping them develop communication and teamwork skills.
Sensory Activities for Taste and Smell
#26 Taste Testing Game
Organize a lighthearted taste test game with your teen and another family member or friend. Feature a variety of flavors such as sweet, salty, bitter, and sour.
Encourage your teenager to explore each taste, guess the flavors, and discuss their preferences.
This can be a fun way to engage their sense of taste and make them more aware of the different flavors they encounter.
#27 Aromatherapy Exploration
Experiment with various scents and help them discover which ones positively impact their mood and well-being.
#28 Herb Garden
Work with your teenager to plant a small herb garden in your backyard or use pots indoors. This activity can help them connect with nature while introducing them to various scents and flavors.
As the herbs grow, they can learn about each plant’s different uses and benefits, fostering an appreciation for the natural world and its sensory experiences.
Then you can take these herbs to the kitchen to experience the aroma of cooking them.
#29 Scent Matching Game
Design a fun scent-matching game for your teenager. Try using small containers filled with aromatic items such as coffee beans, cinnamon sticks, or lemon peels. Encourage your teenager to smell each container and match the scents to the corresponding items.
This activity can help them develop their sense of smell while enjoying the fragrances surrounding them daily.
#30 Brand Challenge
When I was a kid, my dad took us to weekend boat shows. There would be a Pepsi vs. Coke challenge that I loved to participate in.
You can recreate a brand challenge similar to this.
Set up a tasting station with different brands or flavors of the same product. You can try various types of soda, chips, or even fruit juices.
Invite your teenager (and their siblings or friends) to taste each one and pick their favorite. Or to try to identify the different flavors or brands.
This activity can be a fun way to help them explore and appreciate the subtle differences in taste and smell that various products can offer.
What Other Sensory Activities Can You Think Of?
By embracing sensory activities tailored to the unique needs of autistic teenagers, we can create a nurturing environment that empowers them to flourish, unlocking their full potential and paving the way for a life filled with joy, growth, and self-discovery.
By participating in sensory activities, your young adult can immerse themselves in a world of exploration, discovery, and growth, unlocking their full potential and paving the way for a life filled with joy and fulfillment.
Do you have any sensory activities for autistic teenagers to share? Drop them in the comments below.
Here are some additional resources you may want to consider reading next…
- 10 Strategies For Teaching Children With Autism
- Social Stories For Teens: Empower Your High School Student With Special Needs
- Special Needs Tutoring For Autism
- Life Skills For Teens: What Your Teen Can Confidently Master This Summer
Do you have a special needs teen that needs one-on-one special education tutoring that can be done from anywhere? Our special education experts conduct their sessions online! Get them started with a free consultation!