What is Sensory Stimulation?    


Information on this website should not be construed as medical or therapy advice and is provided only as general information. Please consult your physician and other health professionals for specific advice.

Sensory Stimulation to receptors enable us to  take in information from  the environment:
  • Visual receptors in our eyes enable vision
  • Auditory receptors in our ears enable hearing
  • Tactile receptors in our skin enable touch discrimination
  • Olfactory receptors in our noses enable smell
  • Gustatory receptors on our tongues enable taste
  • Proprioception receptors in muscles and joints tell us where our body is in space
  • Vestibular receptors in our inner ears tell us about movement and balance.
Outdoor Education
Learn about the educational/therapeutic
benefits to outdoor

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Why is Sensory Stimulation so important?

We all need stimulation and much as been written about the effects of decreased
stimulation on prisoners in solitary confinement and institutionalized patients
who did not receive proper care.

They may hallucinate or stimulate themselves by head banging, rocking or biting. Sensory stimulation and interaction with the environment is critical to maintain the highest
level of awareness and connectedness with others.

What is Sensory Integration?

Autism Asperger Publishing Co.
Books about autism and sensory issues.
Stimulating Sarah
Click to watch video


Aromatherapy is all about fragrance and how different scents can affect the mind, body and even the soul.

Aromatherapy is a pleasant way to stimulate a person. Various scents may bring back memories.
Scents can be provided with:
  • Incense
  • Fragrant oils
  • Candles
  • Flowers
  • Bath salts
  • Massage lotions
  • Shampoo
Here are some possible scents to offer:
  • Allspice
  • Almond
  • Anise
  • Basil oil
  • Cedarwood oil
  • Chamomile oil
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Mint oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Evening Primrose oil
  • Geranium oil
  • Grapefruit oil
  • Lavender oil
  • Lemongrass
  • Lime
  • Nutmeg
  • Orange oil
  • Peppermint
  • Thyme oil
  • Vanilla

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Sensory stimulation
refers to the impact the environment has
on our minds and bodies as
we receive information through
our sensory organs and our brains interpret this input.

Usually sensory stimulation involves one person providing
the stimulation to another
person such as when someone
is passively receiving a massage or has fur rubbed on
his arms. 

But sometimes a person can merely sit
outside to enjoy the visual stimulation
the trees, olfactory stimulation of flowers,
auditory stimulation of birds,
stimulation of the wind and vestibular
stimulation of the rocking chair.

Click on photo for visual stimulation.

Occupational therapists often talk about providing sensory
stimulation to a person who is so disabled she is only able
to passively receive the stimulation. This may be a coma
patient, severely developmentally delayed child or a
victim of Alzheimer's disease. Sensory stimulation
is used as a way to involve the person with the environment,
bring pleasure and it provides a medium for interaction
with a person who otherwise, has limited abilities to interact.

Sensory integration is very different than  sensory stimulation.
Sensory integration involves active participation. Therapists
guide children to develop adaptive responses to sensory
based activities. For example, the child who learns how to
pump his legs to swing independently has developed an
important adapted response to the vestibular and
pro proprioceptive input of swinging.

Sensory stimulation, on the other hand is passive and the
therapist is providing the stimulation to another person.
Perhaps the person will smile in response and be more
aware of the environment but the goal of therapy is not
specifically to promote adaptive responses.

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Visual Stimulation

babyandflowersParents provide visual stimulation from
the very beginning with both
objects in the natural world and toys
such as picture books
and crib mobiles.
People who are passive may not look

around or be
able to understand what they are seeing in
the distance. Therefore,
they benefit from stimulating
objects being brought close to the face. 

cribmobileThe movement and sounds of mobiles stimulate
babies to visually explore and reach for objects.  


beadballObjects that combine both auditory
and visual stimulation are great

because the sound will attract the
person's attention to look at the

object. This ball makes an interesting
sound when the beads move

around and the movement of the beads catches the eye.

beadsintubePlastic tubes can be filled with
interesting objects that make
when the tube is rotated.
This tube is sold to hold long

light bulbs. The
contents can be little pieces of bright
plastic, beads, jewelry pieces,
necklace chains, anything
bright and shiny and small.
Click on the picture for a larger view.

tornadotubeTornado tubes involve purchasing the small
plastic piece in the center which has threads
on each side. Screw a soda bottle to each end.
Fill the bottle with water. You can add food
coloring, glitter or even  shiny plastic confetti
for a visual effect. It is fun to watch the
swirl down into the lower tube. Place the
person's hand on the bottle to feel the

visualtoyBright visual toys with moving parts may
catch the person's attention. Move a
flashlight slowly across the visual field
to see if the person's eyes follow the

movement. Bright lights can be fun and
stimulating but be careful with flashing
that may be irritating and cause seizures.   


crinklleyShiny paper such as mylar is often
very attractive and
it feels and sounds interesting
squeezed. On the left is an
inside out
potato chip bags filled
with packing peanuts placed inside
a mesh bag for
an additional texture.
On the right is mylar paper.

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Auditory Stimulation

goantubeMusic is often a very powerful
stimulation, especially since it
is so varied and
holds personal
meaning associated with the
person's past. Objects that make
ther sounds can be fun. This

"Groan Stick" makes a funny sound when rotated
there are many toys on the market that make animal and
other types of sounds. 

musicalhatClick on picture of Sarah wearing musical hat.

bellsinboxBells were placed inside this plastic
packaging and secured with red duct
tape to
make a shaker. Residents
might enjoy bells that are strapped
around the wrist
to shake, grasping or
just listening to other types of shakers.

Different sounds
can be made by putting marbles, pennies
or water into small juice bottles.

marblesintoyMarbles were inserted inside this
toy and the ends taped
closed. It
makes a
great sound when shaken.
Try to place
the individual's hand
on the object while
gently shaking it.


telephone  babyballoon  birdsounds  cat  bicycle
Make a tape recording of familiar environmental sounds
such as children playing, animals, cars beeping, phones
ringing, a familiar television theme song and the voices
of loved ones.

Tactile Stimulation
massagerMassagers come in all different shapes
and sizes.  Some vibrate and
others are
just rolled along the body. Sensory
catalogs and health stores also
vibrating pillows and long tubes that
can be wrapped around the

vibratingpen Vibrating balls are sold for
children and vibrating
designed to make writing
fun. However,
when the
pen point is removed,
you have a
wonderful device that fits inside the hand.

tactileballsThere are lots of
different types of
textured balls that
feel great when placed
in the hand. Perhaps the
is able to use
these tactile toys in an
activity such as
them into a box.

A therapist might gently rub pleasant textures such as
satin, fur or
velvet along the arms and legs.

furrybag This furry bag feels great. There is a squeaky
dog toy inside.

A gentle push makes the sound. Higher
functioning individuals can use such a bag
in a
game of catch or pass it around in a circle.

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Proprioceptive Stimulation

Tactile and proprioceptive stimulation really go hand in hand.
Vibration and weighted
objects such as this sand bag provide
proprioceptive input.

sandbagMy mother likes the weight of  a bag filled
with sand or water on her lap.
functioning individuals may be able to
use such objects in games
or activities
such as placing them in a box or pushing
them off the table.

My mother (on the left) is holding a bag filled with water and plastic
fish. It is marketed
for babies. You can also fill an ice bag sold
in drug stores or even a disposable
glove with water. Place
the glove in the person's hand to squeeze.

Bean bag chairs provide proprioceptive and tactile stimulation
while relaxing with a book.

pillowsThe squishy pillows filed with
microbeads feel great on the
lap and under or around the
head. They are sold in a variety
of shapes, sizes, colors and
designed like stuffed animals.

"Multi-Sensory" stimulation involves stimulating more than one sense. In
the following video my mother is stimulated by a vibrating pillow, tactile toy to grasp, music and of course my familiar touch and voice.

Gustatory Stimulation

foodMany older people find their sense
of taste and smell reduced and may

enjoy foods with strong tastes to

stimulate their pallet. Thanksgiving is often the best
day of taste and smell stimulation at nursing homes
and other institutions. 

Olfactory Stimulation

Pleasant scents or aromas can be
provided by either holding
the bottle
below the nose or
spraying a mist
nearby. Many
lotions and massage
oils have
pleasant aromas that they
smell as the hands and arms
are massaged.
Vestibular Stimulation   

rocking chair  
It's not an accident that we associate
elderly people with rocking chairs.
The rhythmic, back and forth, slow
movement is relaxing, yet stimulating.
There are special rockers that can
be attached to wheelchairs. However,
a relaxing wheelchair trip through a
facility or better yet the great outdoors
can be very stimulating and enjoyable.
©2008 Barbara Smith  

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