25 Sensory Activities to Support an Autistic Teenager

Sensory activities for an autistic teenager. Understanding your autistic teen’s sensory needs is essential to supporting their overall well-being. The good news is if you have an autistic teenager or any neurodivergent teen, there are many activities to support their sensory needs.

In this post, we’ll discuss the eight sensory systems and 25 sensory activities to support an autistic teenager.

Sensory Activities for Teens white and teal background with drawing of teen boy wearing a grey baseball cap and headphones hiding behind a laptop screen

25 Sensory Activities for Autistic Teenagers

When people think of “sensory activities”, they typically don’t think of teenagers. Rather, sensory play is most associated with activities for younger children.

  • Playing with shaving cream
  • Manipulating play-doh
  • Making mud kitchens

While these fun activities are excellent ways to meet the sensory needs of both kids and adults, they just barely scratch the surface. The following list contains 25 different sensory activities for your Autistic teenager.

1. Headphones

A great way to reduce auditory sensory sensitivities is to wear noise-canceling headphones. Headphones are a great sensory tool for a variety of reasons including:

  • Wearing headphones in a loud area can reduce sensory overwhelm
  • Support focus in a distracting classroom environment
  • Support emotional regulation by decreasing sensory demands on the brain

A solid pair of headphones is worth the investment. Choose noise-canceling headphones to block noise completely or noise-canceling headphones that play music.

2. Deep Breathing

When your teen is feeling overwhelmed in stressful situations, encouraging them to use deep breathing is a good idea. Deep breathing is effective because after we breathe in deeply, a long exhale triggers the calming response of the parasympathetic nervous system.

Box breathing is an easy sensory activity option to start with.

  1. Imagine a square or a box.
  2. Inhale for a count of 4 on the way up the side of the box
  3. Hold it for 4 at the top of the box
  4. Exhale for 4 as you visualize going down the other side of the box
  5. Hold it for 4 counts as you visualize closing the box on the bottom

Later, encourage your autistic child or teen to exhale for a count of six. The longer the exhale, the greater the parasympathetic response.1

3. Quiet Safe Place

When your teen struggles with being overwhelmed, it’s important that they have a safe quiet space to retreat. Removing the audience or the presence of others decreases the stress response of fight-or-flight.

Further, if your child is overwhelmed by loud noises, a quiet space further lowers the level of auditory input the brain needs to process. In other words, this decreases stress.

3-Part Brain & Safety: Why It’s Critical for Learning

Watch this quick video to understand why feeling safe is essential for learning, behavior, and mental health.

4. Stim

Autistic people of all ages engage in a valuable self-regulation strategy referred to as stimming. Stimming behaviors are repetitive, rhythmic, and calming. And, research shows that engaging in rhythmic activities is calming to the brain and body. 2 Different stimming behaviors include:

  • Hand flapping
  • Rocking back and forth
  • Clenching fists
  • Cracking knuckles
  • Hair twirling
  • Petting an animal

Begin to notice your teen’s habitual behaviors and rather than trying to stop them, help them understand why they do them. Then support them.

5. Listen to Music

African-American teen girl lying on a pillow with a smile on her face as she listens to music on her earbuds as a sensory activity for teenager

One of the best ways to adjust alertness levels is by listening to music. If your Autistic teen is struggling to focus on schoolwork, listening to upbeat music may help increase dopamine and support attention.

On the other hand, if your autistic teen is feeling overwhelmed or dysregulated in some way, listening to calming music may be helpful.

6. Play Music

teen boy playing the drums as a sensory activity for teenager

Along the same lines, playing musical instruments is an excellent sensory activity for many autistic teens and adults. Playing a musical instrument has many benefits including improving fine motor skills and enhancing cognitive development. 3

7. Jump on a Trampoline

The best way to release extra stress and pent-up emotional energy is through physical activity and exercise. Unfortunately, many autistic kids struggle with the gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination of traditional sports activities.

This makes a trampoline an excellent investment. The benefits of trampoline therapy are many. Specifically, jumping on a trampoline provides both proprioceptive and vestibular sensory input.

8. Chew Gum

stick of blue chewing gum on white background as a sensory activity for autistic teenager

Chewing gum is one of the best sensory tools available. It’s inexpensive and doesn’t disrupt others. Chewing on gum provides proprioceptive input to the jaw and mouth muscles. This calms the brain and body.

If your teen struggles with emotional regulation or needs to focus on learning, chewing gum is a great idea. Additionally, if you don’t homeschool your child, and your child is an oral sensory seeker, insist on adding chewing gum to their 504 or IEP accommodations.

Push for it. It’ll be worth it.

9. Deep Pressure Hugs

Physical touch between loved ones is essential for mental health. 4 This is especially important for autistic family members who seek proprioceptive input. If your teen tends to seek proprioceptive input, try out bear hugs or other forms of deep pressure

sensory activities for an autistic teenager chart demonstrating the 8 sensory systems

10. Couch Sandwiches

A fun way to provide your autistic teenager with deep pressure and proprioceptive input is to make couch sandwiches.

If they’re “too cool for school”, come up with a different term for this brilliant sensory activity.

  1. Take the cushions off your couch
  2. Put one cushion on the floor
  3. Have your teen lie on the floor cushion
  4. Put the other cushion on top of them
  5. Sit on it

I know it sounds outlandish, but it works because the activity provides the deep pressure your teenager needs to relax. In fact, have them return the favor. There’s a reason we moms love massages. It’s called proprioceptive input.

11. Swinging

Swings aren’t just for kids. Autistic teens and adults of all neurotypes can benefit from swinging. When swinging, the brain receives vestibular input that releases histamine. An increase in histamine can increase attention, mood, and alertness levels.

Don’t stop at the swings. Outdoor activities have excellent sensory benefits. Further, if an outdoor swingset doesn’t work for your teen, hang a hammock chair in their room.

12. Create a Sensory Bottle

Creating a calming sensory bottle or sensory jar is a creative way for your autistic child or teen to calm down. A sensory jar provides calming visual sensory input.

To make sensory bottles gather a few supplies such as:

  • acrylic paint
  • plastic bottles or jars
  • glitter or water beads
  • water
  • oil

Simply pour water, oil, and any decorative items into a clear jar or bottle. Viola! Calming visual input.

sensory activities for teenager close-up of hands playing the keys of a piano

13. Drawing

Many autistic individuals are gifted in creativity. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of creative activities out there.

  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Digital Art
  • Crafting

Check out these creative sensory tools for your autistic teenager.

14. Use Fidget Items

Fidgets are small objects that, when manipulated, help release extra energy and provide supportive sensory input.

Work with your teen to create sensory bins full of fidgets specific to your child’s needs. Poppers, squishy toys, and other stim toys can give your autistic teen lots of tactile sensory input.

15. Foldology Oragami Puzzle Game

The Foldology Oragami Puzzle Game is a brilliant fidget tool that’s portable and engaging. It’s a great fidget sensory toy to help keep the mind and hands busy:

  • in church
  • while listening to audiobooks
  • to simply relax

Sensory Tip: Think about the times that your teen feels out of control or stressed. How can you incorporate a fidget puzzle like this to help them relax?

Sensory Activities for Teenager pink and light green background with multiple pieces of rectangular bubble gum

16. Listen to White Noise

As mentioned earlier, different sounds provide different sensory inputs to the brain. White noise is a form of controlled auditory input that is calming to the brain.

Additionally, brown noise is another alternative sound that’s believed to be calming to the brain and body. This white noise machine has 10 different sound settings that can support your teen’s auditory sensory needs.

You can also have them download a white noise app straight to their phone or device.

17. Play Board Games

Gifts for autistic teenagers- Qbitz extreme teal game cover with hot pink and black cubes

Playing board games is a brilliant way to support your teen’s sensory needs while improving cognitive skills.

For example, playing board games may improve:

  • problem-solving skills
  • language skills
  • reasoning skills
  • academic skills

Further, different games support different benefits. For older kids, a simple game of chess is a great game to strengthen various executive function skills. Shared group activities are excellent tools to support social interaction.

18. Video Games

One of the most popular activities these days is gaming. While many minimize the value of video games, they can be incredible sensory tools.

Many autistic kids and adults benefit from online or computer gaming which allows them to socialize over a shared interest. Additionally, some studies have shown improved perception and cognition in gamers vs. non-gamers. 5

Playing video games can be a great sensory and fine motor activity for your autistic teenager.

19. Engage in Special Interests

Many neurodivergent children have special interests that are enjoyable and fun. These areas of interest are often part of their natural daily routine for a reason.

Specifically, autistic individuals are wired to see the world in entirely unique ways.

Think of Einstein and some of the greatest inventors in history. Without that ability to hyperfocus on an area of intense special interest, we wouldn’t have:

  • the lightbulb
  • airplanes
  • computers

Many special interests provide sensory input that regulates the mind and body. Some autistic special interests may be:

  • Animation
  • Cooking
  • Minecraft
  • Trains
  • Astronomy
  • Acting
  • Mummies
  • Ancient Rome

It really doesn’t matter what your teen enjoys. Whatever your Autistic teen loves is an area of special interest that likely provides sensory input.

20. Play with Kinetic Sand

The tactile input of kinetic sand is incredible. Take a bag of your teen’s favorite colored Kinetic Sand and dump it in a plastic tub.

Have it available in your teen’s room for any time they need relaxing tactile input. There’s a reason why many play therapists have kinetic sand on hand. It’s amazing!

21. Ride Bikes

Riding bikes can be one of the best sensory activities for an Autistic teenager. Bike riding provides the brain and body with vestibular input which increases attention and improves mood. Further, being outdoors may be a great way to improve mood.

Some Autistic kids struggle with dyspraxia which impacts motor coordination. If your teen isn’t comfortable riding a bike, there are alternatives.

22. Ride Scooters

Riding a scooter provides the brain with vestibular sensory input in the same way that biking does. However, some Autistic kids are better able to coordinate their gross motor movements to navigate a scooter.

23. Lotion

A simple sensory activity for teens and adults is to rub lotion on their legs or hands. The deep pressure of a mini-massage is a simple way to calm the brain by providing proprioceptive input.

Additionally, some autistic people have greater levels of eczema. 6 Adding lotion to their routine can be very helpful to support the health of their skin.

24. Weighted Blanket

Weighted blankets are one of my favorite sensory tools. The weight of the weighted blanket provides proprioceptive input to the brain and body. This is an excellent reason to support your child’s sleep with one.

Additionally, if your teen is emotionally dysregulated, adding the pressure of a weighted blanket is a great idea.

25. Sequin Pillows

Do you remember when everyone was selling those sequined pillows? Once you started playing with one, you couldn’t stop, right? There’s a reason textured objects are so addictive.

Grab a few sequined pillows for your teen’s bedroom to add extra calming stimulus to their safe zone.

What is Autism?

Now that we’ve gone through 25 sensory activities for your autistic teenager, let’s briefly review autism. According to Reframing Autism, an Autistic-led advocacy group, autism is a brain difference that is:

Fundamental to who we are.

Autistic people are different from non-autistics in several areas including:

  • Communication
  • Emotional experiences and expression of those emotional experiences
  • Interaction and social behavior
  • Perception of patterns
  • Sensory experiences

More specifically, Autism communication skills are different from those of non-autistic communication skills.

Autism & Non-Speaking Moments

Some autistic people are non-speaking. This means they may use Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

Other autistic children and adults speak but may have periods when oral language isn’t possible. Because of this, they may have periods of mutism. Some refer to this as situational or selective mutism.

There’s often a good reason behind your autistic child’s silence in response to questions. Their nervous system may be so overwhelmed or dysregulated that the brain cannot access language. Patience is key to supporting non-speaking children and adults.

Eight Sensory Systems in Your Autistic Teenager

Supporting your autistic teen with the right sensory activities begins by understanding the eight sensory systems. Most of us learned about the 5 sensory systems in grade school.

  1. taste
  2. touch
  3. sight
  4. smell
  5. hearing

However, we now know of 3 other sensory systems that impact us all on a daily basis.

  1. Proprioceptive System
  2. Vestibular System
  3. Interoceptive System

Today, we’ll briefly review the first two.

Proprioceptive Sensory System

The proprioceptive system is related to joints, body position, and deep pressure.

When the body experiences proprioceptive sensory input, the brain releases feel-good chemicals such as serotonin which calm the brain and body.

Quick Video Tip: Proprioception & Hitting?

In this video, learn about proprioception and how it can sometimes look like “bad behavior”.

Vestibular Sensory System

The vestibular sensory system is related to head position and tells us where we are in space. For example, when a child is swinging high on a swing, it’s their vestibular system that tells them they’re off the ground.

Try this.

  • Sit on a chair and close your eyes.
  • Then tilt your head backward.
  • That sensation you experience is vestibular sensory stimulation.

The vestibular system sends sensory information to the brain telling it that your head is backward. If you close your eyes while riding a rollercoaster, for example, your vestibular system tells you that you’re riding that rollercoaster.

Benefits of Sensory Activities

In young children, sensory issues come out in different ways that often look like poor behavior. However, when we look closely, it’s easy to understand what’s going on.

  • A child hitting can actually be the brain seeking proprioceptive input
  • When your child chews the strings on his hoodie, he’s demonstrating a need for oral sensory input
  • A child who’s constantly flipping is likely seeking vestibular input

Have you seen these behaviors in your child or another child?

Sensory Needs & Behavior

Providing your autistic teenager sensory activities designed to meet their unique sensory needs may help them function in a healthy way. The benefits of engaging in the right sensory activities include:

In fact, some of the most ordinary childhood activities we’ve all enjoyed are sensory-based activities. Some you may remember fondly include climbing, swinging, and riding bikes.

Sensory Processing is an Everyone Issue

Further, autistic people, like other neurodivergent people, often have unique sensory processing experiences. This means that they may be more sensitive or less sensitive to various sensory inputs.

Occupational therapists are typically the professionals who diagnose sensory processing disorders. However, it’s important to know that you don’t need a sensory processing disorder diagnosis to have sensory issues.

Further, it’s not just the Autistic teenagers or child who has a unique sensory experience. Rather, all of us have unique sensory needs. This is why it’s helpful to understand the relationship between our sensory systems, the brain, and behavior. When we do, we’re better able to support one another.

Recap: Sensory Activities for Autistic Teenagers

One of the best gifts you can give your autistic teenager is tools and strategies that will allow them to thrive as themselves. Equipping your autistic teenager with sensory activities and an understanding of their sensory needs does just this.

So, Friend? What sensory activities does your autistic teenager enjoy?

caucasian woman wearing black v-neck long-sleeved shirt sitting crossed legged with a black and white havanese dog in her lap

About the Author:

Lindsay is a trauma-informed educator with a Master’s Degree in Teaching. Her mission is to support moms to equip neurodivergent kids (ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Anxiety) to thrive as exactly who they’ve been created to be. Wait until you hear the story that led to it all…

caucasian woman wearing black v-neck long-sleeved shirt sitting crossed legged with a black and white havanese dog in her lap

About the Author:

Lindsay is a trauma-informed educator with a Master’s Degree in Teaching. Her mission is to support moms to equip neurodivergent kids (ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Anxiety) to thrive as exactly who they’ve been created to be. Wait until you hear the story that led to it all…


Komori T. The relaxation effect of prolonged expiratory breathing. Ment Illn. 2018 May 16;10(1):7669.

Eve Marder, Dirk Bucher, Central pattern generators and the control of rhythmic movements, Current Biology, Volume 11, Issue 23, 2001, Pages R986-R996, ISSN 0960-9822, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0960-9822(01)00581-4

Frontiers in Neuroscience, 20 January 2014, Sec. Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience

Heatley Tejada A, Dunbar RIM, Montero M. Physical Contact and Loneliness: Being Touched Reduces Perceptions of Loneliness. Adapt Human Behav Physiol. 2020; 6(3):292-306. Epub 2020 May 26.

Front. Psychol., 13 September 2011, Sec. Cognition, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00226

Billeci L, Tonacci A, Tartarisco G, Ruta L, Pioggia G, Gangemi S. Association Between Atopic Dermatitis and Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Review. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2015 Oct;16(5):371-88.

Leave a Comment