Compiled by Lindsey Rowe Parker, edited by the Novel Mind staff
In honor of Sensory Awareness Month, several authors have come together this October to create a campaign called #SensoryStories. They hope to shine a light on books that will help children and their families understand themselves better -- to increase mainstream understanding of the importance of sensory integration and processing.
1 in 6 children struggles daily with sensory processing challenges. You probably know one or two. Maybe it is even you!
Sensory processing refers to the mechanisms of how we feel. It is what we use to make sense of the world around us, and it underpins every aspect of human functioning.
“We all feel sensory input differently — but it's hard to imagine what it’s like living in the body of people with experiences different than our own. Some people love riding on roller coasters and others get physically ill from them. Some people love spicy food and others prefer things blander. Some people enjoy a nice back scratch and others are tickled by the same kind of touch. In all of these examples, there’s no “right” or “wrong” side, just differences in the way each person processes the sensory input which leads to different preferences,” explains Caitlyn Berry, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist, Pediatric Therapy.
"Looking across the kid lit industry currently and seeing some wonderful new and recent titles not only addressing these differences, but coming from a place of understanding and compassion, I thought this was a great opportunity to come together to amplify these stories,” says Lindsey Rowe Parker, neurodivergent author of Wiggles Stomps and Squeezes Calm My Jitters Down. She has compiled the following list of sensory stories for young readers, their classmates, and their families.
12 books about sensory differences to add to your inclusive library or classroom:
The vibration when she runs, the tap-tap-tap of her spoon on the table at mealtime, the trickle of cool water running over her hands—these are the things that calm jitters down.
"Each of us participating in this #SensoryStories campaign all have a similar goal — to help children and their families understand themselves better and get support for their sensory needs! Looking across the kid lit industry currently and seeing some wonderful new and recent titles not only addressing these differences, but coming from a place of understanding and compassion, I thought this was a great opportunity to come together to amplify these stories,” says author Lindsey Rowe Parker.
“Kids books that explore sensory differences are a great way for kids to find the language they need to express how they're feeling better and understand themselves more easily," says autistic illustrator Rebecca Burgess.
Holly loves doing experiments and learning new things in science class! But when she finds out the next experiment is making slime, she’s worried. Slime is made with glue, and glue is sticky. Holly has sensory issues because of her autism and doesn’t like anything sticky! With help from family and her teacher, Holly receives the accommodations and encouragement she needs to give slime a try.
“I write so that neurodivergent kids with sensory differences like my own can see themselves in books. I write the books I didn’t know I needed, but I wish I had, growing up as an undiagnosed autistic girl with sensory differences.” -- Jen Malia, author.
Rosalee is a LITTLE sensory-seeker with a BIG spirit, a BIG imagination, and an even BIGGER heart… and this is her story.
“Not only are there minimal resources in general, but there are also minimal resources that are specifically written for children. Without children's books and other kid-friendly content, how can our children learn about sensory processing and understand it?” says Nicole Filippone, autistic author of both Rosalee The Seeker and Alexander the Avoider. “Books like ours help children understand that their needs are valid and nothing to feel badly about. They help other children better understand the needs of their peers/siblings (even parents) who have SPD, enabling them to be empathetic and also to actually offer help if they can give it. In short, these books have the ability to transform the way families and classrooms operate with regard to sensory children.”
Written to explain SPD from a child's perspective... to validate and empower them... to give them words to explain their needs... and to help adults better understand and support the children in their lives who struggle because of their SPD.
A whimsical children's book encouraging readers of all abilities to self-regulate through sensory and breathing tasks.
“Picture books are such a powerful tool! They allow readers to learn about things that are intangible or inaccessible in a way that feels approachable, predictable, and even fun! As a speech-language pathologist, I’m always looking for books that allow my students to see themselves and their classmates represented on the page, experience new things about the world around them, and make connections” says author Kelsey Brown.
Sensory Seeking Sebastian empowers sensory seekers with strategies that help with self-regulation. This book is perfect for families who want to equip their sensory seeker to navigate the challenges of ADHD, Autism, and SPD. “It's important to have books that empower kids with sensory differences to help them feel seen, known, and loved. We want to empower our kids to be their own best advocate." -- author Christia DeShields
When Things Get Too Loud is a story about sensory overload, how it feels, what can trigger it, and what may help. The Feel-O-Meter provides the child and parents with a visual guide through emotions and the book comes with ideas to cope with overwhelming situations.
"It’s important to show children that some people experience the world differently. To teach openness and acceptance. I hope some children recognize themselves on the page and understand it’s ok to be a little different from others, and for parents and caregivers to realize there is nothing wrong with their child but that there is beauty in neurodiversity. They deserve to be understood and celebrated." -- Anne Alcott, author and illustrator.
Juan claps his hands to get his Jitters out. They make his tummy swoosh and swirl. His Jitters happen when there are too many people, too much noise, or too many changes to his day. Juan doesn’t like surprises. By Aneta Cruz, illustrated by Miki Yamamoto.
"As a special education teacher of preschool students who are diagnosed with Autism and Speech/Language Impairment, I write stories that highlight ways in which we can modify the environment and provide the right tools so that children can thrive in their own way." - Aneta Cruz, educator and author.
Charlie feels like he has a whirling, twirling motor running inside him all the time, and sometimes he just can’t settle. When his mom wants to talk to him, he figures he’s in trouble…but she has a surprise for him instead! Includes a Note to Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers with more information on ADHD, behavior management, and helping children focus on the positives.
"When a child's brain processes certain sounds, smells, or physical sensations differently, they're often met with reprimand, as if it’s a behavioral choice on the child's part. Sensory differences are often misunderstood and frequently ignored. Representative books not only normalize different experiences, they also grow the garden of understanding, so children can process the world they live in the way they need to,” says Merriam Saunders, LMFT psychotherapist and author.
Going to the beach is exciting. But it can also be busy. And loud. Sand can feel hot or itchy or sticky…and it gets everywhere! In This Beach Is Loud!, a sensitive boy gets overwhelmed by all the sights, sounds, and sensations at the beach. Luckily, this kiddo’s dad has a trick up his sleeve to help his son face these unexpected obstacles.
"I have spent my entire life experiencing the world in my own way. Much of that time, those close to me also needed help navigating and understanding how their minds work. Through these personal experiences, I saw a need for these books. Books that on the surface are simple, lighthearted, and sweet. Dig deeper, and they have nuanced stories to tell. Stories that illuminate and highlight sensitive feelings and experiences that many children have, not just those that are on the spectrum." -- Samantha Cotterill, author and illustrator of the Little Senses Series.
Five real-life stories from the STAR Institute highlighting the incredible importance of sensory integration and processing for health and well-being."Sensory stories are a great step toward flipping the script from a deficit lens to a sensory health lens," says author Virginia Spielmann, PhD, Executive Director at the STAR Institute. "Being educated about the sensory dimension of our life helps us connected with our bodies. This helps us build self-esteem and self-awareness, and better relationships with others. It is great to see this work happening."
“I think sensory stories are so important because up until far too recently most people have had no understanding or awareness whatsoever about what sensory processing is and how drastically it can affect our lives - children and adults alike. I've seen nothing but positive changes in my children and my own life ever since we've begun the journey of trying to understand sensory processing.” -- Jacinta Read, illustrator of STAR Institute’s Sensory Stories.
“Inclusive children’s books are imperative for all children,” says Dana Young-Askew, author of Come Meet Drayden. “Showing disabled and diverse characters ensures that kids feel seen. Kids want to see themselves as a part of the narrative. They want to know they belong. Representation builds confidence and affirms who you are. Representation matters.”
Drayden's siblings share what a typical day with Drayden is like.
How can you participate in Sensory Awareness Month? Easy!
Add inclusive books like the ones on this list to your library, share with your school, or gift them to a local organization.
Share #sensorystories with your social media followers, or add your voice to the conversation of why sharing these stories is important. Share books that you love that we missed!
Follow neurodivergent, autistic, and other advocates that have the lived experience of sensory differences, and learn from them.
Learn how to provide accommodations and support for children and adults with sensory differences through organizations like the STAR Institute: Sensory Processing.
Hug an OT! Thank your educators, therapists, and advocates that are actively seeking to make spaces and experiences more friendly to those with sensory differences.
Are 12 books just not enough for you???
Check out 100ish Books on Autism and Neurodiversity>> compiled by Meghan Ashburn, or the A Novel Mind Database!
Lindsey Rowe Parker is a mom at the tail-end of toddler-hood, embracing the next phase of parenting while learning to navigate and advocate for her autistic daughter. With a recent adult diagnosis of ADHD, and a new deeper understanding of her own sensory experiences, she has begun to delve into the neurodiversity community learning all she can from neurodivergent voices. This is her first picture book, and she hopes it connects with everyone who has felt the need for a wiggle, stomp or squeeze!