Sensory Activities for Adults with Intellectual Disabilities

Teaching life skills for adults with disabilities is not just about everyday practicalities. It is also about helping them actively enjoy their engagement with the world. Sensory activities are a fun, stimulating way to practice a range of skills, from coordination to communication. Some sensory activities engage just one sense, others may involve all five, but each provides an opportunity to improve quality of life.

What do we mean by sensory activities for adults with intellectual disabilities?

Sensory activity is a broad category that spans any action or behaviour that actively aims to involve one or more of your five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. These types of activities can often have a calming effect, reducing the risk of emotional stress. The physical, mental and emotional benefits can be wide-ranging, allowing individuals to feel that they have achieved something meaningful and generally leading to happier, healthier lives.

Physical Exercise

Everyone needs to participate in at least some exercise if they want to maintain the best physical and mental health. Exercise can improve strength, endurance and flexibility, but also mood. It may also provide an opportunity for group work and social interaction. Exercise does not have to be overly strenuous; even some gentle activity can be beneficial, so walking, swimming, yoga, and aerobics all have a place, and all engage the senses in a very physical, tangible way.


Gardening does not just provide another way to exercise. There is a lot of scientific evidence that being out in nature can be hugely beneficial to mental well-being. Being in the garden ensures exposure to lots of different colours, scents and textures, as well as noises such as bird song. There is also a particular kind of satisfaction that comes from successfully growing your own plants, especially if you produce vegetables that you can eat.


Cooking and eating together is one of the great ways to build relationships, something that adults with intellectual disabilities may struggle to achieve. There is nothing quite like the smell of the kitchen when baking is underway, or using your hands to work the food you are going to eat later. Adults who have issues with food may be more willing to eat meals they have prepared themselves.


For adults whose intellectual disabilities include issues with language and communication, music can be a valuable form of expression. Not only does this provide audio stimulation but also has visual and tactile elements. Working with instruments can improve coordination and fine motor skills, whilst frequent repetition can help with memory. Counting rhythms may even improve numeracy.

Art and Crafts

This is another form of emotional expression that also improves other skills, such as coordination. Arts and crafts may include drawing, painting, creating paper māché, working with clay or even textile crafts such as knitting and sewing. Lots of different colours and textures can be involved.

These are just some of the sensory activities used in teaching life skills for adults with disabilities. They provide alternative ways for the student to express themselves, allow them to feel productive and offer a range of different physical, mental and emotional benefits that can make their lives easier, helping them achieve a greater degree of independence.

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