There’s a lot of talk on the internet about sensory issues and sensory activities. With all this noise, you may be wondering if you really need to seek out sensory activities for your child with autism.
Many children with autism benefit significantly from sensory stimulation. It has a positive effect on learning and helps them adapt to sensory input. Sensory activities should either increase or decrease the intensity of stimulation, depending on what works best for your child. Let’s look at some activities that stimulate each of their senses!
Sensory issues in children with autism
Sensory sensitivity is a common characteristic of autism. A child with autism may be either over sensitive (hyper-sensitive) or under sensitive (hypo-sensitive) to the sensory input happening around them. This can involve all the child’s senses including sight, smell, sound, taste and touch.
When a child is hyper-sensitive to sensory input, the world around them can become overwhelming and even painful at times. Lights may appear too bright. Sounds that might go unnoticed to some can blend with other noises, making it hard for the child to distinguish one sound from another. Sudden loud noises such as an alarm or a siren can be painful. Tastes and textures of certain foods may be intolerable. And a child with autism experiences all of this at once.
While hyper-sensitivity is common, so is hypo-sensitivity. Children with autism often have low sensitivity to pain, which can be dangerous if they aren’t aware when they have been injured. Hypo-sensitivity can also lead to balance problems and cause the child to appear clumsy.
What is sensory stimulation for autism?
Children with autism often engage in self-stimulating behavior to help regulate their sensory input. Sensory stimulating activities for children with autism work in a similar way and can have a calming effect on your child. The intensity of these activities should be adjusted to meet the needs of the individual child. You can increase or decrease the amount of stimulation for these activities depending on whether your child is hyper-sensitive or hypo-sensitive.
These activities are often highly enjoyable for the child and can often be used as a reinforcer. As such they can serve to motivate your child to engage with others or encourage your child to do things they might not otherwise choose to do.
A child who seeks visual stimulation will enjoy looking at lights and colors. They might enjoy watching spinning or moving objects. While all children are different, these children generally like watching things like bubbles or pinwheels. Lava lamps or glasses with tinted lenses would be a fun way to stimulate their sense of sight.
Smells are everywhere and what one person considers a pleasant smell can have the opposite effect on another. The same is true with children with autism. When seeking to stimulate their sense of smell, be sure to consider what your child perceives as an agreeable scent. Poke holes into the lid of an empty jar and place items with the desired scent inside (be sure to glue the lid closed so your child can’t open it!). Use potpourri or cotton balls soaked in different smells.
Children with autism often have difficulty distinguishing sounds, filtering out unimportant sounds and focusing on one important sound (such as someone speaking to them). To help with these types of activities try equipping your child with headphones so they can hear just one thing and take a break from all the other distracting noises.
Like smell, the sense of taste is highly personal. What you might perceive as bland, may have an offensive taste to your child. Alternatively, foods you perceive as distasteful may appeal to your child. In addition, your child might enjoy the sensation of chewing or having things in their mouth. For these children, you can purchase special chewable jewelry or use food in various colors, shapes or flavors (sweet, spicy, sour, etc.) to engage your child in oral stimulation.
The sense of touch may be the easiest to include in sensory-focused activities. It’s almost impossible to do an activity without engaging this sense! However, focus on expanding play to include various textures. Use a plastic bin to hold a variety of items for your child. Include things that are hard and others that are soft; some that are rough and others that are smooth.
What are the benefits of sensory activities for children with autism?
Sensory activities benefit children with autism in many ways. They can:
- Have a calming effect
- Help desensitize your child to sensory input
- Improve social skills such as communication and cooperation
- Teach your child pretend or symbolic play
- Improve coordination (both fine motor skills and gross motor skills)
- Teach self-control
Sensory activities for toddlers
When selecting sensory activities for very young children, be sure to stay with items that are safe if they end up in the child’s mouth. If you find a fun activity that involves shaving cream, consider using whipped cream instead.
Sensory activities for elementary-grade children
Children of elementary age might still be tempted to place items in their mouth (this is another sensory experience for them after all!). IF your child has outgrown some of the safer food-play activities, try creating a sensory bottle. Use your imagination (or Google) to come up with limitless possibilities.
Sensory activities for teenagers
Older children and teenagers have more of a sense of what they like (and don’t like) and are less likely to engage in an activity just because you suggested it. For this reason, it’s important to find activities that appeal to their individual interests. This age group might prefer activities such as maze books or hidden picture puzzles. Have your child draw and create pictures using an app on a tablet or a computer. Throw a dance party in your living room, or provide an exercise ball for your child to sit on while doing homework. The key for these activities is to really focus on what your child enjoys.
Sensory activities are important for your child with autism – and it can be a fun way to share experiences with your child. For more benefits, include siblings or classmates and build social skills while engaging in sensory play. Remember, your child needs and deserves all the support from people who surround them on a daily basis. Research fun and safe activities for everyone to experience. Let your imagination soar!
Coach Benjamin Mizrahi. Educator. Learning Specialist. Family Coach. Father. Husband.
More articles on www.MrMizrahi.blog