Sensory activities are extremely important for a child with autism. For most kids affected by this neurological disorder, their system of sensory processing is faulty. Things that they hear, see, taste, smell or touch can be received by the brain as being scary or painful. Others may not respond when necessary to sensory stimuli, making their world dangerous. They may not receive the message from the brain that a hot oven door is painful and therefore, won’t think twice about touching it. Sensory activities help the brain learn to receive correct messages while allowing the child to have fun.
Many children respond to music, either negatively or positively. This makes music a great activity for sensory input. Songs can be used to help a child learn things such as the alphabet or how to tie his shoes. Many children’s songs, such as London Bridges, encourage social interaction. The more repetitive a song is, the quicker a child will learn the message. Even a low functioning child can be given a Maraca to shake along with a song. Children who respond negatively to the loud noise brought on by children singing and playing instruments can gradually become desensitized to it, eventually learning to enjoy it instead of fearing it.
Wet or dry Sand, finger paints, modeling clay, shaving cream and mud provide inexpensive sensory play for a child with autism. They typically won’t want to touch it, but gently getting them to play with these things can help awaken a child who is under-responsive to sensory stimulation and calm a child who over-responds. These things also help build muscles in the hands, wrists and arms which helps with fine motor skills. Seeing a trusted adult or sibling playing and having fun is a great way to entice the apprehensive child to try it herself.
It is common for children with autism to have problems with fine motor skills. Incorporating craft projects that involve coloring, using scissors, folding paper and picking up small items such as buttons all help develop motor skills necessary for writing and other important tasks that are used on a daily basis. They feel a sense of accomplish when a project is completed.
Gross motor skills
Fine motor skills isn’t the only area child may face deficits. Gross motor skills can be affected, as well. Tasks such as riding a bike, running or jumping can be a challenge. Playing simple games that encourage these activities such as short races where each participant gets a prize, or Hop Scotch, can develop gross motor skills. Turning a mattress on end against a wall and have the child try to climb it with support helps build leg muscles and coordination. Place a 2X4 or a 4X4 on the ground and hold the child’s hand while he walks across it works on balance and the vestibular system.
With a little creativity, any activity can be used as sensory activities for a child with autism. Using games that other kids play helps her to feel like her peers while teaching her important skills she can use in all areas of her life. Most importantly, helping her see that playing and exploring can be fun will encourage her to interact with others and become less fearful of every day activities.