Children with autism avoid various activities and situations because they have difficulty filtering sensory inputs. Their ability to interpret and organize the things that they see, hear, feel and taste along with how their bodies move through space is impaired. Intolerable sensations can range from textures to the level of noise tolerance. Activities that help children cope with these issues by lessening or amplifying stimulation is called sensory integration.
Sensory integration is a type of occupational therapy that is specifically designed to stimulate and challenge the child’s senses. The child meets the right challenge through playful activities with the goal of the child adapting his or her response and behavior to the challenge in the correct manner. The session focuses on the child’s preferences and uses an active engagement technique so that the child willingly participates in the fun activities. The therapist will provide the amount of sensory stimulation with which the child can cope. The level of stimulation will vary based on the child’s sensitivity. Reward systems encourage children to engage in activities that they would normally avoid.
Types of Sensory Activities
Different types of activities can be used to access and help children with autism and their sensory issues. It is important to notice visual cues. Some children may need visual stimulation like a brightly colored toy while others may need to sit in a low-stimulation environment. Vestibular activities provide a sense of movement and engage the receptors located in the inner ear. These activities include spinning, swinging and rolling on the floor. Auditory activities like sitting still and listening for sounds naturally occurring around the child or playing calm, soothing music as well as allowing to child to be his or her own musician may help the child process the sounds.
Tactile activities deal with the sense of touch and taste. They enable children to become aware of and more receptive to various temperatures, textures and vibrations. Oral tactile issues can cause children to be picky eaters. Activities include messy play with a variety of substances, such as water, sand, shaving cream and cookie dough. Involve the child in food preparation. Allow the child to taste various ingredients. Children are also more likely to eat the meal if they helped prepare it. Vary the warmth, texture and flavor of the items.
Benefits of Sensory Integration
The goal of sensory integration activities is to help children with autism to reach a sense of balance where they can achieve a state that is more conducive to learning. Their ability to cope with certain sensory inputs will increase their capacity to engage in activities, which will have a positive affect their quality of life.