Monday 29 August 2022

Some simple sensory activities for autistic kids

Child painting

Whether you’re raising a child with autism, a family member or friend’s child has autism or you’re starting to provide childcare for someone with autism, you may be wondering what activities you can engage with that help them to enjoy themselves without lending them towards sensory overload. Here’s some information on the subject that can help get this journey started out in the right direction.

Autism and Sensory Issues

People with autism can experience sensitivity issues related to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, balance, awareness of body position and movement or awareness of internal body cues and sensations. Generally this can appear as either being extremely sensitive to things (hypersensitive) or they may be sensory seeking where they try and experience lots of feelings (hyposensitive).   In short, any of the stimuli listed above can cause unpleasant feelings and an experience of being overwhelmed. 

Children may avoid physical touch, cover their ears to avoid loud or unpredictable sounds, refuse to wear certain kinds of clothing or fabrics or try any new foods. An alternative response when actively seeking out sensory feedback is squeezing into tight spaces or preferring to wearing clothes that seem to small because they feel tight, moving and jumping around a lot, looking at things in odd ways or shaking their heads when looking at things to create a more interesting visual experience or tasting everything... food or not.  

All of this is the child trying to regulate their experiences into ones they feel comfortable and safe with.  Sensory activities can help in two different ways.  They can help a sensory seeking child feel safe and they can help a sensitive child to experiment and get used to new senses they wouldn't usually seek out with the support of you to help their system understand the feelings better and can help them cope with some of the sensations.   

Some kids will never be able to cope with labels in clothes or the feeling of wet soap, but others can sometimes learn and it's worth seeing what they are happy to experiment with out, of the place where they happen i.e feel wet soap in a game not when being forced to wash your hands. 

If you’re looking for a way to help your child engage with sensory experiences in a controlled and managed environment, you may want to look into more sensory activities specifically designed with autistic children in mind. Here are a few that might appeal.  Apart from the apps, stand by closely if you think your child might try and eat some of the materials. 

Sensory Apps

If you want to introduce your child to more sensory activities that involve not getting wet or actually touching something gooey etc then you may want to access the app store and try out some sensory activities.  One of our favourites is TeasEar. It's described as a slime antistress app where there are preset slimes and textures on the screen and our iphone vibrates and makes noises as you move the slime around the screen. Ones for phones and tablets can have the advantage or including the vibration feel. 

However, there are similar sensory apps on Android and Mac.  If your new mac is slow, make sure that it is up to date to ensure that the apps and activities run as they should.  This has caused several upsets in our home as David doesn't understand why things don't work properly and then the activity turns sour quickly.  

Finger painting 

Finger painting is a fun activity that combines the feeling of touch with the visual art that your child produces.  Just invest in some paper or card - we often the inside or cut up cereal boxes and some non-toxic, child friendly paints and you’re good to go as a start. An apron or old oversize t-shirt are advisable if your child is concerned about spills, as things can get a little messy.  

If you child is sensitive to the feeling of getting their fingers wet or messy, try starting with either end of a  brush or straw so they can enjoy the activity to start with. 

Pattern making

A big tray with edges and materials is all that is needed to make shapes and patterns.  For those who enjoy wet feelings then slime, like this is great.  Kid friendly shaving foam is good and this fake snow is brilliant.  

Dry materials can be fun too.  Draw shapes in glitter, sand, confetti or dried lentils, or cous cous can be a great start.  This is also great for pre-writing skills. 

Just lay the tray out pour in your preferred materials and swirl shapes and patterns into it using fingers. 

Playdoughs or modelling

Playdough is popular with the majority of children, allowing them freedom and creativity in crafting different shapes and figures as they please.    Scented playdough adds an extra sensory experience to the process - but can be tempting to taste so this one to particularly watch our for if your child likes tasting all sorts.   If this is a challenge then baking with real doughs might be a great option.  It's also a really good motivator for those who aren't sure about it that at they end they get a treat.  I've lots of baking ideas on the blog. 

Kinetic or Magic Sand is also great for modelling and has a slightly different feeling.  It's good for kids who aren't strong enough to mould playdough or struggle to take things apart after as it's meant to fall apart once moved. 

Modelling with paper and glue can also be a good start.  Some kids struggle with the sticky glue and a modelling activity can help with this.  A pop-up card or making a box for something like a post box can be great at cutting and sticking.  If you need to cut things out for sticking first that's fine too. 

A pouring station

Put a bucket in the bath, sink or outdoors and allow your child to use a variety of different containers and vessels to pour water in and out. This incorporates the touch of water with the sound of it falling.

You can also pour sand or dry pasta shapes (which make a fantastic sound by the way) instead.  Or a mix of both - just don't mix pasta and water as it can go a bit horrible!

These are just a few sensory activities that you may want to try out with autistic children. They are easy and enjoyable and most of the materials are easy to find!

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