Sensory Activities for Autistic Children

Published: 25th April 2007
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We learn through our senses. Our basic survival also based on our senses. We would immediately remove our hand when it accidentally touch something hot. Unconsciously, we learn and survive through our senses. But children with autism commonly have problem with their senses. Their senses are not able to work together to process the information their body receives for them to respond appropriately. In fact, many behaviours commonly thought of as 'autistic' such as rocking, spinning, toe-walking and hand-flapping may perhaps due to these sensory issues. Through sensory activities for autistic children, they can learn to get better control of the information they receive, in order to make sense the environment.

Sensory Intervention for autism is based on the understanding that children with autism have some sensory processing abnormalities of any of their body's sensory system: sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, balance and weight. The sensory problem can either be their senses to be too sensitive (hypersensitive) or not sensitive at all (hypo sensitive). Their sensory abnormalities causing some autistic children unable to handle certain noises, certain touches or textures. With sensory integration therapy, the autistic child would be guided through activities that will stimulate and challenge their senses. Through repetition and continuous exposure, the sensory activities would allow the child to feel comfortable with the sensations and learn to cope with their body response to these situations.

Sensory activities for autism can be relatively cheap and simple, but can be moderately expensive also. Usually the activities are done in the sensory integration room where the child interacts one-on-one with the occupational therapist. Some examples of sensory activities are massaging, brushing of skin and deep pressure and joint compression. Other exercises can be gross movement such are running, jumping, climbing, obstacles course or tug-of-war. Most importantly, the activities should be fun and playful. By making the activities pleasant and child-directed, it will motivate the child to participate in the activities.

The effectiveness of sensory integration therapy on autism is still controversial. Although the activities seem to calm the child, but usually it only provide temporary improvement in the problematic behaviour. Research on autism and sensory integration therapy, show that only fifty-percent reported effectiveness of the therapy. Another fifty-percent of the research reported no benefit at all. While sensory integration therapy is not harmful, certain activities of sensory therapy may be uncomfortable for the child. Therapist should monitor the child closely for any negative reaction and respond appropriately.

The most important step in promoting sensory activities for children with autism is to recognize that sensory issues exists and that it plays an important role in the development of the children. By learning more about sensory integration, parents, educators and caregivers can provide an enriched environment that will foster successful learning and healthy growth for children with autism.

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