A healthy diet of sensory activities over a period of time can either help calm a hyperactive autistic child or increase the activity level of a passive child. The following methods are some of the self-regulating strategies that I incorporate into my daily life as an autism therapist. While this would help any child with Autism, and particularly works wonders for children having sensory integration disorder.
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How Does it Feel to Have Sensory Overload?
Ever Wondered How a Sensory Overload Feels Like? Check out the simulation below, this is exactly how autistic children with sensory integration disorder feels like in a crowded place. So next time your child has a meltdown, try to empathize with what he or she may be going through.
Incorporate Sensory Stimulation in Day to Day Activities
On any normal day, you and your child would be engaged in quite a few activities. While most of them may sound like daily chores, you can easily add a bit of fun to what you do. The key is in treating your child as a partner in your activities (or at least giving him that sort of a feeling) and trying to accomplish little missions together. Commonplace events like cooking, having dinner, taking bath and bedtime stories could become a team bonding exercise.
This would achieve 3 outcomes:
- Helps you, as your chore doesn’t seem as mundane anymore
- Your child bonds effectively with you and he enjoys the attention
- Unknowingly, you are injecting the right source of sensory stimulation, exactly what your child needs!
Sensory Dose @ Dinner
Mealtime! Just the very thought of preparing a meal while taking care of a child and getting dinner ready on the table invokes fear in all mothers, let alone moms of children on the autism spectrum. Once your child has reached an age to help, usually, around 2 or 3, utilize their willingness to assist. Have them get the pot out for the potatoes; in fact, have them get you one potato at a time to put in the pot. Of course, you can wash them later but your child feels a sense of accomplishment and pride in the fact that they are able to help you. You may probably hear “I made the potatoes” at dinner time 🙂
Children, that want to be hands-on, will be bent over their back to help you in the kitchen. Give them little tasks to while getting the table ready. Keep your placemats and napkins low enough so that you can have your little one put one out for each person. They may not be perfect on the table, they may line it up like a train but they did it, they helped and will continue to help. Even though may not be exactly how you envisioned, DO NOT say anything but praise to your child. You can move the things around as dinner is served. Autistic kids learn through repetitive observation – before long, they will find the correct place for things. A bit of adulation is what they are seeking and you may even find they are content with doing just that one task and go off and play.
Mealtime itself can be stressful as there are so many senses involved. Your child will probably have trouble sitting still. I like to put a weighted lap blanket across their legs which calm the muscles from wanting to move. I also prefer that a child uses a straw. To avoid spills, you can purchase a cup with lid and straw which can be labeled as their very own.
It helps in two ways:
- Prevents unwanted, accidental spills that could upset your child
- The sucking action on the straw has a calming effect – remember those days when you were nursing?
Don’t rush to introduce too many new foods at one time. Over time, every child will have his or her favorite “go to” food. Mine used to be Mac and cheese! As much as you want your child to use silverware or bone-china almost before they even start walking, be patient. Allowing your child to use their fingers supplies sensory input and since it feels good, they will attempt to eat it despite the other (possibly conflicting) senses of smell and taste. It is a long, and at times, an iterative process, however, finger food is great for sensory input. You can introduce a spoon to the food at some point and see how well your child adapts to that. Do not reprimand your child if they spit the food out or make a “that is yucky” face. Only intervene if they are truly spitting at someone or something. Otherwise, just let them be on the dinner table and let them continue on their little adventure.
Sensory Stimulants @ Bath
The ever dreaded bath time can be fun-filled fun yet calming exercise. Let your child help you pick out the soap or bath bubbles they would like. Let them smell and see the bubbles that will form by first using the bathroom sink. Let the sink fill with bubbles and as you watch your child’s reaction. The first reaction may be that of reluctance or amazement. If they persistently decline, nothing lost, you may try again later.
If they find the bubbles intriguing, ask your child if they would like a whole big tub full of bubbles. If they showed any initial interest in playing with the bubbles, they will most likely want a giant tub of bubbles. If they are hesitant at first, let them take it one small baby step at a time. They may stand the entire time reaching down to play with the bubbles; this is still a big step for some autistic children.
Make sure the water is just lukewarm – that helps best to calm the muscles. I always encourage parents of toddlers to begin washing your child with a hand puppet type washcloth. The child will develop an attachment to this washcloth (have a few backups of different colors and interchange them from time to time) and will want to introduce it to the bubbles. This is your opportunity to use the bubbles to wash your child, rubbing gently and calmly without objection on their part.
They may love their washcloth friend so much that they will actually use it to scoop up the bubbles and wash themselves. Don’t worry if your child isn’t perfectly squeaky clean the way you want. A little dirt left behind while taking such a huge step is a hardly a price to pay. Soon you would see that bath-time something your child looks forward to.
Effective Use of Tub Crayons
Your child may have, in the past, used crayons to nicely decorate (pun intended) your walls. You certainly should reinforce that it was inappropriate to do to the living room walls but nowadays there are special crayons (bathtub crayons are available at most retail stores) that can be used on the walls of the bathtub. Watch their little eyes light up as they think they are pulling one over on you!
You must reinforce that the crayons can only be used in the tub at bath time and mommy and daddy will put them away for the next time to keep them safe. If your child truly loves to color things you have just found a sensory outlet for them and some relaxation at bath time for yourself.
A Bit of Deep Sensory Bedtime Message
Quite a few children on the autism spectrum often fluctuate between sensory sensitive and/or sensory seeking.
Treat your child with a dose of a deep sensory message for autism just before bedtime to help calm his muscles and nerve cells – you would be surprised how easily your child falls asleep.
These are just a few techniques that have worked for me in allowing parents to play a pivotal role in the therapy for their child. There are so many things that you as a parent can do and will find yourself doing, as you and your child acquire an understanding of each other’s limitations and needs.