Children with autism may deal with over- or under-sensitive senses. Oversensitivity can lead to avoidance, pickiness or meltdowns. Undersensitive children may be uncomfortable without powerful inputs such as loud sounds or strong pressure. A child who is also dealing with communication delays may struggle to convey these preferences to caregivers. Daily activities help children with autism learn to communicate their sensory needs.
If you know your child is about to enter an overstimulating situation, then tell her what is about to happen. A child who is prepared for a situation is less likely to react negatively than one who is surprised by it. It also gives her the opportunity to communicate with you in a calm, less stimulating environment. She might ask questions about the sequence of events or might even refuse to go. While refusal might not be ideal, depending on the activity, it's likely to be less dramatic than a full meltdown.
Give your child items that can reduce sensory sensitivity responses. This could mean noise-cancelling headphones for a child sensitive to noise or a stress ball for a child who needs strong tactile input. This not only gives him the opportunity to react constructively to his sensitivities but using the object communicates to you that he is having a sensory need. You have time to evaluate the scene and decide if it's time to leave, to move to another less-stimulating area, or leave the situation alone.
Certified speech-language pathologist Lauren Lowry of the Hanen Centre, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children with special needs learn to communicate, says that games can not only satisfy your child's sensory needs but can teach her about communication. Ring Around the Rosie or Red Light, Green Light might help a child who needs movement. Finger games provide visual input to children who stare at their hands. As he learns that the game satisfies his sensory cravings he asks for more, and later may independently ask you to play the game with him. These simple acts provide important building blocks to language development.
Choices allow a child who may have difficulty communicating to have control over the sensitivities in her environment. When you offer two options for activities, toys, clothing or food, it lets her avoid the one that triggers oversensitivity or choose the one that provides needed stimulation. Although this can be more work for you -- preparing two dishes just to give your child a choice when eating -- it will pay off by building independence, self-esteem and communication.
- The Hanen Centre: Helping Your Child Cope with his Sensory Needs
- National Association for the Education of Young Children: Meeting the Sensory Needs of Young Children
- The Friendship Circle: 26 Sensory Integration Tools for Meltdown Management
- The Hanen Centre: The Power of Using Everyday Routines to Promote Young Children's Language and Social Skills
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