"I hear a lot about 'sensory stimulation' for children with autism and other spectrum disorders. Why? Is this something all parents should be doing for their autistic child? And how do you go about it?"
Children on the autism spectrum really benefit from sensory stimulation. Stimulating the senses has a positive effect on learning as well as emotional and social growth in the child. Sensory stimulation in learning means having activities that challenge the five senses. These senses (touch, taste, smell, listening, and visual) should be included in the child's learning.
Schools incorporate sensory stimulation in their curriculum via the basics of math and reading, special classes such as art, and extracurricular activities such as sports. The same is true for students on the autism spectrum.
Providing a sensory room (or area) can be very effective. Be as creative as you can when providing sensory stimulation for your child. There are many things you can purchase, but you can also make many things yourself. What you use should in part be determined by what your child enjoys or is seeking.
- A mini trampoline can provide physical exercise and sensory input.
- Create a touch board, and attach a variety of materials from sand paper to carpet.
- Fill a tub with sand, navy beans, or other similar item that they can play in.
- Find different scents of potpourri that they can use for deep breathing.
- Hang a swing from your ceiling (if it is reinforced).
- Have music playing that your child enjoys - this can be calming music or vigorous music.
- String blinking Christmas lights around the room.
- Use a hammock for the child to lay in and receive deep pressure.
- Use a variety of lotions for both scent and touch.
- Use a vibrating massage-machine for deep touch.
- Use play dough for touch activities.
The purpose of this room is to waken your child's senses. It also helps him or her to calm down (when needed). It's most effective to create a schedule of when the child will be provided free time in this room. It's probably NOT best to give him or her free access to the sensory room. It's best to use the room at transition times to provide a smooth transition, or as a reward for meeting the expectations of parents (and teachers).