Children with autism have unique ways of interacting with the world around them. Part of the challenge of autism spectrum disorder or ASD is helping children manage how the world impacts them. Finding and designing activities for children with autism helps them do this. Learning through play is very effective to teach new skills to children with ASD. Perhaps one of the best ways to engage children with ASD is through sensory play.
Many children can be easily overwhelmed by loud or sudden noises or lights. They also may react to concentrated smells (either pleasant or unpleasant). Sometimes children with ASD become overly focused on the texture of an object. Because of all this, it makes sense to attempt to incorporate managing sensory experiences into a child’s play, so they become more accustomed to the sensory world around them. It’s also an excellent way to merge learning into play.
How to Plan Activities for Children with Autism
Before you begin any activity with any child or group of children, it’s necessary to have a clear plan and goal. While it is important to be flexible and willing to improvise, parents and caregivers need to know what they are looking to accomplish. Therefore, when planning activities, keep these things in mind:
- Simplicity: Keep your focus on the activity. This means making the room or space around the activity isn’t a distraction.
- Guidelines: While sensory play is educational at its core, it is still play. A parent or caregiver needs to give a child the space they need to explore what they encounter. Set clear guidelines but don’t hover over the child, force them to interact in a certain preferred manner, or otherwise interfere. Be there to assist if frustrations, boredom, or confusion arises to redirect and keep the child safe.
- Be Mindful: Ahead of time, learn what kind of things irritate a child. Know their allergies, irritants, and intolerances.
- Get the Supplies You Need: Many activities are easy to do with items already in your household. However, always make sure you have the materials you need to do an activity properly and in an accessible fashion.
5 Sensory Activities to Try
Try a range of activities to stimulate all five senses – touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing. The following activities focus on highlighting a particular sense. They are activities that will benefit all children and not just those with ASD:
- Sight–A matching game is an excellent way to sharpen visual learning. Print out some words in large font as well as some pictures that correspond to those words. Try to incorporate things you know the child or children enjoy or recognize. Matching the word to the picture and vice versa helps understand the connection between words and things. You can also do this with numbers.
- Sound–Children with ASD can have sudden and drastic reactions to the noises around them. One way to acclimate children to the sounds of the world and teach them control is to play a kind of mindfulness game. Have the child close their eyes and listen to the sounds around them. Have them identify what they hear. You can use recorded sounds and take the game one step further by putting objects into containers and shaking them. Let the child guess what they are hearing, talk with them about it, and then show them what they heard. This increases attention span and introduces children to meditative practice.
- Smell–Fill some jars or containers with fragrant things like soap, coffee, flowers, or fruit. Be mindful of the child’s allergies and intolerances. Cover the jars or containers so the child can only smell what’s inside and not see it. Have them then try to identify what the smell is. For even more fun, have them describe what they are smelling and explain why they described it so.
- Touch–Similar to the matching game, having children with ASD sort objects by size, shape, texture, and weight is an excellent way for them to learn how to distinguish the different qualities of things.
- Taste–Again, it’s important to know what a child’s allergies or intolerances are before playing any game involving food. But appealing to the sense of taste can be very effective in getting a child to try new things. Let a child sort fruit by size, shape, and color. Then show them what the fruit looks like inside. Allow them to re-sort the fruit if they want, then let them try the fruit. As they discover what each fruit tastes like, allow them to again sort the fruit. This can be done with vegetables or other foods as well.
Play is one of the easiest ways for a child to learn. This is especially true for a child with ASD. Sensory play can improve attention span, self-expression, and reduce anxiety.
Ascend Autism provides a natural and accessible approach to improving the behaviors of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. We apply the consistent, progressive, and motive-based principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), but in a method that engages a child organically. All interventions or therapies utilized by Ascend Autism are tailored specifically to each individual but are also fully comprehensive in order to address and promote the core functional capabilities of:
- Social Skills
- Daily Living Skills
- Adaptive Behaviors (aka Age-Appropriate Behavior)
At Ascend Autism, we make the science of behavior improvement look like a child at play!