You may be familiar with the term sensory diet - using sensory items for autism to feed the sensory system with sights, sounds, smells, taste, touch, and motion. A sensory diet for people with autism is designed to suit the specific sensory needs of their nervous system.
As the number of individuals diagnosed with autism each year increases, our ability to provide proper multisensory learning, working, home, and living environments is crucial. Too much or too little of any element of the sensory diet can be debilitating, so a good understanding of sensory tools for autism is a benefit.
One key difference between autism and other sensory challenges, such as sensory processing disorder, is the struggle with communication and socialization. So, as we address the unique sensory system of an individual with autism, we need to provide a safe space to interact, first with their surroundings, and then with those in their environment. In addition, we need to consider behavior modification when, and if, necessary to provide security and social education. Keeping these elements in mind can ensure a healthy sensory diet for autism. So, which sensory items for autism can be used to stimulate the senses?
Let’s take a look at using an interactive bubble tube to encourage mindfulness, focus and attention. Providing a switch and encouraging its use can teach a cause and effect response. Of course, the switch can be used to stim (a non-preferred behavior such as repetitive changing of lights), or it can be set to provide a visual reward upon a certain action. For example, if a child is verbal, we can request the child to name a color out loud, and then the switch is provided to change to that color. For a non-verbal child, the bubble tube itself may encourage eye contact, which can be a great precursor to eye contact with other people.
Using a sound panel can encourage proper interaction between motion and sound. We can encourage an individual to mimic a sound with the reward of providing the sound with touch or a switch. Sound, such as synthesized or background music, can also provide a filter for calming, organizing, or modulating sensory information. In addition, an integrative listening system can be used to stimulate brain waves that are more conducive to interaction and attention.
A plethora of textures within sensory tools for autism can be provided to awaken the hands and allow proper use of the fingers. Though hand flapping is quite common in individuals with autism, redirecting the behavior with the use of good touch material and touch panels can minimize hand flapping and redirect the hands to a more useful purpose that results in a delightful effect.
We can provide alerting or calming aromatherapy to encourage interaction. For example, peppermint and lemon can be used to alert; whereas lavender and sage can be used to calm. We can provide a variety of scents as part of a good sensory diet.
Not just taste but also using the mouth for blowing, sipping, chewing, and vocalizing. Learning to modulate the voice with good vocal tools and use the mouth purposefully and productively can have lifelong benefits. Whether you are working with initial sounds or the content of the dialogue, doing so in the proper sensory environment can accent one’s sensory diet for the better.
And of course, our vestibular system and balance system must be in check and properly stimulated daily for our minds to function at their best. Providing an environment where it is safe to challenge these systems will, in the long run, provide feelings of security when out and about in bigger more populated environments. Understanding how one’s body works and moves can only benefit those with autism.
The key is to observe and watch. How does the individual react to certain lights, sounds, touch, tastes, smells, or motion? Can you provide a sensory filter that will allow them to interact with ease? Reaching out to an expert to assist you with providing the right sensory diet, sensory space, and autism sensory products can mean a world or at least a room of difference.
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