Sensory Play Ideas and Summer Activities For Kids With Autism

Does your child with autism become overstimulated or bored easily? With the school year coming to an end, are you looking for sensory play ideas for your child? This guide will provide a variety of ideas for fun sensory activities for children with autism.

Sensory Play Ideas and Summer Activities For Kids With Autism https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/best-sensory-play-ideas/

How do sensory issues affect children with autism?

The study found that “Ninety-five percent of the sample of children with ASD demonstrated some degree of sensory processing dysfunction…These findings, considered with similar published studies, begin to confirm the prevalence and types of sensory processing impairments in autism.” (Tomchek & Dunn, 2007)

Many children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have a secondary diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). For this reason, sensory activities for autism should be a part of their routine.

A study published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy by Scott D. Tomcheck and Winnie Dunn examined “differences in sensory processing among age-matched children between ages 3 and 6 years with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and those who are typically developing.”

The study found that “Ninety-five percent of the sample of children with ASD demonstrated some degree of sensory processing dysfunction…These findings, considered with similar published studies, begin to confirm the prevalence and types of sensory processing impairments in autism.” (Tomchek & Dunn, 2007)

Sensory Play Ideas and Summer Activities For Kids With Autism https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/best-sensory-play-ideas/

Children who struggle with SPD or sensory processing issues may become bored easily, struggle to regulate their emotions, become overstimulated, or experience hyper or hypo sensitivity in relation to specific sense(s).

By incorporating sensory play into your child’s summertime routine, he/she is more likely to keep the skills learned during the school year. He/She might also increase the chances of adapting well to school routines in the autumn.

Consistency is key in all children. Speaking to your child’s teacher about sensory activities he/she especially enjoyed at school and carrying them over into the summer could be helpful during this time of transition.

But to keep things fresh, here are five ideas for sensory activities for autism that are great for the summer.

1. Engage a child’s visual perception skills

Parents who grew up in the 1970s (or during their resurgence in the 1990s) will likely remember the mesmerizing effects of lava lamps. Now imagine controlling the multidimensional color and congealing motion of the lamps without worrying about heat or toxic materials.

With four ingredients your child can create his/her own “Lava Lamp in a Bag” that will likely keep him/her entertained and engaged for hours.

  • Fill a large freezer-sized, resealable sandwich bag about a quarter of the way full with baby oil.
  • Next, add a few drops of liquid food coloring in your child’s preferred color.
  • Right before you give the bag to your child, add a couple drops of water.
  • You may want to tape the bag shut to prevent leaks.
  • Your child can lay the bag flat and manipulate the droplets and splotches to form patterns or create movement.
  • Alternatively, he/she can shake the bag and watch the oil, water, and color separate and reform into new and interesting formations.

This “Lava Lamp in a Bag” can be an excellent form of visual therapy for children. Visual therapy is defined as “[The] process of retraining the visual perceptual system, so it functions with optimal efficiency. The process follows a sequence of steps aimed at improving the visual system.” (Brockett)


Special Offer

Don't miss out on our special offer.
Click here to find out more

The act of tracking the “lava” both with the eyes and making hand-eye connections while moving the lava around in the bag can help strengthen the visual perceptual system in a fun and engaging way.

Indoor Playground - Model T1 Home Play Gym

2. Strengthen the sense of smell through sensory play

Sensory play activities that engage the olfactory system can be particularly soothing to anxious children. If your child has a favorite scent, feel free to substitute it for the lavender used in this example. For a more energizing scent, you may consider using coffee beans or grounds or orange zest.

For this sensory activity, you will need:

  • several cups of uncooked rice,
  • a bag or container,
  • lavender essential oil,
  • purple food coloring,
  • and lavender stalks (optional).

Place the uncooked rice in a bag or container that you do not mind being dyed. Add several drops of purple liquid food coloring. Mix the rice thoroughly until it is dyed light purple. Next, add about 4 drops of lavender essential oil per cup of rice and mix.

If you have access to lavender stalks, you can add the dried flowers into your mixture. Your child can run his/her fingers through the rice in a large tub, or you can place the rice into a sock or other fabric pouch to add “squish.”

Aromatherapy can also help children with autism through transitional periods and managing stress (Articles, 2016). Check out this guide and free PDF to learn about the best essential oils and their benefits for children with autism.

3. Create a soundscape to aid auditory processing disorder

In many parts of the world, summer is synonymous with the occasional downpour. Kim Staten from Life Over C’s has created a dry sensory bottle that mimics a summer rainstorm.

To make Kim’s rainstorm sensory bottle, you will need:

  • two clear plastic cups
  • toothpicks
  • cotton balls
  • glue to secure the cups (she recommends hot glue)
  • rice
  • glitter and blue liquid food coloring are optional

This more visual take on the rainstick engages not only your child’s sense of hearing but also his/her visual sense and motor skills. Giving your child a visual and auditory representation of a rainstorm might help him/her strengthen auditory connections between sounds and sources.

According to Tomcheck and Dunn’s study, auditory processing difficulties are one of the most common sensory issues children with autism experience and several other studies support these findings:

“Differences in auditory processing are one of the more commonly reported sensory processing impairments with the full range of atypical responding noted. In one retrospective chart review of developmental patterns in 200 cases with autism, Greenspan and Weider (1997) reported that 100% of the participants demonstrated difficulties with auditory responding.

Several authors have reported auditory hypersensitivity (Bettison, 1994; Dahlgren & Gillberg, 1989; Gillberg & Coleman, 1996; Rimland & Edelson, 1995; Vicker, 1993). Furthermore, Dahlgren and Gillberg (1989) found that sensitivity to auditory stimuli in infancy was a powerful discriminator between children with and without autism.” (Tomcheck & Dunn, 2007)

Method:

  • To begin, you may choose to dye the rice blue to mimic raindrops.
  • You can then fill both cups with cotton balls and toothpicks and pour the rice over the top. The more toothpicks you add, the more the bottle will sound like actual rainfall.
  • Next, add a sprinkle of glitter to the cups if you so choose.
  • Finally, glue the cups together at the brims—be sure the seal is tight, so no rice or glitter falls through the cracks.
  • When the assembly is complete, you can show your child how to turn the bottle upside down to recreate the sound of rain. (Staten, 2018)

This more visual take on the rainstick engages not only your child’s sense of hearing but also his/her visual sense and motor skills. Giving your child a visual and auditory representation of a rainstorm might help him/her associate sounds with their sources. According to Tomcheck and Dunn’s study, challenges in auditory processing are one of the most common sensory issues of children with autism. Several other studies support these findings.

The study states that: “Differences in auditory processing are one of the more commonly reported sensory processing impairments with the full range of atypical responding noted. In one retrospective chart review of developmental patterns in 200 cases with autism, Greenspan and Weider (1997) reported that 100% of the participants demonstrated difficulties with auditory responding. Several authors have reported auditory hypersensitivity (Bettison, 1994; Dahlgren & Gillberg, 1989; Gillberg & Coleman, 1996; Rimland & Edelson, 1995; Vicker, 1993). Further, Dahlgren and Gillberg (1989) found that sensitivity to auditory stimuli in infancy was an accurate way to detect autism.” (Tomcheck & Dunn, 2007)

4. Turn sensory activities for autism into something yummy to eat

Engaging your child’s sense of taste can be as easy as a trip to the pantry. Depending on what you have on hand, you can either pull dry items of different shapes, colors, or flavors.

To start with this sensory activity, lay your chosen items out on parchment paper. In no particular order, allow your child to sort them either by color (colored cereal or dried berries), by shape (circular cereal, tortilla chips, square crackers), or by flavor (sour lemon, sweet orange, spicy pepper).

Be sure that the items you chose for your child are safe for them to taste. This will help them explore their sense of taste while working on organizational skills or pattern forming.

For parents of children who are picky eaters, a game like this one might help introduce new foods in a unique way. A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics highlights the need for “an interdisciplinary approach to managing atypical eating patterns in children with ASD.”

Creating a game out of unfamiliar foods can be a way to explore new foods (or enjoy old favorites) without the pressure.

Note: While the ideas listed above are “taste-safe,” please supervise your child to prevent choking.

5. Create a tactile treat to address a sensory disorder

Nicolette Roux of Powerful Mothering has created a handful of tactile sensory doughs, but this fizzy cloud dough adds something extra to playtime.

To create this non-stick dough akin to kinetic sand, you will need:

  • all-purpose flour
  • vegetable oil (2 cups of flour per ¼ cup of vegetable oil)
  • you can mix in powdered food coloring.

After mixing your ingredients together, it is ready for your child to squish, mold, and soft.

When your child gets bored with the dough, add vinegar, and it will fizz as the vinegar reacts with the baking soda.

Use a dropper for more controlled fizzing or directly pour the vinegar for a more monumental fizz. (Roux, 2014)

Tactile activities for autism can be an excellent way to help your child overcome his/her aversions or fears. If your child struggles with a sensory aversion to sand, check out Leslie Burby’s article on how she helped her daughter become comfortable touching the sand and eventually vacationing at the beach. She writes, “The process I used was simple. Just think–baby steps. Babies do not walk overnight and neither will a severe sensory aversion.” (Burby, 2014)

There are dozens of ideas for DIY sensory activities for autism, but be sure you pick the ones that you know your child will enjoy.

Choosing the best sensory activities for your child

Finding the best sensory activities for your child may take some trial and error. Carryover activities from the school year can be an excellent starting place as your child makes the change to a new summer routine. Including siblings or other family members in sensory games for autism can help maintain social and integrative play skills your child worked on in the classroom.

If you are struggling to find summer project ideas, your child’s occupational therapist, teacher, or pediatrician might have suggestions for fun activities that help your child reach his/her sensory integration goals.

Resources:

Articles, A. P. (2018, April 26). Best Essential Oils for Autism and ADHD – The Ultimate Guide. Retrieved from https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/essential-oils-for-autism-adhd-add/

Brockett, S. (n.d.). Visual Therapy for ASD. Retrieved from https://www.autism.com/vison

Burby, L. (2018, April 16). Tactile Play with the use of sand. Retrieved from https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/tactile-play-sand/

Cermak, S. A., Curtin, C., & Bandini, L. G. (2010, February). Food selectivity and sensory sensitivity in children with autism spectrum disorders. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3601920/

Roux, N. (2014, July 12). Fizzy Cloud Dough Experiment (Taste Safe). Retrieved from https://www.powerfulmothering.com/fizzy-cloud-dough-experiment/

Staten, K. (2018, April 26). Create a Rainstorm Sensory Bottle! Retrieved from https://lifeovercs.com/rainstorm-sensory-bottles-for-kids/

Tomchek, S. D., & Dunn, W. (2007, March 01). Sensory Processing in Children With and Without Autism: A Comparative Study Using the Short Sensory Profile. Retrieved from https://ajot.aota.org/Article.aspx?articleid=1866937

Autism Parenting Magazine tries to deliver honest, unbiased reviews, resources, and advice, but please note that due to the variety of capabilities of people on the spectrum, information cannot be guaranteed by the magazine or its writers. Medical content, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained within is never intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read within.

Katherine G. Hobbs

Katherine G. Hobbs is a researcher and journalist for Autism Parenting Magazine dedicated to bringing awareness of resources to families affected by autism spectrum disorder. She lives in Florida where she teaches preschool and elementary-aged children of all abilities. Her passion for autism awareness began as a child in grade school with a dear friend. . You can find her online at katherineghobbs.com.

>