Our senses help in so many ways: balance, coordination, and hearing, to name a few. Here are a few activities that could help your autistic child have a balanced sensory experience.
Our ability to perceive our environment is dependent on our brain’s ability to integrate sensory input that works together to help us receive, incorporate, and interpret information from the environment. Our sensory system is composed of proprioception (which consists of muscle-joint awareness), vestibular (this helps us orientate ourselves in space), tactile (our sense of touch), and auditory (our sense of hearing), visual (sight), gustatory (our ability to taste), and olfactory (our sense of smell).
Here are a few fun sensory activities to support your autistic child’s tactile, vestibular, proprioceptive, visual, and auditory systems.
Sensory activities to help your child’s sensory integration
Our sense of touch keeps us in touch with our environment. Tactile receptors are found in our skin and carry information such as pressure, texture, temperature, and pain. Here are some activities that could help your autistic child’s tactile sense.
- Touch walk
For this activity, you will place different textures around the house or yard. You will go together with your child on a walk and explore each texture. Be sure to encourage your child to touch each item. This may include material, sandpaper, natural objects, Play-Doh, slime, or any other textural item you have at home. Get creative and change the items up each time your child has mastered touching them.
- Taste stations
Set up different textured foods to taste. Start with a food you know your child likes. Introduce new foods or different textured food than your child typically eats. Make a reward system for a favorite treat or toy if the child tries the food. Remember new foods need to be tried over several experiences for your child to really decide if it is liked. Each of you takes turns trying the new foods to encourage participation.
- Dress dash
Race to see who can dress fastest. Incorporate clothing items with different textures. Include shoes in the activity to encourage trying on different types of shoes.
- Tactile art
Create an art activity that includes textured paint by adding salt, flour, sugar, and glue. As a family, create a mural with the textured paint. Start with a brush and then encourage the use of a finger. Continue adding to the activity until your child is using one whole hand to complete the painting.
- Toothpick construction
Build 3D shapes, buildings, animals, or anything your child is interested in using toothpicks and marshmallows. Each of you makes a unique creation to share.
- Walk the line
Create a line with turns and curves using tape, ribbon, or paper. Walk the line in different ways. Start by just walking normally. Next, tip-toe the line. Big steps, baby steps, hopping, and jumping down the line can follow. You can allow your child to create the ways to go.
- Balloon soccer
Play a round of soccer using a balloon. This will allow the activity to be done inside without the risk of a ball breaking anything. It will also add unpredictable movement because a balloon does not move like a ball. You must see who can score a goal first to win. The game can be elongated by using time or a specific number of goals to win.
- Positional freeze dance
Get your child’s favorite song ready to play. Before starting the music, explain that each time the music stops, he/she must freeze in a certain position and hold it to see who can do it longest. The person who holds the freeze position longest gets to pick the next freeze position.
- Rock stacking
Go for a walk as a family and collect rocks. When you’re back home, have rock-stacking contests. See who can stack the most rocks and who can stack five rocks fastest. Play Jenga with the rocks by removing a rock, not from the top, without knocking down the stack.
- Play-Doh hunt
Place popcorn kernels or other small objects in Play-Doh. Be sure they are mixed in well. Take turns hunting out the kernels while timing how long it takes to retrieve them all.
- Yell yoga
Do yoga by yelling out an animal or character. Each family member will try to hold a pose that they think goes with the word called out for five seconds. Take turns calling out words. Make it a contest by seeing who can hold the pose longest.
- Tug a shirt
Play tug a war with shirts. Whoever pulls the hardest gets to put the shirt on. The person with the most shirts wins the game.
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- Follow the flash
Play follow the leader by following a flashlight that is being turned off and on. Take turns being the leader. Flash slowly and increase the speed as you play.
- Fish in a dish
Place gummy fish in a dish of water. Using a 1/4 teaspoon, try to fish all the fish out of the dish. Take turns so everyone can play. Play a timed game to see how many you can fish out in a 30 count.
- Dot to dot creations
Draw dots on a piece of paper. Trade papers with someone in your family. Have them connect your dots to see what type of creation you made.
- Tiny target
Write letters of the alphabet on a piece of paper and hang them up. Take turns calling out a letter for the person to throw a cotton ball at. If they hit the letter, they pick the next person and call out the letter. If they miss, they try again with a different letter.
- What is that sound?
Fill plastic eggs with different items that create sound when shaken. Shake the egg to compare sounds. Which is loudest and softest? Which sounded the lowest or highest? Try to guess what might be inside before looking.
- Sound blast
While music is playing shout out a word. See if your child can identify the word. As he/she becomes good at single word discernment, add more words until he/she can repeat a whole sentence heard with music playing in the background.
- Follow the sound
A play on hide-and-seek. Hide with a sound maker. When the person seeking counts to ten, start making intermittent sounds with your item. Keep going until the person finds you. Keep switching out the item that is making the sound. To make it more difficult, make breaks between the sounds longer.
- Sound tasting
Have a picnic with foods that make sounds when eaten. Compare how loud the sounds are when bitten and chewed. Which was the loudest, which was the softest? Did any of the sounds bother you? Why?
This article was featured in Issue 123 – Autism in girls