A guide to things you can find and do at home to stimulate a child with autism
Music therapy is not just for autism. It is an age-old method that reaches back to ancient times. This old fashioned technique for calming the nerves has survived the test of time for a reason. While we all have our own taste for tunes, you will want to go for the soft sounds for the person with autism. This can be something that you and your child enjoy together. Instrumental music, like classical, is a great way to meet audio sensory input without over-stimulating your child. This is a great way to wake up your child and even better when putting your child to bed. Avoid heavy percussion music and music with lyrics.
Good old fashioned games of discovery are good for any child. One inexpensive way to engage your child’s sensory skills is to take a standard cardboard box and cut a hole big enough for a hand, in one of the ends. Place several small objects in the box and secure the box shut as tight as you can. Now invite your child to reach into the hole and feel around for all the hidden objects inside. Encourage him or her to pull out the object and look at it, touch it, observe it, and then place it back inside the box through the hole.
A classic and a favorite. The autistic child will love how putty is soft, deep and conforming to the touch. Silly Putty is known for its affordability. But why not take it a step further and make your own? It is an excellent opportunity to involve your child in the cooking process, and in the end they have an ideal sensory toy that they can play with. Just buy some food coloring and you have added another sensory element to your homemade putty. You can also add the following objects to the silly putty to increase your child’s sensory experience: pennies, beads, pegs and marbles.
The art of breathing
Everybody loves a party! At least once a year; party blowers pop-up when our calendars advance to the next year. For us, these party blowers are good for more than just parties. For someone with autism, it is a good exercise in breathing. Breathing is a naturally rhythmic function and can also be very calming and organizing to the body. With the party blower, the child will have the added bonus of repetitive action and reaction with every inhalation and exhalation.
Think inside the box
What’s in the box? How about beans, rice, sand, or even popcorn kernels. Just take a box, any old box, and fill it up with any of these items and you have created a fun box for your child. They will indulge in the loose graininess as their hands dig deep and explore.
The sandwich game
The Sandwich Game is a great way to engage with your child. The game requires your child to lay between two pillows while he or she pretends to be a sandwich. You can provide deep pressure to the top pillow and ask the child if he or she would like the pressure to be harder or softer. Some children will like much more pressure than you might expect.
The thick and creamy texture of lotion makes it a wonderful tool for working with tactile defensive children. Apply evenly with deep pressure from the hands, up the arms and possibly the feet, if your child tolerates it. At first, your child may withdraw, so it is best to start with small applications and then increase amounts gradually over time. Avoid strong scents or any citrus-scented lotions. Vanilla and lavender scents are optimum for their subtlety. If in doubt, go with an unscented lotion.
Many autistic children and adults have an attraction to water. In a way, we all do. Think of the relaxing effect of just thinking about a nice warm bath or a refreshing shower. You may find that your child wants to frequently play with water. You can turn this into a double benefit by asking your child to help with water-related tasks like washing dishes. Take the preparatory stages as an opportunity to teach your child step-by-step events: turning on the water, adding detergent, setting up the dishes, etc. Working with a sponge while washing dishes gives their hands an added touch stimulation. Sponges, when applied with deep even pressure, are also good during bath time while washing down your child.
Getting a pet fish for your child is a terrific way to keep him or her engaged. Watching fish swim can be stimulating visually. It also gives your child the responsibility of having to work with water while taking care of the fish. A word of caution: be sure the fish are in a secure casing and that your child is restricted from removing the fish from the water. Work with your child in watering and feeding the fish.
Parents are always looking for activities that they can do with their child. Planting a garden is what we call a two-for-one. Not only do you get quality time, but your child gets sensory input from the deep pressures and textures of the dirt, especially if you allow your child to use his or her hands to dig in the dirt. Also, periodically watering the garden gives them another chance to be around water, as well as having a schedule that meets their need for order.
Do the tangle
Tangle Toys are addictive, even if you are not autistic. The physics behind the toy has made it popular in traditional school settings. The toy itself is made up of a series of 90-degree curves that are pivotal at each connecting joint. So the Tangle is able to tangle itself up in any which way. Besides it’s curious handling, the near infinite range of motion makes the Tangle an excellent exercise for the sensory mind. The Tangle can also be used as a “Hand Fidget,” which helps develop hand strength.