Lori has a specialist's degree in Instructional Leadership/Mild Moderate and currently serves as the Lead Teacher for The University of Southern Mississippi's Autism Project.
What is a Sensory Activity?
Sensory activities are activities that stimulate the senses: touch, smell, sight, hearing and taste. Movement should also be considered when planning activities for pre-schoolers with autism. After all, these should be fun and engaging activities that kids want to participate in.
Sensory experiences are important because they encourage child brain development and help fine-tune focus skills, in addition to improving gross and fine motor skills. Sensory activities also help students with autism regulate their emotions by providing their growing brains with the stimulation they desperately need.
They are many activities that require few outside materials. But keep in mind: These activities can get messy! Consider using a plastic kiddie pool or shower curtain to contain the mess. You could also implement a lot of these activities outside.
Sensory Activities for Autism
There are plenty of ways you can incorporating sensory activities into the everyday life of a preschooler with autism. Tearing paper up or crumpling it, using aluminum foil to make shapes and objects, rubbing sand paper, placing wooden blocks in tin muffin pans, and popping bubble wrap are quick and easy sensory activities. The texture, sight, and sound of these actions are stimulating. Let's take at a look at a few more sensory activities for preschoolers with autism.
Pasta noodles make for a great sensory activity for preschoolers to explore with their sense of touch. You can use any kind of noodle for this type of activity. (You might want to consider cooking the noodles slightly to prevent a choking hazard.) Place the noodles on a plastic surface to contain the mess. The children can fill up different containers with the noodles or just feel their unique shapes and textures. You can also do this with beans!
Play-Doh is also a popular tool for sensory play in pre-school aged children. You can create your own with water, flour, salt, and cream of tartar. There are many recipes for homemade modeling compounds available online. When making your own, you can even select the colors and smells.
To help calm a child and increase focus, give them straws and bowls with water and a squirt of dish soap. Then, show them how to blow bubbles. Make sure you get a non-toxic soap in case any water is accidentally sucked back up through the straw.
An excellent method for teaching self-regulation is proprioceptive input. Such movement activities work out the joints and muscles, stimulate the sense of touch, and teach spatial awareness. These activities can be calming for a high-energy child or stimulating for a low-energy child. The are also great for visual learners.
Some examples of movement activities include:
- Jumping on a mini-trampoline
- Spinning in circles
- Playing hop-scotch
- Playing leap frog
- Making drums out of pots and cooking utensils
- Playing tug of war
- Chewing gum and blowing bubbles
- Playing 'Ring Around the Rosie'
- Walking on a balance beam
Also, think about household chores that could be considered joint work, such as sweeping, mopping, and unloading the dryer. Of course, these chores will not be performed for their correctness--after all, we are talking about small children--but most preschoolers love to 'help' out around the home.
Sensory activities should engage the senses. They should not be used just for entertainment or filling the time. These are easy and inexpensive ways to promote emotional, physical, and developmental skills in young children with autism. Sensory activities also provide opportunities for unscripted free play, allowing children to explore a material and use their imagination.
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