Autism spectrum disorder - better known as simply autism - is a developmental disability that appears in early childhood. The disorder affects a person’s ability to interact and communicate with other people, though at different degrees depending on the person.
Behaviors associated with autism include:
● Delayed speech and language skills
● Difficulty holding eye contact
● Trouble understanding emotions
● Inability to grasp reason or plans
● Obsessive interests
● Poor motor skills
● Sensory processing issues
● Difficulties adapting to change
● Lack of social imagination
Early diagnosis and detection of autism and its symptoms allows parents and educators to provide support and services that allow children to develop with improved outcomes. Autism treatment is as varied as the children diagnosed. Parents generally employ a variety of therapies and techniques to help tackle their child’s particular symptoms. One early intervention proven to help daily function in children with autism is sensory integration therapy.
About Sensory Integration Therapy
Sensory integration therapy helps children with autism that experience sensory processing issues. Children with autism sometimes have problems coping with sensitivities towards sights, sounds, tastes, and tactile feelings. These children experience too much or too little stimulation through their senses and have trouble integrating the information they receive. Sensory integration therapy helps balance the optimal level of arousal and regulation, which serves to
“rewire” the brain. In turn, the child is able to integrate and respond to sensory input, allowing them to both make sense of and feel safer in the world around them. Sensory integration therapy should be administered by a trained occupational therapist that works with the child to figure out their needs and the best practices for addressing them.
However, parents can help encourage progress by setting up approved activities at home that they can do together with the child. A great way to do this is through backyard games, crafts, and activities that help the child acclimate to sensory processing in a safe environment.
Please consult an occupational therapist for an assessment to get an accurate understanding of your child’s sensory integration needs and activity recommendations.
● Gravitational insecurity makes a child fear movement. That child may avoid machinery such as escalators or elevators because they instigate that feeling of insecurity. Movement activities that stimulate the vestibular system in the inner ear can help combat these fears. Playing on a tree swing or trampoline is one way to do this.
● Participating in an outdoor movie night can be beneficial for your child. Watching movies your child enjoys can help build social skills. Additionally, the process of setting up the projector, as well as experiencing the transition of light to darkness, involve sensory integration. If you don't have a projector, you can buy a portable one to make watching movies more convenient. Many portable projectors offer good picture quality, so your child won't struggle with seeing what's on the screen.
● Playing in sand is a fun way that children can experience necessary tactile input. Consider building a sandbox in the backyard where your child can dig and build their own structures while experiencing the unique tactile qualities of sand.
● Active proprioception activities allow your child to experience the power of their muscles and joints. Digging in and maintaining a garden in the backyard are heavy work activities that stimulate proprioceptive input. Provide your child with their own supplies including shovels, watering cans, and gloves so they can experience a sense of ownership.
● Develop gross motor skills, increase balance, enhance directionality, and stress the differences between left and right with a cornhole set up in the backyard. You can even encourage tactile input by letting your children make DIY bean bags by putting dried beans, rice or corn in old socks before tying them.
● Encourage visual input with backyard activities like bird watching. Teach your child to note the small visual differences in the various species and how to use binoculars to obtain a closer look.
● For many children with autism, swimming is a relaxing pastime, one that can actually soothe them thanks to the repetitive motion. So, if you have a pool in the backyard, allow your child to swim. Of course, it’s important for everyone to practice pool safety and to enforce those rules at all times. Also, consider getting a pool alarm, which will activate when a disturbance to the water is made. Finally, install a fence around the pool area to ensure no one wanders in unattended.
Early autism intervention and treatment helps a child better adapt to the world. While parents should always consult an occupational therapist regarding their child’s needs, there are plenty of at home activities they can do to encourage progress. From playing on a tree swing to bird watching, backyard sensory integration activities combine autism therapy and fun for both the child and the family’s overall benefit.
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