Autism or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is a broad term and affects people in many different ways. It is characterised by difficulties with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and non-verbal communication. Around 1 in 100 children in the UK are diagnosed with Autism, and there are many more children whose autism goes undiagnosed. While autism does have many shared characteristics, it will affect different children in different ways, they may have varying levels of communication and understanding as well as in their social skills and routines.
Children on the autism spectrum may also have difficulties in daily activities due to their understanding of the world around them. They may be over or under stimulated by different activities, making everyday tasks overwhelming.
To help these children, parents, carers or teachers can help them to engage with sensory activities and play, this will help to adapt the way these children’s brains react to touch, sight, sound, taste and smell. Allowing them to explore their senses through play will be fun and engaging for the child and at the same time help their ability to learn, improve concentration levels and in their communication with peers.
Sensory activities are usually very calming, which makes them particularly good for children with autism. Many are easy to make and can be adapted to incorporate your child’s interests at the time, for example, if your child is interested in the ocean then add a sea life theme with blue and green colours and fish characters. Your child will then be learning about something they are interested in while also developing their sensory skills. This blog post will give you some ideas of activities you can do at home which will benefit your child’s senses, especially if they are on the autism spectrum.
A sensory bottle is easy to make and can be very personal to your child by using different colours, objects and its overall decoration. First, clean out any bottle you have and remove the label from the outside. Then fill the bottle up with a combination of water and oil, the oil helps to slow down the objects in the bottle so your child can manipulate their movement and see the objects clearly. At this point, you can add colour, glitter and small objects such as buttons, counters and small figures.
This is the part which is personal to your child as you can make it their favourite colour and fit in with their interests. Then simply seal the lid tight with glue and you’ve got yourself a sensory bottle! This activity is easily transportable and is a simple was to help your child focus and stay engaged for hours.
Find It Bottle
Similar to a sensory bottle but a ‘find it bottle’ can be made into a fun game for your child. Get a bottle and fill it with uncooked rice and a range of different objects. For example, these could be marbles, small figures, small cars, letters or numbers. Your child will have fun finding the different objects and discovering new ones. This activity is particularly good when travelling or when you need them to concentrate for long periods of time.
All you need to make a home rainstorm effect is two plastic cups, toothpicks, cotton wool balls, glue, rice, glitter and blue food colouring. Firstly, add the blue colouring to the rice to make it the colour of water, then fill your two cups with cotton balls and toothpicks before pouring your rice on top. Add some glitter and then glue the two cups together at their brim. Turning the cup back and forth will create a sound similar to rainfall, stimulating their sense of hearing but also their fine motor skills if they help assemble it.
At home Lava Lamp
Using four ingredients you can make a child-friendly home lava lamp style activity for your child. Fill a large reusable sandwich bag a quarter full with baby oil and food colouring, this can be any colour but would be a good idea to use your child’s favourite to attract them to it. Just before use add a few drops of water and tape the bag shut to prevent leaks. Your child can lay the bag flat and have fun manipulating the drops, forming patterns and creating their own movements.
This is particularly good for developing the child’s fine motor skills. Use a sweet strawberry lace and any sweets you can find with holes in. If necessary you can create your own holes or improvise and use something such as cereal instead. Your child will have lots of fun creating bracelets and necklaces out of their favourite sweets and once they have finished will have a nice treat to enjoy. This will develop your child’s creativity, help them engage with the colours and find their own patterns to create. Alternatively, you could use string and pasta shapes or string and small counters for a non-edible version.
A lot of sensory activities are based upon touch and sight, this activity will stimulate your child’s sense of smell. Get a collection of small containers such as jam-jars or tupperware and fill them with different ingredients that have a distinctive smell, such as coffee, soap, spreads, flowers, and spices. Place a seal over the top with some fabric and a rubber band and see how many different smells they can identify. Children and especially those with autism will benefit from this as they will be able to identify these smells in the future.
Your child will enjoy all of these activities, as they stimulate a range of different senses and can be made unique and personal to each individual child, dependent on their interest and skill levels.
These kinds of activities are beneficial to any child, not just those who are diagnosed with or display symptoms of Autism. You may find these activities especially good during this current time of rules and restrictions during the pandemic. They help your child stay engaged, focussed and calm which all children will benefit from, but especially children with autism who may be finding this change, lack of routine and reduced freedom particularly difficult.