Autism

Sensory Activities And Autism

Sensory Activities And Autism

Sensory Activities And Autism 1334 971 Alisha Gibbons

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.

Sensory bottle

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.

Rainstorm 

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.  

Edible jewellery

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.

Smelling game 

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. 

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Autism & mental health

How to support someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

How to support someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) 1300 779 Team Mindsum
Last updated: 10 January 2021

It can be challenging when you have a loved one that has been diagnosed with ASD. It is a condition that has no cure and that needs to be managed. There are some things that you can do to help support your loved one. These are discussed below.

Understand ASD

It is a good idea to read as much information about autism as you can. Understanding autism and what it means can help you to recognize the ways that your loved one is affected and the ways that you can help.

To read more information on autism, you can view our pages on autism and mental health and getting help for autism.

Find the right support

It is important for you to find support for your child as soon as you suspect that they might have autism. Your child will have a better chance at a successful life, if they get support starting from an early age. You might:

  • Book an appointment with a GP, paediatrician or a therapist

  • Offer support when they attend appointments (e.g. attending some sessions if you need to or waiting in the waiting room)

  • Find parent groups to connect with and ask for advice. You can find local support groups on the NHS support page for autism.

  • Take available online courses on autism to help you learn better ways to support your loved one. You can find these on the family support page of the national autistic society website.

Be mindful of their sensitivities

Many children with ASD are hypersensitive to things such as lights, sounds, smells and movement. It is important for you to know what they might be sensitive to, so that you can make adjustments to their environment and they can feel more comfortable.

Understand how they communicate

You will be able to support your loved one better if you understand their way of communicating. Do not rely on only verbal forms of communication. They might also use some non-verbal forms of communication such as body-language, movements or facial expressions.

Learning the ways that they communicate will help you understand what they need. This can also help you to improve the connection between you and your loved one. 

Educate family and friends about autism

It will be helpful for your loved one if family and friends also understand autism and the way it affects your loved one. This will help them to be mindful and make changes to the way they interact with the child.

For example, if your child is sensitive to loud noises, they can try to avoid making sudden loud noises when they are around. This will help your child to feel more at ease, when they are around other people. 

Encourage them to have a structure

Children with ASD see other people and the world differently from others. Sometimes this can be overwhelming and can cause them to feel anxious, especially when there are uncertainties.

Having a routine can help them to complete tasks and feel less anxious because they will know what to expect. You might help them to:

  • Make a regular timetable

  • Make a checklist

  • Use fun colour codes for their schedule

  • Use creative stimulators (e.g. fridge magnets, sticky notes, phone reminders)

  • Have a regular bedtime routine

  • Be prepared for any changes to the schedule

Be patient and accepting

A child with autism has an entire life to develop more and more skills that will help them to be successful in their daily life. It is important to be patient with your loved one.

It is also good to be accepting towards your loved one. Sometimes, parents might get carried away with trying to help their child because they are different. Instead of focusing on the things that they are not good at, you could focus more on their strengths and other ways that they are special. 

Make time for fun

Your child also needs to do fun activities that does not feel like work. Don’t allow your child’s schedule to be full of therapy and skills programmes without any time for fun. Schedule time for them to do activities that they enjoy, because play is important for development and learning for all children.

Look after yourself too

It is extremely important for you to look after yourself. Whether you are a parent, family member or a friend, you will be in a better position to give help, as long as you are taking care of your own well-being too. To do this you might:

  • Get other family members also involved in supporting your loved one

  • Schedule some time off for yourself

  • See a professional that can support your mental health

To read more about looking after yourself, see our page on self-care when helping someone else.

List of useful resources 

NHS

To read information for families on supporting a child with autism on the NHS website, you can click here to access the link

Autism Speaks
To read information for parents on helping a child with autism on the Autism speaks website, you can click here to access the link.

National Autistic Society

To read information and access educational courses about autism on the National Autistic Society website, you can click here to access the link.

Click here to get free advice from our experts

Getting help with ASD

Getting help for autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Getting help for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) 1300 867 Team Mindsum
Listen to this article (08:35)
Last updated: 4 January 2021

This article covers:

– What types of therapies are involved?

– What types of professionals are involved?

– The journey of managing ASD

What types of therapies are involved?

When managing ASD, there are many types of therapies that can be involved. These therapies focus on the child’s development and their ability to communicate and relate to others. This can include psychotherapy, applied behavioural analysis, speech therapy, play therapy, and occupational therapy. These will be discussed below.

Psychotherapy
It is common for people with ASD to have mental health difficulties. Therefore, talk therapies can be very helpful for them to learn to manage these issues. According to research, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talk therapy that can be effective in helping children with ASD to cope with anxiety.  

The idea behind psychotherapy for ASD is to help the child to cope better with mental health difficulties in a way that is adapted to their needs and characteristics.

 

The therapist will work with the child or young person to understand and learn the skills to manage their mental health challenges. The therapist might use games, their own special interests, pictures, technology and regular breaks to help them to engage.

 

Applied behavioural analysis (ABA)

This is a type of behavioural therapy that focuses on learning and behaviour. Research shows ABA as one of the most effective early interventions for children with ASD.

 

The idea behind ABA is to increase the behaviours that are helpful and reduce the behaviours that are harmful or that affects learning. The therapist will target certain behaviours that are helpful by giving positive rewards when it happens. These behaviours might be related to the areas of play, language, communication, motor skills, self-care and learning.

 

Over time, the child will accumulate a set of positive behaviours that will help them to have greater success in everyday life.

 

Speech therapy

This is a type of therapy that focuses on helping the child or young person to develop language and communication skills.

 

The idea behind speech therapy is to improve the child’s ability to engage in spoken language, non-verbal language, signs and gestures. The speech and language therapist might help the child by strengthening the muscles of the mouth, improving sounds, forming words, matching emotions with facial expressions and understanding body language.

 

The child or young person will learn to develop their language and communication skills, which will allow them to be more successful in everyday life.

 

Play therapy

This is a type of therapy that focuses on helping the child to develop their social skills, language and communication through play time sessions. According to research, play therapy is effective in helping children with ASD to develop more social and emotional behaviours.

 

The idea behind this is to play with the child as they take the lead, which gives the therapist opportunities to initiate and encourage social interactions, develop coordination, the use of language and communication. This is also an opportunity for the child to expand their interests.

 

The therapist will use toys and games to prompt the child to do different things such as making eye contact, communicating their needs, understanding how to move toys and engaging in two-way conversations.

 

Play therapy is provided by trained therapists, who usually involve parents in play sessions and might coach parents to do it at home.

 

Occupational therapy

This is a type of therapy that focuses on the development of practical skills that encourages independence in the everyday life of the child or young person with.

 

The therapist will help the child or young person with the skills that they may have difficulties with. This might include dressing, grooming, eating, using the bathroom, colouring, using stationaries and taking the bus independently.

 

Eventually, the child or young person will be able to do these activities without help and will live a more independent and successful life.


What types of professionals are involved?

The management of ASD usually involves a multidisciplinary team of professionals. This means that the child or young person will be assessed and treated by different experts. These might include counsellors/psychotherapists, clinical/educational psychologists, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, social workers and neurologists. These terms might be confusing, but the main difference is in the training that each of these professionals have received. 

Counsellor/psychotherapist: In the UK, there is not much of a distinction made between counsellor or psychotherapist. Counsellors are trained in helping people with what they need right now, whereas psychotherapists are trained in helping on a more long-term basis. People with ASD might benefit from talking through their difficulties with these professionals. Here at Mindsum, we have counsellors and psychotherapists that are available to provide support.

Clinical/educational psychologist: Clinical psychologists are trained in the diagnosis, evaluation of clinical history and specialized interventions for different conditions, including ASD. Educational psychologists are trained in psychological assessments and providing help towards learning for children in educational settings.

Speech and language therapist (SLT): SLTs are trained in assessing and treating problems with speech, language, communication, eating, swallowing and drinking. The SLT provides specialized sessions for the child or young person to practice and develop the most effective ways to communicate.

Occupational therapist: These professionals are trained in how to help people to be successful in practical skills in daily life. They assess and identify helpful adaptations that may be needed, and they help the child or young person to achieve this.

Social worker: Workers trained in working with vulnerable individuals and the community might also be involved with the child or young person. These professionals might help to provide support for the family and make arrangements for interventions.

Neurologist: This is a doctor that specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions related to the brain and nervous system. Since ASD is a neurodevelopmental condition, it is possible that they might also see a neurologist.

The journey of managing ASD

When it comes to ASD, it is about management as opposed to recovery. This is because ASD is a life-long condition. The way ASD is managed can look different for each child and young person, depending on where they are on the spectrum. An overall journey through the management of ASD is discussed below.

Assessment
This is an important phase, where professionals will need to identify and assess the child, in order to confirm a diagnosis of autism. This might involve more than one professional who might administer specialized tests with the child and will interview parents to understand what is going on. Depending on the child’s needs on the spectrum, these professionals will provide or refer the child for therapy and specialist services.

Therapy sessions

These might include any combination of counselling, psychotherapy, ABA, occupational therapy, speech therapy or play therapy. Each therapy will aim to target certain goals that are specific to the child. Parents are usually highly involved in many of the sessions. The techniques used in some therapies are usually taught to parents for them to use at home. Sessions usually go on for many months or years throughout the child or young person’s life.


Progress and setbacks

When managing ASD, it is common for setbacks to occur. The difficulties associated with ASD can take a long time to change, so it is not realistic to expect the child or young person to improve quickly or without any setbacks. It is important to not get discouraged when setbacks happen. It is an opportunity for the child or young person, parents and the therapist to think about new ways to move forward.

 

Ending therapy

The professional will eventually prepare the child or young person and their parents for the end of therapy.

This is a very important phase, because it is vital for the child or young person to develop more independence. This will take place once they have made a lot of progress and has reached their goals. The child or young person and their parents will leave therapy with many skills that they can use independently.

 

Follow up

There are usually follow-up meetings after any type of therapy for ASD. Professionals would need to assess their progress. At this point, the child might have additional therapy sessions, depending on their needs.

List of useful resources 

Autism spectrum disorder
To read our information on autism spectrum disorder, you can click here to access the link.

Treatments for autism
The Autism speaks website has a wide range of resources on the management of autism. To read more about this, you can click here to access the link.

Introduction to counselling and psychotherapy
The British Association for the Counselling Professions (BACP) have a useful document on different aspects of psychological therapy. To read more, you can click here to access the link.

Click here to get free advice from our experts

Autism & mental health

Autism & mental health

Autism & mental health 2000 1333 Team Mindsum
Listen to this article (10:57)
Last updated: 4 January 2021

What is ASD?

Causes of ASD

The signs of ASD

Managing ASD

List of useful resources

How Mindsum can help?

 

What is ASD?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects social interaction, communication and behaviour. It is referred to as a spectrum condition because it affects each person differently.

ASD is not an illness. It is a life-long condition that affects the way people see and interact with the world.

Not all children and young people with ASD suffer from mental health issues, although it is very common. Children and young people with ASD can have mental and behavioural issues such as anxiety, depression, oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and learning difficulties. It is important to support children and young people with ASD in managing the condition and preventing these mental health problems.

Causes of ASD

The specific cause of ASD is not known. It is likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Here are some factors that are associated with ASD:

  • Boys are 3-4 times more likely to be affected by ASD than girls

  • Genetics (e.g. sibling with ASD)

  • Parent with psychosis, schizophrenia or affective disorder

  • Birth defects

  • Premature birth

  • Use of sodium valproate during pregnancy

  • Existing learning difficulties

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

  • Other genetic conditions (e.g. muscle dystrophy, down’s syndrome, fragile X syndrome)

Autism is NOT caused by:

  • Bad parenting

  • Vaccines, such as the MMR vaccine

  • Diet

  • An infection you can spread to other people

A video explaining Autism – The National Autistic Society

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