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Helping Your Autistic Preschooler Better Manage Sensory Information

written by: Lisalyn • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 1/17/2012

Children with Autism have a variety of sensory issues, making ordinary situations uncomfortable for everyone involved. It is shown that occupational therapy sensory activities help create a balance within the sensory system. Supplementing your preschooler's occupational therapy at home is fun!

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    Sensory Issues in Autism

    Sensory issues are a main component of Autism and are likely the first signs that something is not quite right with your preschooler. A balanced sensory system means that you can handle the sights, sounds, smells, and movements as they change within your environment. Preschoolers with Autism may be overly sensitive to some senses and under sensitive to others. Occupational therapy sensory activities help Autistic preschoolers learn to compensate when their surroundings change. Trained therapists work with children with Autism to create a personalized sensory diet. This diet, when practiced consistently, will create that sensory balance the child needs to become a happy, well-adjusted preschooler.

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    Supplementing Sensory Therapy at Home

    To ensure steady progress and consistency, the sensory diet of a child with Autism must be supplemented at home. Many behavioral problems that occur at home are a direct result of sensory overload. Here are several sensory therapy activities, along with each activity's specific benefit, that you can do at home with your preschooler. Since each child's sensory diet will consist of specialized activities, be sure to refer to your child's occupational therapy sensory profile and use only the activities that are suggested for your child.

    Oral Motor

    • Blow bubbles or pinwheels-use bubble wands of various sizes
    • Use a drinking straw to blow in a cup of water
    • Promote music time by blowing a harmonica or kazoo
    • Serve fun snacks with various textures, especially crunchy or chewy foods

    Tactile (touch)

    • Keep hands busy with fidget toys-stress balls, bendable figures, pop beads, for example
    • Rub lotion into each other's hands and arms
    • Smash and roll Playdoh
    • Fill a cookie sheet with dry beans, rice, or sand and use fingers to dig for objects or trace shapes and letters

    Deep pressure (touch)

    • Use a blanket to make a 'kid burrito'-roll your child up in the blanket (making sure they have no difficulty breathing) and lightly press for deep pressure
    • Massage squeezes-starting at shoulders, use slight pressure and squeeze the joints of the body. Accompany this with a major muscle massage (This is as fun as the tickle monster for children who are under sensitive!)

    Movement (vestibular)

    • Go outside and play!-run, slide, and swing
    • Sing songs that have action- "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes", for example
    • Create an obstacle course that allows moving over, under, and through objects

    Looking and Listening (audio-visual)

    • Listening to music of all types-lively, soothing, rhythmic
    • Bright and dim lights-turn the main lights off and make shadows
    • Listen to stories on tape-follow along in the book and talk about the illustrations

    Heavy work (proprioceptive)

    • Blanket drag-have your child pull his favorite (heavy) toys around on his blanket
    • Go outside and ride bikes- pedaling is heavy work
    • Jumping in place or on a mini-trampoline- this is fun and good exercise, too

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    Additional Considerations

    When supplementing your child's sensory therapy at home, remember to keep it fun. Activities should be offered at regular intervals throughout the day to avoid burnout for parent and child. Try to choose activities that you know your child enjoys. This will keep interest high and make sensory therapy an enjoyable experience for both of you.

Preschool Activities for Special Needs at Home

Activities in this series relate to common therapies for Autistic preschoolers such as ABA, Occupational, Physical, and Speech Therapies. These supplemental activities strengthen these therapeutic concepts from home ensuring steady progress and consistency while away from the traditional therapist.
  1. Helping Your Autistic Preschooler Better Manage Sensory Information
  2. Supplementing ABA Therapy with Autistic Preschoolers at Home
  3. Occupational Therapy Games for Autistic Preschoolers
  4. Fun Home Activities to Supplement Your Autistic Preschooler's Physical Therapy
  5. Help Your Autistic Preschooler Improve Speech Skills