Sensory processing describes the way the body receives and interprets information from the senses. A problem with sensory processing can interfere with the way a person interacts with and responds to his/her environment. Sensations are processed through touch, taste, smell, movement, vision, and sound. A child with autism, for example, may have a problem registering sensory information that comes to him/her from the environment, or difficulty regulating his/her responses to that sensory information.
Given what we know about sensory processing in relation to children with autism and ASD, it is absolutely imperative, in many cases, to incorporate a rich sensory diet within their daily routines and activities, both at school and otherwise. When consulting with early childhood teachers, I continually stress the importance of implementing various sensory strategies on a consistent basis, as this should help regulate the child’s system and better help him/her attend and focus for whole-group activities (e.g., circle time, tabletop activities, etc.). From my experience, early childhood educators are very receptive to the ideas of incorporating sensory in their classrooms, and are eager to learn more. This is very exciting for me, personally, as I want very much for the teachers with whom I consult to share in my enthusiasm!
Many educators are not aware that they can incorporate sensory at any time of the day; from the moment they come in each morning, right up until the time they leave to go home. Prior to the start of structured, adult-directed activities, we should have children engage in a gross motor activity to help release some of their energy. Running back and forth, jumping up and down, participating in an obstacle course, lifting heavy objects, pushing against the wall, are just a few examples. Deep pressure (also known as joint compression) is also important as this provides children witih proprioceptive input, which helps them relax when they’re feeling overwhelmed or overexcited.
Something else I high recommend is a sensory box (see picture for example). In this box you might have lotions, buzzers, a brush, fidget toys (such as a Koosh ball, rubber ball, etc.). You might implement the sensory box when children are expected to participate in more structured, adult-directed activities. In school, this might mean circle time, story time, tabletop activities, etc. At home, this might mean meal times, homework, bedtime routines, etc. You might even want to personalize the child’s box by putting their name and picture on it (you can also have them decorate it). In the context of the classroom, when participating in small-group/structured activities, we might want to bring out the surgical brush and implement a brushing technique, which often calms and soothes the nervous system in children with autism and ASD. When implementing this technique, you would want to brush the child’s arms, legs, and the soles of their feet, using medium firm pressure and long, deep strokes. A surgical brush has soft bristles that will not scratch the child’s skin, so this type of brush is what I often recommend to parents and teachers. You might also want to include a bottle of lotion in the sensory box. Personally, I recommend lavender lotion, as this scent gives off a calming effect. Apply the lotion to the child’s arms and hands, prior to the start of structured activities. Also, try providing the child with a fidget toy (e.g., stress ball, Koosh ball, etc.), as this should help occupy their hands when sitting for structured tasks. At first, we would need to model for the child how and when to implement the items in their sensory box, but the ultimate goal would be for the child to initiate his/her need for sensory input by getting an item from the box on his/her own, without the need for verbal prompting. So, we’d first want to model for the child how and when to use the items in the box, then slowly fade the prompting to independence.
It should be noted that the child can use the box at any time of the day when he/she has a need for sensory input. So, in other words, we should not limit the usage of the sensory box, though we should make sure that the items in that box are being implemented properly, effectively and, most importantly, in a safe manner.
To see an example of a sensory box, clink on the following link…