Why is it important for my child’s sensory needs to be met?
While seeking for sensory input is not necessarily a bad thing, these needs interfere with everyday functioning and learning when left unattended, especially so for children on the spectrum, who have heightened sensory needs. When children on the spectrum have sensory needs that are unmet, this often presents in the form of high levels of anxiety, meltdowns and excessive self-stimulatory behaviors that would interfere with their learning. This subsequently makes it more difficult for these children to participate and learn in social settings since they would often be too preoccupied with the aforementioned behaviors, which prevents them from maintaining sustained attention to others.
Types of sensory needs in children with autism and home activities that cater to them
Vestibular Sensory Needs
Also referred to as ‘movement’, this sensory need is relevant to children who seek out rocking, swinging, running and other activities that involve moving at a considerably fast speed. Vestibular activities can be calming or stimulating. Calming vestibular activities are great for getting our children ready for bed or winding down after school. These include rocking on a hammock, swing, yoga ball or rocking chair as well as balancing on a balancing beam and other various yoga poses. On the other hand, there are vestibular activities that are very stimulating, these are to help when our children are lethargic or difficult to get energized. Some examples of activities include playing leapfrog, jumping rope, running and spinning on the spot or on a merry-go-round. While many children who seek out vestibular input love spinning activities, it is absolutely crucial to ensure that they only do it for very short and limited periods of time in the day. This is because of the intensity of spinning as vestibular input, which may cause our children to have a meltdown if not limited to short periods of time.
Proprioceptive Sensory Needs
Children who seek vestibular input often also seek out proprioceptive input. The proprioceptive system refers to the network of muscles and joints that provide an individual with a subconscious awareness of body position. The proprioceptive sense is stimulated when a child experiences pressure or moves his/her limbs to push, pull, lift or hang. Some examples of proprioceptive activities include hanging from pullup bars, tug of war, carrying or passing weighted balls or jumping on the trampoline. Children often show improved attention and appear more regulated when engaging in proprioceptive activities, making proprioceptive activities a useful window of opportunity for our children to learn and socialise with others as well.
Visual Sensory Needs
As the label suggests, children with high visual sensory needs often enjoy observing moving objects, television programmes, video games and other exciting visual experiences. Unsurprisingly, technology does provide a convenient option for parents to help satisfy their children’s visual sensory needs, however, given the growing concern of the overreliance on technology these days, it is recommended to explore other non-electronic options. For instance, kaleidoscopes, hourglasses or simply just people-watching by the window are great alternatives for children with heightened visual sensory needs.
Auditory Sensory Needs
Children with high auditory sensory needs tend to enjoy toys that make sounds or music and may turn the television volume beyond what we would find comfortable. In that case, setting time aside to sing songs or nursery rhymes with them would not only serve as a parent-child bonding activity, but also satisfy their auditory sensory needs. Alternatively, playing white noise and or listening to nature can also be helpful in helping our children regulate.
Tactile Sensory Needs
A heightened need for tactile stimulation could present in the form of seeking out textured surfaces often, enjoy tight clothing as well as types of deep pressure. Other tactile activities that parents can try include kinetic sand, play-doh, fidget toys, thera-pressure brushing as well as various types of massage.
Gustatory and Olfactory Sensory Needs
These refer to sensory needs related to taste (gustatory) and smell (olfactory). For children with high olfactory sensory needs, scented lotions or essential oil diffusers are recommended, depending on the child’s preferences. Gustatory activities including chewing gum, crunching on ice, munching on crunchy snacks, flavored lip balms as well as exploring other tastes help children acquire good eating habits and allows them to discriminate better between different flavors.
Written by: Jia Yi