Sitting tolerance is an important skill that is required when it comes to school settings, mealtimes settings, or even during playtime. Sitting tolerance involves being attentive, manipulating objects, learning and applying new skills. However, children with autism may have trouble acquiring this skill due to behavioural problems. Behavioural problems such as the need of sensory inputs, inability to express verbally, short attention span and many more.
It is feasible for many to sit at ease for a duration of more than 5 minutes. However, this does not apply to some children with autism. A minute or even 30 seconds may be considered to be a small achievement for one. In some cases, for example, a child with autism who has sensory issues may feel anxious as they may feel sensory overload. What are some ways we can help these children with autism to improve their sitting tolerance skills?
One way is to give the child simple yet interesting tasks to do. For example, doing tasks that the child really enjoys and is interested in, such as shapes sorting or colouring. We could hold onto the child’s hand to complete the task and ensure that they are being engaged and attentive, while practicing sitting tolerance. Make sure to reinforce immediately by giving the child's favourite toys as soon as he/she completes the task while sitting down. In this way, the child would be motivated to complete the task and s/e learns that each time s/he sits nicely to finish a task, a reinforcer would be given. This method also reduces the child’s anxieties as s/he may not be confident enough to complete the given task but knowing that a reinforcer will be given could reassure him/her.
Another solution is to use a timer to limit the child's playtime, incorporate an errorless prompt method while doing tasks and praising the child for the specific sitting behaviour. For example, prompting the child immediately to finish a task and praise ‘I like the way you sit down!’ or ‘Good sitting (Child’s name)!’. This would not only ensure that the task is done quickly, but also allow the child to know that sitting well is a good and expected behaviour.
There are various methods that are available for children with sensory issues. Take note that it is advisable to discuss with the Occupational Therapists first. A sensory diet will then be designed according to the child’s needs. A sensory diet is a series of physical activities that an individual can do at home. An example is sitting on a sensory seat wedge that helps provide extra sensory input and reduce fidgety. Another alternative is massage. It can be used as a form of reinforcer after every completed task. We can also allow them to sit on a weighted toy or bean bag during break time. These provide deep pressure and can help them feel grounded. Furthermore, they can fidget by feeling the fabric and beads in the bean bag.
If a child is more active and needs to move around, we can suggest a movement break for them in between tasks. If needed, teach them how to request for a break. Remember to limit the break time as the focus is on getting them to sit for a longer duration.
Yogic practices help to increase body coordination, body awareness, self-regulation, support calmness in children and many more. As some autism children tend to be more tense and nervous in nature, yogic practices can alleviate this attribute of the child. In addition, this can improve the sitting tolerance of the child, due to the need for fidgetiness when children begin their attempts at sitting for a longer duration. To make it more fun, parents can bond with their child while practicing yoga and increase their imitation skills.
This may take some time to work on but small success is worth celebrating for. Always remember to praise a child as praise and reassurance makes a big difference.
Written by: Si Jin
Radhakrishna, S., Nagarathna, R., & Nagendra, H. R. (2010). Integrated approach to yoga therapy and autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine, 1(2), 120.
Picture credits: https://www.whattoexpect.com/toddler/health-and-safety/24-month-well-baby-visit/