Three ways to use autumn to reach positive sensory responses from a child with autism
It's not a job; It's a mission
By Pamela Najor
This blog is written by Centria Autism's Senior Healthcare Writer and mom of 2,
including a 9-year-old son with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Autumn is a favorite season for some and it can be a satisfying sensory experience for a child with autism. Parents can take advantage of the season by putting some Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy techniques in practice to integrate sensory tolerance for their child with autism.
Like all group activities, fall festivals can be a great opportunity to teach your child social skills such as communicating, sensory processing, and patience.
There are several learning possibilities when picking apples, raking leaves, or making applesauce with a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Sensory Integration is the ability to receive information through our senses and integrate it with existing information, memories, and knowledge to create a response. ABA Therapy focuses on determining the function of challenging behavior, some of which could stem from sensory-stimulation. Determining what function that behavior serves for the child and replacing it with one that is appropriate is sensory integration. Combining the integration with positive sensory triggers can benefit the communication and social skills of a child with autism.
Autumn and Autism
Most people think of camping as primarily a summer vacation activity, but the fall weather is great for kids who are sensory sensitive. Grab a tent, sleeping bags, matches, hotdogs or hamburgers, fixings for s'mores and head for a campsite or just your backyard. These memory-making moments can provide encouragement and lessons to last the year. Your kids may not remember every moment of the fall, but they will likely remember the positive experience of all the smells, feel, and joy associated with such an activity.
A short family road trip this weekend with the windows cracked triggered some of those happy memories for my son, who repeatedly said he smelled a campfire. I didn't, but that's not surprising as he is typically more attuned to sights, sounds, and smells than everyone around him. The olfactory memory of a positive experience in the past serves several benefits including a positive conversation starter and worthy of building on year after year.
While no camping was planned for this weekend, I realized there was no reason why we couldn't recreate it on a smaller scale in an ABA kind of way—by breaking big tasks down into smaller more easily-achievable goals. In other words, my son's positive memory became reinforced with another successful sensory experience by taking the opportunity to pitch a tent in the backyard and start up the fire pit for some warmed up apple cider and donuts.
Other autumn activities to appeal to the senses allows you to understand your child's sensory needs better and learn their limitations as well.
Pick Some Apples, Pumpkins
Going apple picking cannot only introduce your child to new tastes and textures but provide an opportunity to be outdoors and adapt to changing surroundings while exploring the sensory-friendly outdoors.
While you are at an apple orchard, add to the seasonal senses and pick up various sizes and types of apples and, if they have them, pumpkins as well. They cannot only serve as visual reminders throughout the season of the positive experience but carving pumpkins and peeling apples for a recipe with supervision can serve as a tactile sensory activity. For example, separating the seeds from the guts of a pumpkin is the first step in the process of toasting pumpkin seeds, which can serve as a wonderful reinforcer if your child enjoys the crunch of a salty snack. If your child enjoys pumpkin pie, picking and carving out pumpkins can also serve as a learning experience in processing the steps to reach that edible goal.
Counting the seeds out or using them in a craft with them is a non-edible alternative. Other crafts with cutout apple slices dipped in paint and stamped on paper can also be a teachable craft activity.
Take a Hike, Collect leaves
Taking advantage of the lengths of paths among the apple trees provides multiple benefits. Hiking on the paths, rolling down hills, and jumping in piles of leaves, not only allows your child to hear the crunchy sounds and smell and feel the change of season but exercises large motor coordination, auditory orientation (balance) and motor planning (if your child also struggles with dyspraxia).
Not only can these activities serve a physical exercise, but they can also integrate sensory therapy at the same time. And back to your own yard, (or even a neighbor's with an offer to rake and bag leaves afterward), you can invite your kids to stomp, jump, and roll around and then stuff leaves into lawn bags. The benefits of yard work such as raking and bagging leaves or picking up and collecting broken branches promote muscle growth, improves circulation, and gives a sense of value for your child to learn.
Hunt Treasures from The Great Outdoors
With proper shoes, snacks, and water supplies, fall is an ideal time to hit the trails to seek nature's treasures.
As a child, I loved collecting leaves and bringing them inside to trace and color or glue into a memory book. Not only is this a good memory building activity, but it can help your child develop speech and language skills while triggering creative learning.
Making a game out of tasks is a key tool in every parent's bag of tricks. Using pasted on pictures and words, give your child a visual list of items to find in person. Playing on the seasonal treasures, you could design a treasure hunt by including different types and colors of leaves or bark or sticks or pinecones or all the above seasonal treasures to search for outside. Those items can be brought back in the home for use in a craft or the subject of a story for years to come. This will continue the language development benefits as well as bring fine motor and organizational skill-building to the forefront.
To learn more about how Centria Autism can help you and your family navigate a diagnosis and insurance verification, or treatment of ABA Therapy, please contact our team of specialists at (855) 423-4629.