Written by Zen Educate’s Olivia Sheppard, an SEN Support Worker of four years to children and young adults with Autism, PMLD, Complex Medical Needs and SEMH.
In honour of World Autism Awareness Week, I have put together a list of my favourite sensory activities for supporting children with additional needs. This is an especially difficult time for children with special needs so I’ve recommended some fun, simple activities that’ll not only keep children entertained but could be a great family activity.
Engaging children with autism in sensory activities is beneficial in several ways as it can help with:
Try a range of activities to stimulate all of the five senses – touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. Start off gently and evaluate what works well, and what should be avoided if there are any activities that trigger distress. Sensory activities are beneficial for all children, not just those with a diagnosis of Autism - so get the whole family involved with these great activities!
Have your child choose the receptacle - it could be an old plastic drinks bottle, a Voss bottle, an old spice jar - anything with a very sealable, screw on lid! Make sure the bottle of choice is clean and see-through. Now they can choose the liquid. Good recommendations are:
Time to choose the ‘dry’ ingredients - which can be anything! Glitter, magnets, small plastic toys, beads, confetti, legos to name just a few. Once your bottle is full, use a glue gun or gorilla glue to seal the lid on top of the bottle.
Make sure your child is involved in every choice along the journey of building your sensory bottle and describe to them in detail the colours, textures, and scents that you’re using. Where possible, prompt your child to say or sign the colour/item they want to choose to promote communication and cooperation.
Painting is a simple activity that is fun for the whole family to get involved with! Many children with Autism have an extraordinary ability to think visually “in pictures” and can turn this ability into gorgeous works of art, which is a form of expression requiring little/no verbal communication. It also helps them express emotions through colour and movement.
Of course you can use the old school paint brushes but there are so many other household objects that can be used to create amazing, unique art works! Here are just a few ideas:
This is also a great opportunity to teach colours and promote social skills if painting as a family. Prompt verbal communication and organic asking for items where you can, but most of all, just have fun!
Playdough is a firm favourite amongst all children, and has been shown to be particularly beneficial for children with a wide range of additional needs, including Autism. It is a fantastic stress reliever! By kneading, rolling, flattening and moulding the dough, children can release feelings of stress and anxiety, which could lead to a reduction in challenging behaviour. By adding aromatherapy oils (such as vanilla, lavender or rose, see recipe below), you can make the dough therapeutic and calming.
Playdough boosts hand strength as well as dexterity and coordination. It may take a while to make an impact but the muscles in the hand and forearms will be strengthened by the dough.
Finally, it can be a great learning aid, from teaching numbers to colours. When using the dough, explain what you are doing and why and then get your child to imitate your actions.
So how do you make playdough?
1 tbsp oil (vegetable, coconut or olive)
T tbsp cream of tartar
64g plain flour
Food colouring/Aromatherapy oil/Spices (paprika, cocoa powder, turmeric)
We’d love to see any pictures you’d like to share from carrying out these activities. You can post them and tag us @ZenEducate or send them to email@example.com. Thank you!