Parents Can Help Sensory Integration in an Autistic Child

Sensory integration therapy helps children learn to apply all their senses together – touch, taste, small, sight and hearing. The kind of therapy may ease difficulties linked to autism, such as challenging or repetitive behavior. Parents can also support sensory integration to aid the development of their autistic or non-autistic children.

How Parents Can Get Involved

Probably the most important way a parent can facilitate sensory integration is by recognizing that it exists and that sensory experiences play an important role in child development.

Think of different ways a child experiences her/his environment. Try to foster ways the child can incorporate all of their senses as they explore and learn about the different things around them.

Another important concept for all parents to understand is that each child is an individual with unique interests, responses and needs. You can learn best about your child by watching her/him and their reaction to different situations.

Respond to Your Child’s Reactions

Observe how your child is affected by touch, movement, sights, sounds, smells, or heights. Different situations will elicit different responses. Look for signs of excitement, fear, nervousness and change activities or situations based on your child’s responses.

Remember that sensory integration is not the same as sensory stimulation. Just as important as providing a variety of stimulation, it may also be necessary to reduce stimuli as well. Responses vary from child to child. As well, individual responses from each child may change from one day to the next, or even during different times of the day.

Key Points About Sensory Integration Therapy

To promote sensory integration in your child, whether they are autistic or not, here some tips and concepts to remember.

  1. While vision and hearing are often a focus of parents for their infants, physical contact is also very important. Touching is not just for the tactile contact but also to enhance the parent-child relationship. Parents should also consider a variety of positions for their newborn in which to play, sleep (side or back), cuddle and observe.
  2. The hands, face, and feet contain the greatest concentration of touch receptors and, therefore, these are the parts of the body best able to discriminate shape, size, texture, and temperature. Light touch can be irritating, and may elicit negative responses in children. Firm rubbing, stroking or even pressure is often more calming.
  3. Children often seek the types of sensory experiences their nervous systems need. As a child shows interest in various sensations, try to provide this type of stimuli in their normal play activities. Sometimes a child’s need or want for sensory stimulation may be misinterpreted as a need for attention or as a means of manipulation.
  4. Remember the processes involved in sensory integration. Those children having difficulty with certain senses or activities may need to put extra effort into those actions. They may, for example, need to focus their full attention on balance or listening and be unable to process different input at the same time.
  5. Sensory input can be a powerful force. Children may react by becoming excited or withdrawing from stimuli. Sensation can have a dramatic effect on the nervous system.
  6. Sensory input can involve both active and passive involvement. When a child actively participates they must initiate, plan and execute movement. Passive activities may provide sensation, but not necessarily require a response. Active involvement provides the best opportunity for changes in the brain that lead to growth, learning, and better organization of behavior. When a child is actively involved he/she has more control over the situation.

SOURCE: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Sensory Integration, a Sensory Integration International publication.

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