When it comes to understanding autism, it’s important to understand the role of sensory activities. Let us walk you through the fascinating world of sensory activities and discover how they play a crucial role in supporting the development of children and young adults with autism.

Here at Seashell, as a learning disability charity focusing on children and young adults with sensory impairments and a range of learning difficulties, we understand the profound impact that tailored sensory experiences can have on individuals with autism. Keep reading our latest guide to find out more.

Seashell worker with boy

Understanding autism and sensory processing

As mentioned earlier, in order to understand autism, you’ve got to understand the important role of other activities. But first, let’s talk about what autism is.

Autism is a spectrum developmental disability that affects people in different ways. Autism commonly affects social interaction, communication, and an individual’s behaviour.  One common characteristic of autism is sensory processing differences. Individuals with autism often experience heightened or diminished responses to sensory stimulations, such as lights, sounds, textures, and smells.

Through our work at Seashell, supporting people with learning disabilities is at the forefront of our organisation. Through our extensive work, we’ve witnessed first hand the transformative power of sensory activities in supporting the overall development of those with autism.

How do sensory activities help autism?

Let us talk you through exactly how sensory activities help autism.

They help to deal with sensory responses

Imagine navigating a world where every sound, touch, or smell feels overwhelming. For many individuals with autism, this is a daily reality. 

Sensory activities provide a safe and controlled environment to regulate and manage sensory responses. Engaging in activities that involve different textures, temperatures, and pressures helps children and young adults with autism adapt to various simulations, promoting a more balanced sensory experience.

They help with communication skills

Communication can be a significant challenge for those with autism. Sensory activities offer a non-verbal avenue for expression. By engaging in activities that involve gestures, body movements, and tactile experiences, children and young adults with autism can develop alternative communication methods. 

This not only helps with self-expression but also opens new channels for interaction with others that perhaps wouldn’t have previously been accessible to them.

They work to develop motor skills

Motor skills development is a vital aspect of overall growth. Sensory activities, such as playing with textured materials, swinging, or climbing, contribute to the development of fine and gross motor skills. 

These activities not only improve physical coordination but also promote a sense of accomplishment, boosting an individual’s confidence and self-esteem.

They help to ease social interaction challenges

Gaining and building upon social skills can be challenging for individuals with autism, but sensory activities offer an inclusive platform for interaction. Group activities provide opportunities to share experiences, collaborate, and develop social bonds. As children and young adults engage in sensory-rich environments, they can learn to navigate and understand social cues and build connections with those around them.

They encourage emotional regulation

Emotional regulation is a skill that many individuals with autism find challenging. Sensory activities create a calming and predictable environment, helping individuals regulate their emotions. Activities that involve soothing sounds, gentle movements, or comforting textures provide a therapeutic outlet for emotional expression, reducing anxiety and promoting emotional well-being.

They aid cognitive development

Cognitive development is another area where sensory activities shine. Activities that engage multiple senses simultaneously stimulate the brain, promoting cognitive growth. Whether it’s exploring textures, sorting objects by colour, or engaging in sensory rich games, these activities enhance cognitive functions such as attention, memory, and problem-solving skills.

Sensory activities that help autism

We thought it might be useful to provide some examples of sensory activities that are tailored for children and young adults with autism. These activities are designed to engage different senses, promote development, and create a positive and inclusive environment:

  • Sensory bins: Fill a container with either dry foods like rice or beans, or alternatively sand. Hide small objects within for a tactile treasure hunt.
  • Sensory friendly art: Create art using different textured materials like cotton balls, sandpaper, or bubble wrap for a unique painting experience. Incorporate scented colouring pens or paints to engage the sense of smell.
  • Swinging and rocking: Swinging or rocking chairs provide rhythmic motion, promoting a calming effect. Use a swing or rocking horse to combine sensory input with play.
  • Fidget toys: A more modern sensory activity, fidget toys offer focused outlets for restless energy and promote concentration. There are a huge range of fidget toys with different textures, shapes, and resistance levels.
  • Calming sensory bottles: Get empty bottles and fill with water, glitter, and small objects. For those with autism, watching the items float and settle can be a soothing visual experience. 
  • Sensory walks: Set up a sensory path with materials like foam tiles, textured mats, or outdoor surfaces with various textures. Walking or crawling on these surfaces engages the sense of touch and proprioception.
  • Music and sound activities: Create a music corner with instruments like drums, shakers, or chimes. Explore different genres of music and instruments that create a range of noises to cater to individual preferences.
  • Tactile playing: Use materials like kinetic sand, slime, or putty for hands-on exploration. Incorporate tools like brushes or combs for additional sensory input.
  • Bubble play: Blow bubbles and encourage the children to pop them. Experiment with scented bubbles for an extra sensory element.
  • Gardening: Planting and tending to a garden engages multiple senses. Feeling soil, smelling flowers, and observing growth encourages a connection with nature and has calming qualities.

The key is to tailor activities to individual preferences and sensitivities. Providing a variety of options allows for a personalised sensory experience that can positively impact development and well-being. 

Here at Seashell, we’re dedicated to helping children and young adults with autism, and through our special needs school and autism occupational therapy we strive to create the best environment and support possible to those who need it.

We also have a wide range of resources and support including  learning disability training and assessments that can create an inclusive and supportive environment for children and young people with complex learning difficulties and disabilities. For more information, feel free to contact us.