In presentations on the subject of sensory processing in the treatment of ASD, I’ve found that people love trying out sensory interventions in their own lives or lives of their families. If the sensory issues are serious enough, I recommend reaching out to an occupational therapist for an assessment and a professional sensory modulation program. Here are 10 interventions Heritage students love that you may want to try:
- Noise Cancelling Headphones: Some people are overwhelmed by the sensation of ambient background noise in their environment. Noise cancelling headphones are a favorite of many students. You can achieve the same desired effect by wearing headphones without music on.
- Weighted Blanket: Some people need more sensory stimulation in the form of pressure and touch. A heavy blanket can have a calming and emotionally regulating effect. There are different sizes and weights of blankets — some are huge, some fit on your lap, and others look like a tube sock and can rest on your shoulders. If you want a new word-of-the-day, look up “proprioception” and sensory integration.
- Get rid of florescent lights: Did you know many people are bothered by florescent lights? Warm, soft lighting is recommended.
- Rocking Chair: If you want another word-of-the-day, look up “vestibular” and sensory integration. There’s something soothing about a rocking motion – smooth, rhythmic, predictable, back-and-forth motion. Whether it’s pacing, laying a hammock, or using a swing, getting this sensory input each day is healthy for some people. Your central nervous system and brain will thank you!
- Oil Diffuser: Introducing soothing aromas is another favorite intervention. This can be done with a diffuser for the whole room or even just putting a drop of scented oil on a cotton ball.
- Cinnamon Candy: Some people require more stimulation from their environment than the average population. From the outside these “sensory seeking” behaviors can be confused with ADHD. On the other hand, others who require more stimulation don’t seek it and may look lethargic or underwhelmed, so to speak. Introducing bright colors and exciting flavored candy can help them.
- “Fidgets”: Some students like to carry a small item in their pocket or backpack that they can hold, rub, or squeeze. This sensory input during class can help them stay instead of needing to take a break and leave class. The item can be a stress ball, silly putty, a rock, or textured fabric. Different students enjoy different shapes, textures, and sizes.
- “Push!” Remember the first word of the day from #2? Proprioception? All day we get pressure in our joints that is important for our central nervous system — some people need more than others. Try a task where you have to carry heavy things, push against furniture, do push-ups or go running. Some students who need more physical exertion than others ask to run extra laps, go to the weight room, or do subtle isometric calisthenics in class.
- Yoga: It’s hard to overestimate the benefits of regular yoga. This is a great sensory experience for people of all ages..
- Confined Space: While tight spaces make many people anxious, it can actually be calming for others. We have many students who like to use small cubby spaces as places to read and relax. Some youth like to crawl under the heavy bean bag or use the constricting body sock.
Becoming aware of how your central nervous system is set up to respond to the stimulus in your environment is empowering and encouraging. Have fun!