The sensory world is one that many who have typical processing seem to embrace within their day-to-day life without much thought and planning. Although for those of us who experience the world from a heightened sensory plane, our sensory environment holds both pleasure and pain.
As autistic people, our sensitivities are unique and individual to each of us, too much exposure and we may feel pain, too little and we may feel restless. Creating a balance within our sensory processing is an explorative journey. Although, this does not mean we should restrict all sensory opportunities from our children’s lives, in fact many sensory experiences promote joy, happiness and wonderful learning opportunities.
Immersing our senses is how many autistic children play and learn.
In the same way that you would supply a neurotypical child with toys that reflect their likes and interests, for many autistic children the access to sensory driven play opportunities are necessary for their wellbeing and a good way to foster the development of autistic strengths. Therefore, the purpose of sensory play is not to encourage an autistic child to play like a neurotypical child, but rather to support them to engage in the world autistically, from their neuro-type perspective. This may mean repetitive pouring of water or rice from cup to tray, running the resources through their fingers, touching, tasting and immersing themselves through either solitary play or collaborative play with their friends.
Sensory play can take many forms: it can be demonstrated behaviourally through repeated lining of toys, spinning of objects and the engagement of senses through touch and taste. It is through playing with patterns and shapes that mathematical understanding forms, it is through rearranging sensory resources that creativity is fostered and as with all children the understanding of the world and our relationship to it develops.
The fundamental purpose of play is to have fun through spontaneous interaction and enjoyment, it is not appropriate to force a child to play, touch or interact if they are not in the mood to do so. Supporting your child to follow their immersive interests and promoting self-led learning are additional considerations within the overall support of ‘play’. As a neurotypical child will be given opportunities to play every day, so should an autistic child. It is only through nurturing our children from their autistic perspective that we can truly support their strengths and promote positivity within their everyday lives.
There are many ways that sensory play can be created to harness these strengths. Pasta, rice and ground coffee are just a few ingredients that are easily accessible and can transform play through the engagement of our senses. The use of different colours and combinations of tactile, visual and scents within the equipment used can create an environment whereby sensory play can be fostered. These can be within planned activities as demonstrated in the beautiful sensory play trays designed by Emma Dalmayne, or alternatively through incorporating sensory opportunities within everyday routines, such as glow sticks and lavender scented bubbles at bath time.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and I look forward to sharing more with you as Supporting and Celebrating Neurodiversity services develop. Should you like to view more sensory trays designed by Emma please head to https://autisticinclusivemeets.org/play-and-social-groups/ or her Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/autisminclusivity.
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Supporting and Celebrating Neurodiversity,
Jess x x
SENSORY PLAY TRAYS DESIGNED BY EMMA DALMAYNE