Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that affects how individuals perceive and interact with the world around them. People with autism may have trouble processing sensory information, which can cause difficulties regulating their responses to the environment.
Sensory activities are a powerful tool that can help individuals with autism regulate their sensory input and reduce anxiety. These activities provide a calming and therapeutic effect, which helps to improve overall well-being and quality of life.
This article explores the importance of sensory activities for adults with autism and provides practical advice on how you can incorporate them into daily routines to help your loved ones.
Benefits of Sensory Activities for Autism
Sensory issues can be a common challenge for individuals with autism. They may overreact to a sound, a texture, or a smell that may seem normal to others.
For example, the sound of a vacuum cleaner or a loud motorcycle can be too overwhelming for someone with autism. Or the feeling of certain clothing textures, like scratchy or tight fabric, may cause discomfort or distress. Some individuals with autism may also be hypersensitive to specific tastes or smells, making certain foods unappealing or even intolerable.
Engaging in sensory activities can:
- Improve self-regulation skills essential for managing emotions and behavior.
- Reduce anxiety and stress by giving a sense of control and predictability—they offer a distraction from stressful thoughts and emotions, allowing individuals to relax and unwind.
- Increase focus and attention span, which can be particularly helpful for individuals with autism who may struggle with attention deficits.
- Provide opportunities for social interaction—for example, participating in a sensory activity with a group can provide a shared experience and a chance to practice communication and social skills.
Research Studies Support These Benefits
Studies have shown that sensory activities can be highly effective in alleviating anxiety and promoting positive behavior in people living with autism. In 2001, a study using weighted vests showed a remarkable improvement in on-task behavior for all four students by 18% to 25% while wearing the vest. And three of the four students expressed their desire to wear the vest even outside of the observation times.
A study in 2008 that investigated the efficacy of weighted blankets as a calming strategy demonstrated that 63% of participants experienced lower anxiety levels after using the weighted blanket. Additionally, 78% of participants preferred the blanket as a calming tool.
Calming Sensory Activities for Autism
Many different types of sensory activities can be particularly calming for individuals with autism. Some of these include deep pressure, tactile, and visual stimulation activities.
Deep pressure activities involve applying pressure to the body, which can have a calming and grounding effect. Examples of deep-pressure activities include:
- Weighted blankets or vests
- Compression clothing, such as compression shirts or pants
- Swaddling or wrapping the body in a blanket
Tactile activities explore different textures and sensations. Examples of tactile activities include:
- Trying out various water temperatures, like slightly warm, room temperature, cold, and ice
- Making patterns on a surface using wet brushes/sponges or squeeze bottles filled with water.
- Touching or playing with different fabrics, such as silk or faux fur
Visual stimulation activities use the sense of sight to promote relaxation. Examples of visual stimulation activities include:
- Watching calming videos or nature scenes
- Using a lava lamp or other visual sensory toys
- Using a lightbox or projector to display images or patterns
DIY Sensory Activities for Autism
While pre-made sensory toys and activities are available for individuals with autism, there are also many benefits to creating DIY sensory activities, which can be cost-effective and easily customizable to meet an individual's specific sensory needs and preferences.
Creating DIY sensory activities can also be a fun and engaging activity for individuals with autism, as they can be involved in the creation process and have a sense of ownership over the activity.
Examples of DIY Sensory Activities for Adults with Autism
Sensory bottles are easy to make and can provide visual and tactile stimulation. Simply fill a plastic bottle with water, glitter, and other sensory items such as beads or sequins, and seal the lid tightly. Individuals can shake the bottle to create a soothing visual effect.
Create sensory bins by using a plastic storage container filled with various sensory items such as rice, beans, or sand. Add small toys or objects for individuals to explore and manipulate, such as small plastic animals or scoops and funnels.
Fidget toys are small handheld objects that individuals can manipulate to provide sensory stimulation and improve focus. Examples of DIY fidget toys include creating a sensory bag filled with different textures or making a stress ball using a balloon and filling it with rice or flour.
Sensory Activities for Autism in the Classroom
Classroom sensory activities provide a safe and comfortable environment for individuals with autism to learn and thrive. Some examples of these activities are:
A Sensory Table
Incorporating a sensory table into the classroom environment, stocked with a diverse range of tactile materials like sand, water, or rice, can enable individuals to discover and experiment. This immersive experience fosters tactile stimulation and enhances fine motor abilities.
Provide sensory breaks throughout the day to allow individuals to regulate their sensory input and reduce anxiety and stress. These breaks can include activities such as deep breathing exercises, stretching, or using a sensory toy.
To manage sensory input, it can be highly beneficial to designate a calm and peaceful area in the classroom where individuals can retreat to. This specific space can contain relaxing components such as weighted blankets, sensory toys, or soothing melodies.
Sensory Activities for Adults with Autism
Sensory activities are important not only for children with autism but also for adults.
Here are seven examples of sensory activities for adults with autism:
Yoga is an excellent sensory activity. It improves body awareness and proprioception while calming the nervous system. It also provides a structured and predictable environment, allowing individuals to feel more in control of their bodies. Plus, it's a low-impact physical activity that enhances their coordination and balance. Yoga classes can be tailored to meet the unique needs and abilities of individuals with autism, and modifications and props can be used to provide additional support.
If you're looking for a relaxing and sensory experience, consider trying massage therapy! Not only can it help reduce anxiety by providing deep pressure input, but it can also improve body awareness and leave you feeling calm and centered.
Aromatherapy involves using essential oils to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. Certain scents, such as lavender, can be particularly calming and can promote better sleep.
4. Dance Party
Dance parties are a fun and engaging sensory activity for adults with autism. They improve listening skills, coordination, and rhythm. It's a positive outlet for energy and reduces stress and anxiety. Dance parties can be done alone or in a group in a safe and welcoming environment. It is a way to express oneself creatively and emotionally while boosting self-esteem and confidence.
5. Popping Bubble Wrap
Bubble wrap popping is a versatile and enjoyable sensory activity for all ages, including adults with autism. The bubbles provide tactile input, while the popping sound offers auditory feedback. It's a simple yet effective way to manage stress and anxiety and can be done using hands or feet, making it a great addition to any sensory tool kit.
Working with clay and creating pottery can be a therapeutic and tactile activity for individuals with autism. It can provide a sense of control and accomplishment, as well as promote relaxation and stress relief. The tactile sensation of working with clay can also provide deep pressure input, which can help regulate the nervous system.
7. Autism-friendly Beanbag Chairs
Beanbag chairs offer a secure and snug spot for people with autism to unwind and take part in various activities, from reading to sensory games.
Other Sensory Activities for Autism
Music therapy offers a fun and engaging way to stimulate both the sight and sound senses while providing an opportunity for self-expression and creativity.
Finger painting allows individuals to explore different textures and sensations through touch. For people with autism who may struggle with sensory processing, this activity can be especially helpful in getting them used to tactile input.
They’re not just having fun while painting and mixing colors to create new shades but also developing important cognitive skills. And let's not forget the emotional benefits of finger painting—it can give individuals with autism a sense of control, which is crucial for their well-being.
Pet therapy involves interacting with animals to promote relaxation and a sense of connection and improve social interactions.
Overall, it is important to remember that every individual is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. The best approach is to try different types of sensory activities and find what works best for each individual.
Sensory activities can benefit those with autism by regulating sensory input, reducing anxiety, and improving well-being. From deep-pressure activities to aromatherapy and yoga, there are many types of sensory activities that individuals with autism can try to improve their quality of life.
Trying different activities is important because everyone is unique. With patience and persistence, adults with autism can discover the sensory activities that promote their well-being and happiness.
We understand that finding the right sensory activities for yourself or your loved one can be challenging. That's why we're here to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our center to learn more about the sensory activities available in your area. We'll work with you to find activities that are tailored to your unique needs and preferences.