Parenting / 28 March, 2023 / My Baba
We asked Edx Education to reveal why play is so important to autistic children. We find out how the right kind of play can have all sorts of benefits for children with autism, together with tips for parents on how to engage their children.
This week we advocate for children (and people in general!) that are neurodiverse with ‘World Autism Acceptance week’. ‘Children with superpowers’ is how we like to talk about neurodiversity at Edx Education. Let’s recognise and appreciate all our differences, similarities, and strengths and use this as an opportunity to be further educated and develop our skills and understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
First of all, what is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
According to the National Autistic Society, more than one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.
The autism spectrum isn’t as straightforward as we think. There are many types of autism, characterised by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, as well as repetitive or restricted behaviours. Children and adults with autism can have sensory processing issues, which may make other people feel that they are not present, or in the moment.
Children with autism spectrum disorders face an array of challenges, which include difficulty communicating, interacting and learning. Sensory integration is one of the most important skills for those with autism to learn because it helps them to better understand their environment and become more aware of their emotions. Sensory toys help autism by:
- Reducing stress levels
- Improving self-awareness
- Refining gross motor skills and fine motor skills
- Learning cause and effect
- Improving communication skills
- Developing social skill
- Increasing self-confidence
Why is play important for autistic children?
Engaging children with autism in the right play can stimulate their brain, creating neural pathways and improving their sensory processing systems. It can improve social skills such as communication and cooperation and improve coordination, including hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills/gross motor skills.
Getting active with children can be a great start, a Whizzy Dizzy is a great activity for children with an increased sensory desire to play and is a wonderful way to engage . The spinning sensation can help autistic children with vestibular sense issues while helping improve hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills, and strengthen core, hand and arm muscles as children manoeuvre the moving platform.
Sensory play for autism can help children or adults remain calm, de-stress and divert or engage their focus, as well as provide the sensory experience they need. This will help them engage with their senses, provide feedback to their sensory systems, and regulate their sensory needs.
Messy and sensory play is a favourite in my own house and is a great option for children with autism as it helps engage the senses. Preparation is key! Choose a place in the garden or home which is ideally somewhere easy to clear up. You’ll need a surface to play and even better, a contained space like our Sand & Water Trays.
When it comes to autism and play, firstly, try an activity for just one of the five senses – touch, smell, taste, sight or hearing. Go gently and evaluate what sensory stimulation works well, and what should be avoided. You may find they love to touch, but dislike strong smells. Then add in more experiences as you go. Be mindful that all children are drawn to putting things into their mouths, so you need to make sure all objects they are given are non-toxic and safe.
Feeling different textures is good for stimulating brain development as well as helping children get used to different sensations. Try cornflour slime with our Translucent Counters, sand with our Dinosaur Counters. If it is water your child loves, get them car washing a toy in the garden, or why not try our Sensory Ocean idea using Aquatic Counters and water beads, it is a great sensory play activity for all ages.
Experiment with making scented play dough with different natural flavourings from the kitchen cupboard, taking into consideration any allergies, of course. Add mint, vanilla, ginger spices, almond oil, mild curry powders or whatever takes your fancy! Kids can have fun comparing smells whilst rolling out the playdough and making shapes, or making patterns with Tactile Shells, as the aroma wafts up, stimulating the senses.
One of our favourite messy play activities for kids is as simple as cereal in a bowl with some of our counters to discover. Or you can taste test fruit and talk about the texture, how does it taste, is it soft, hard, for example, mango vs apple.
A great way to provide sensory sight play is to use lights make a den with a sheet over the kitchen table, and make sure it is dark. Get a few torches and coloured materials to make the area colourful by using the different materials. Alternatively, use the Translucent Linking Cubes and shine a light through them to see it projected on the wall.
Homemade musical instruments are a great addition to any home and are fun to make. Ideas include making shakers from filled clear bottles with rice or dried beans, drums from plastic tubs and wooden spoons to bash, and chimes where you hang up some bottle tops or shells.
Not everyone embraces mess or even likes messy play in their space. It is well-documented that autistic children who are hypersensitive to different textures may find it hard to enjoy getting messy. If this is the case, you can offer support by demonstrating the activity first so the child can see how the play ‘works’ before deciding whether to touch it or not. While we want to encourage children, they should never be forced into an activity they feel distressed about. Keep wipes, water and a towel close by so if they do engage, they can clean their hands as soon as they want or need to.
Let’s play messy without the mess…
Edx Education’s Tactile Shells are a ‘clean’ outlet for creative expression allowing them to exercise their creativity and imagination. They are a wonderful toy for exploring touch sensations and sorting activities. Language skills can also be improved as children describe the tactile feel of the textures, as they dip into the cloth bag and try and match the different shells according to sizes and textures.
All children love a frozen toy activity for stimulating the senses. You will need to prepare this activity a day ahead. Find a large plastic box, quarter-fill it with water, put some toys in and freeze. Simple. Or you can add more layers with some food colouring if you wish. The children then have to get the toys out of the ice, using a selection of tools or use spray bottles with warm water in which will reduce the mess element, but maximise the fun!
Remember that sensory activities will have positive benefits for children in your care, not just those diagnosed with (or displaying indications of) ASD. Let’s empower our neurodiverse children to ignite their superpowers through play and most of all, have fun!
Visit Edxeducation for lots more free play ideas. Edx Education is also offering 15% off during World Autism Acceptance Week (from 27 March – 2 April) and up until 30th April using code: TQA15.
Article by Heather Welch
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