Standing in the middle of a very busy airport, flight details are continuously changing on the boards in a circle all around the departures lounge, people are rushing around in all directions and announcements of flight details are repeated loudly through overhead speakers. This is how someone once explained sensory overload to me, and the thought of it actually made me feel stressed! Add a pair of ear defenders to block out the noise and instantly the situation becomes a lot more manageable…
If you are already working in an ASD setting, chances are you have experienced students who display behaviours linked to ‘sensory overload’. This may occur when a student experiences too much stimulation from their environment and can be conveyed through different behaviours; putting fingers in ears, not entering a room, ‘stimming’ and many more. Conversely, you may also have experience of students who are not sensitive at all to the sensory environment around them but seek feedback (sometimes inappropriately).
There are many techniques that can be used to help a child manage the sensory world we live in. Some of the ideas I use are detailed below.
Morning Movement – After what may have been a stressful morning before even getting on the bus, a bit of movement when arriving into school can do each and every one of us (staff included) a world of good! Even if it is only 5 minutes. My top picks would be rebound therapy, the oscillating plate or just a run outside!
Morning Massage – Following circle time (register, daily song etc) I always endorse up to 5 minutes of ‘morning massage’. This can also include some excellent communication teaching opportunities; students can ask for hand cream or massage equipment (I always have box made up of car cleaning mitts, back scratchers, sponges etc) or can ‘choose’ what type of massage they would like from a visual symbol on a communication board.
TAC PAC – ‘Tacpac® is a revolutionary activity pack that combines touch and music to promote communication and social interaction, sensory, neurological and emotional development.’
I really cannot praise tac pac enough! Not only is it extremely cheap to set up (once you have purchased the CDs, the massage resources can be found in low cost home stores), it can be used with students of varying abilities across the spectrum. I have also incorporated tac pac in a lesson by encouraging students to match photos or symbols to objects and sequencing ‘what is next’. I used tac pac at least once a week and find the majority of students look forward to the lessons.
Sensory Diet – Occupational Therapists are responsible for setting up ‘Sensory Diets’ for individual students. Following a referral, OT’s may ask parents and professionals to answer questions about a child and decide what form of sensory input they need to produce a programme, also known as a ‘sensory diet’. Activities within the programme will be completed at frequent intervals and may range from ‘movement based’ actions such as running around in large circles to simple deep pressure from a weighted blanket or vest. Depending on the student, the sensory diet may follow a strict timed schedule or may be a result of environmental factors.