Continued: Tips for Sensory Problems

Nadia Shanab | autism, general advice, parenting
29 Jun 2010

10- Ball Chair
It is a big rubber ball seated on a four wheels base.

Instead of sitting on a regular chair, fidgety agitated kids can enjoy sitting quietly and calmly on ball chairs. They are rare in special education classes because they are expensive.

11- Play Dough

A great learning tool. Rolling, squeezing and patting the dough works on sensory disorders, fine motor skills, besides teaching letters, shapes and colors.

12- Balance Beam

The play grounds are usually delimited by big, wooden edges or beams. It contains all the play structures/equipments within. I call it the balance beam, as an alternative for balance beams in the gym. As I mentioned before in tips for educators and aides, the time on the play ground is a golden opportunity for teaching. Use all the resources available.

Seize the opportunity during recess to help a child walk on the beam. This activity is great for kids with poor attention and balance. To walk on the beam, the child is obliged to pay attention otherwise he would trip. Make sure to hold the child’s hand in the beginning to find out about his ability to maintain her/his balance on the beam. Test her/him by letting go of her/his hand, and see the response. Encourage the child to keep going if you notice that she/he is lacking equilibrium. Give support then withdraw. Keep trying and be patient. Autistic kids learn-like anybody else- by repetition. Both balance beam and slide work well on vestibular disorders. When kids get over their fears they become self-confident and can go one step farther. Remember, we are working towards more independence.

There is no two autistic kids alike. Some of them are able to run on the balance beam, others need to be hold to maintain their balance, but they end up learning. I was so surprised when one day I realized that behind the boy I was helping on the beam, other kids were following him, that was my ultimate dream. Just to tell you one more time, kids learn by modeling. Being a role model is a short cut for teaching.

The other practice that I do on the balance beam is to encourage the kids with poor verbal skills to communicate.

How to do this?

  • I block the child’s way on the balance beam and ask to use her/his words and say “excuse-me”.
  • I wouldn’t move until the child at least makes an attempt, and tell the child:”here you go!” or “sure”.
  • I step down and ask the child: “say thank you”.
  • I simply respond: ” you’re welcome!”
  • I keep doing this every single day for recess and after lunch.

The result I  was looking for happened only after three month of training. By that I mean the child didn’t need that much of verbal prompts.

Auistic kids are teachable and trainable!

13- Physical Activities

Physical education is on the daily schedule and can be as simple as running or walking laps. Many kids with autism have poor gross motor skills. They have difficulty playing group/team games (volley ball, basket ball, soccer and so on). These kinds of games require a lot of communication, coordination and quick response. But they can do other activities:

Throw and catch the ball (1:1) and it is preferred to count as the child throws the ball. As I said before when they are prepared they are more cooperative. So, tell the child from the beginning: “let’s do twenty-or fifty-throw and catch”. You’ll notice the child will immediately stop at the number you’ve agreed on. Amazing! If you are lucky, some friends -from regular education- might show up and offer to join. Seize the opportunity and broaden the circle and have the child play with a peer or more. Encourage the communication between the kids. This game also improves eye-hand coordination and works on vestibular disorder.

Another physical activity is stretching:

Include movements that invite as much muscles as possible -provided that the child doesn’t have any health problems- start slow then speed up slowly.

14- Spinner
Some autistic children can spin for long periods of time without getting dizzy. This reflects a vestibular dysfunction. The use of a small spinner can help the child calm his body and get better control on it.

15- Breathing

This is my favorite. I learned this technique from an occupational therapist:

  • Put your pointer finger (index) on your mouth as if you are doing “Quiet” sign
  • Tell the child to “copy and repeat”
  • Breathe in and say: “smell the flower”
  • Breathe out and say:”blow the candle”
  • Repeat as much as you want

There is nothing like letting the oxygen fill in your lungs. This technique is very easy and relaxing. Sometimes, all you need to calm down a child, is to do this breathing technique with her/him.


The few ideas I’ve introduced help the child get over some of the sensory integration disorders. The goal was to regulate the body in order to balance out or compensate for an overwhelming environment.

The sensory integration disorders are endless and I might talk about this subject in future articles.

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  1. […] didn’t want to push too much, in case the child has severe vestibular disorders. So, allow enough time for things to happen. But eventually they do […]

  2. Ergonomic says:

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  3. Mrs. A says:

    Your comment is highly appreciated. Coming soon with a new post.

  4. Emmanuel says:

    I am the mother (and now legal gdaiuran, too) of a 25 y.o. young man with autism. I can’t tell you what it meant to me for E to have truly caring, dedicated teachers and others working with him through his 18 years of school. He started at 2 yrs, 9 mo., legal age to start in CT at the time, full days at a school specializing in kids on the spectrum and similar. I’ve learned how unusual it is for a district that refuses to make its teachers get up to speed to be willing to outplace our kids. This was a time when I was considered a horrible mother for excluding him. Well, including him here was a disaster when we tried it for K-1, back to outplacement. He worked for 14 mo. in a high stress Walgreens distribution center before he crumbled and we are now working with an autism program for adults that got its final approval just before budget cuts hit everywhere. My hat goes off to you and those like you. Where would we be without you? Where are you, BTW?Janet

  5. Mrs. A says:

    Dear Janet,
    You have done a wonderful job as a mother by trying both placements for your son at an early age! Some parents live in denial and refuse to do what you have done, then regret it when it is a bit too late.
    Congratulations on the final approval for an adult program for your son!
    Thank you so very much for your kind words that made my day and my tomorrow…
    I find a great joy and happiness in working with children with ASD. It is my real reward when I see that I was able to help a little bit to make a difference in a child’s life.
    Your thoughtful comment is the energy that will keep me going to help the autism community.
    I live in Cupertino CA.
    I wish you and your son all the best.