Deep sensory techniques that invoke calm in autistic children.
I was inspired to write this piece as I was sure that there was many parents struggling along, waiting on all the appointments and health professionals getting around to you, while you bravely soldier on unaided day in, day out. For me it has been a long journey and my son is now eight, however I feel that we are finally reaching a point where we know the techniques that work for us. Remember what works for one child will not necessarily be helpful for another, and also that it may depend on the social situation or your child’s mood as to which technique you choose. Good luck and once again trust in what you feel is best for your child, as you know them better than anyone.
Deep Sensory Techniques
Sometimes, when your child is flying around the room, or on the verge of a temper tantrum, deep sensory touch can transform your child instantly. Start doing these exercises when the child is calm, in order to get them used to the idea.
Gather an assortment of fabrics and textures, examples would be fun fur, wool, silk, velour, tinsel, scrunched brown paper, bath scrunches, the list goes on. Search around your house and see what you can find lying around. Sit your child down so that they are facing you, and hold their hand with the forearm facing upwards. Apply a firm amount of pressure and draw the fabric from the elbow to the wrist. Ask your child if they like the texture. If they do, would they like more or less pressure? This is a simple case or trial and error, some kids like scratchy textures whereas my son loves velour and likes to start with very firm strokes and end lighter. Also try this on the cheeks, torso, back and legs. If your child is unable to communicate with you, you should be able to feel them relax and take your queue from their body language. Many kids on the spectrum have a favourite toy, blanket or item of clothing that they like the feel of, and this can be a good starting point. Once you have found the right texture and level of pressure, start suggesting to your child that this could help them to relax when stressed, or if they have fallen and hurt themselves rub the fabric on their cheek whilst holding them.
Another form of deep pressure uses a large inflatable sausage shape, or if like me you are struggling to find or afford the specialist equipment, a space hopper works just as well. Get your child to lie face down on the floor and stretch their arms out like Superman, (if you have hard floors use a rug, aerobics mat or duvet). Start at your child’s feet and roll the space hopper up their body whilst pressing down on it avoiding the head and moving onto the arms. Again this is trial and error but start with a firm amount of pressure, my son loves this and likes to pressed really hard, you can visibly see him calm down and relax. We have adopted this as part of our daily routine and find that after bath time is great as it helps him wind down for bed. It is also useful if he has had a particularly stressful day at school or if things are just getting a bit too much. I understand that we cant always have a space hopper with us but by using vocal prompts such as “cuddle time” or “big squash” you can firmly hug your child when out and about and they will learn to associate this with a feeling of calm and security. I find this useful when in supermarkets or on outings and if I manage to catch him early enough I can now prevent a full-scale blow out. My son has also started to recognise within himself that he needs to be “squashed” and will often ask before his behaviour starts to escalate.