Sensory learning is an important component of early learning for all children, but particularly for children with autism. Although children with autism may experience different challenges when it comes to formal learning and will require unique support for their own needs, there are some shared difficulties that are more common than others.
Difficulty in communicating or changing routine, as well as understanding and processing interactions with other children and adults are quite common. Sensory learning can help to support children with autism when faced with these challenges in several ways, including:
- Helping children to practice motor skills and coordination
- Giving children alternative ways to understand a concept or solve a problem, encouraging them to think about something and approach it in a way that works for them
- Providing a calming distraction when children are anxious, stressed or agitated
- Assisting in interaction and cooperation when working with other children
- Stimulating the brain to create neural pathways and improve cognitive skills
Including sensory learning in all lessons for children with autism will help them to progress and develop skills more quickly, and ensure their working environment is a fun safe space for them to grow individually and interact with their peers.
Sensory Activities for Children with Autism
Mud kitchens allow children the freedom to experiment, express themselves and play around with mud without worrying too much about damaging equipment or making a mess. Mud kitchens are stations set up in outdoor spaces with tools and equipment that can be used in role-playing games such as a conducting science experiment or working in a real kitchen, where the mud kitchen got its namesake.
Springboard Supplies 7-Station Outdoor Potion Bench
In addition to role-playing, mud kitchens allow children to explore textures, find patterns, and build confidence in their own motor skills. Reveal some patterns on mud with our Let's Roll - Forest Friends, or let children make potions with a Messy Play Utensils Set.
Hand and footprint painting
People with autism are often visual learners meaning visual information has a longer-lasting impact and can be better understood than heard or read information. In early years when formal education starts, visual language can support their understanding of certain ideas. Encouraging children with autism with art activities can also help them to express their own feelings about things they are experiencing.
Hand and footprint painting is an exciting exercise that asks children to think about mark-making in a different way. You’ll need to use paper roll for this activity to be effective and reduce mess. Pour some paint into trays and have children press their hands and feet into the paint and create a picture on the paper using them. You could ask the children to create a scene and draw on some basic starting points like a tree without its leaves. We stock large 5L Ready Mixed Paint tubs which are perfect for this. You could also ramp things up a notch with some Glitter Paint to recreate the sun or snow.
Springboard Supplies Glitter Paint
Just as painting is a great way to get children to express themselves, music is equally effective and encourages children to explore other senses. Creating musical instruments can be just as much fun as playing them and no classroom is short of resources to do this.
Bring craft materials into class to have children create their own musical instruments. Dried beans, rice or lentils in a container make shakers of different sounds, Make chimes by hanging shells, pinecones, or forks. A fun exercise could be to show the children an instrument, like a tambourine and have them try to recreate it with other materials. Or simply ask the children to find an object in the classroom and use it as an instrument to play along to a song together.
Children with autism can struggle to perceive emotions accurately, so playing games and carrying out tasks to do with emotions can help them associate images of expressions with real-world situations. Having an Emotions Interactive Circular Carpet in the classroom is a great way for children to see different emotional expressions each day and be able to interact with them during playtime. You could help children understand different emotional expressions by playing an emotion card game with them. These printable cards for children with autism are a good starting point. Help children to understand each card by talking to them about a situation where someone might feel that emotion.
Springboard Supplies Emotions Interactive Circular Carpet
A tool like the Emotions Posting Game is ideal when learning about emotions, but also learning about how a child feels about certain ideas. Children look at individual cards showing things like bugs, thunderstorms and bike riding, and determine which box they should go in based on how they feel about them personally. Each box shows a certain emotion and at the end of the game, you can check the boxes and talk about which cards ended up where and why.
Resources for Teachers of Students with Autism
The National Autistic Society provides a vast array of support services and resources to adults and children with autism as well as parents, teachers and social staff. Their work includes diagnostic services, residential advice, and information on how to support people with autism through life issues like sleep, alcoholism, eating and menstruation.
On the website, teachers of early years and primary school years can access resources that introduce children to autism, what it means, and how they can help fellow students with autism to learn with them and feel included at school. Lesson plans and activity cards are free to download, as well as an assembly pack complete with animated videos that can be played for the children to watch.
The spectrum of autism is broad and it’s likely you’ll never find two people who experience autism in the same way. Many adults and children with autism struggle to understand speech and language, from difficulty getting the hang of phonics, to finding certain words difficult to comprehend, to being non-verbal.
The Speech and Language Kids website lists several resources to help teachers understand how to approach language challenges with children through research, reading material, and guides for exercises. Teachers can also download flashcards, activities and games. The Speech and Language Kids Podcast, available on iTunes, is aimed at verbal and non-verbal children with autism.
Oftentimes children with autism can experience difficulties with visual impairment. Teaching Visually Impaired offers a huge range of downloadable resources for students who are blind or visually impaired. These include printable worksheets and instructional guides to help teachers make lessons accessible for children with impaired vision. Teachers can also access PowerPoint presentations to help them construct lessons and activities.
For Severe Learning Difficulties (SLD) learners, and children with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD), SENict offers many free downloadable activities that can be used on a computer by teachers and support teachers. Each activity comes with a simple teaching guide to help track individual targets and progression with each student.
Activities available through membership on the website include drag and drop games using a mouse or touch screen, and colour trail programmes to help students learning to track movement on screens and interacting with them.