Monday, February 13, 2012

Autism and Tactile Stimulation: Use It to Your Advantage!

You're doing every thing you are supposed to be doing according to all of the specialists. Your loved one, or student, has a disorder on the Autism Spectrum and you feel like you are simply treading water. You have tried to create structure. You have visual schedules, charts, and communication boards. Nothing seems to be working. They seem to be constantly seeking out stimulation of touch, or feel.

If this is your case then there are some things you can do to use this to your advantage. Since our skin is so sensitive and such a huge part of our sensory system, with Autism this is either amplified by ten or diminished by ten. The stimulation is so rewarding to them it can consume their world. I once worked with an individual who would have spent his entire day standing at the kitchen faucet. He would stand there just running his hand underneath the water, and flicking the stream. You can use this behavior, with a little earnestness on your part. Instead of fighting it completely. Put "water time" into the day's routine. Put into the schedule designated times that they can retreat into their autism. This will allow them to decompress after the demands you have been placing on them prior. Make sure that it is a set length of time. Try setting a timer, and let them know when the timer goes off it is time to move on to the next activity. You might be surprised how well the person responds, when they know that they will get their sensory time. You can try and use it as a reward system that they can earn, but(depending on the person) this may backfire the first time they don't earn their time.

You may now be asking "How can I put this into their schedule, when I can't get them to follow a schedule?". This is a very valid point. If you are using a picture schedule and not having much success then I have a suggestion for you. Try attaching small pieces of different textured materials to each picture. Use many different types of materials, but make them all feel different. Try things like felt,different grades of sand papers, and various fabrics. Just put a different material on each activity. If an activity is repeated during the day, use the same material for both. When it is time for that activity have the person touch the material as you tell them what they will be doing. They will also see the picture. The material will serve two purposes. The first is that it will slightly satisfy their need for stimulation. This should allow them to focus on what you are saying, or what they are seeing. The second is if they can't focus on anything else, then they will begin to associate the activity with the feel on the schedule.

I have used both of these ideas with great success in real life situations. I know that everyone is different, but give them a try. You might be surprised by the results.

I have been working in the field of intellectual disabilities for twenty years. I have seen a lot of what works and what doesn't. I try to keep abreast of what is new and good in the field. I have more tried and true resources on my website at

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