As a speech language pathologist for over 18 years, I have worked closely with autistic children and adults on their complex communication needs. I have worked in a variety of contexts including schools, day care centers, homes, sensory gyms, group homes and day habilitation programs. Many autistic individuals have Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD) that impact their ability to function.
For children, many sensory issues are met by working with professionals, having access to sensory gyms and activities, and following a sensory diet that helps meet their sensory needs. However, as children age and reach adulthood many of these sensory needs continue to be an issue but are not met in the same way because of a change in environment, no access to services, or other factors.
What can you do as an autistic adult? How can caregivers and professionals support you to meet your sensory needs? How can you continue to have different multi-sensory experiences? I wanted to write this article because I am passionate about working with autistic individuals across all ages and wanted to offer you my suggestions.
Here are five ways to create multi-sensory experiences:
Experience #1: Cooking
I have written numerous articles about how cooking enhances speech and language abilities in addition to social skills. I also wrote an article for parents on how to make cooking a sensory experience and all of the suggestions can work for adults. It will give you the opportunity to become exposed to different textures, smells and tastes and this can help meet many sensory needs.
Experience #2: Hippotherapy
Horseback riding can be a wonderful sensory experience at any age. When researching therapeutic riding programs, I discovered that many programs are now opening their enrollment to autistic adults. Being around animals can be a very calming and wonderful experience. What one takes away can vary per person depending on their goals and needs. One person may just enjoy brushing the horse and another may want to ride. To learn more about hippotherapy or find a therapist, go to the AHA Hippotherapy website.
Experience #3: Nature walk
Living in Westchester, we have access to many trails and nature walks. In urban areas, this can be more challenging, but each city has parks that can help expose you to nature. Being outside for a nature walk is a multi-sensory experience! Feeling the breeze as you are walking, breathing in the fresh air, and touching all the different textures around you, such as the leaves, snow, rocks and trees, is an excellent daily activity.
Esperience #4: Sensory Boxes
Sensory boxes are not just for children. Be creative with your sensory box by using everyday objects or objects from your nature walk! I recently saw a speech language pathologist use leaves in her sensory box, which was a perfect those who crave that texture. Be creative and make the development of a sensory box an activity in itself! The family-run business, Happy Hands Toys, will be happy to help you create a sensory box to fit your exact needs.
Esperience #5: Music
From my perspective, music isn’t used enough for therapy or sensory needs. Exposing yourself to all different types of music is key and find the genres that move you. Use a visual board for keeping track of the music you like, don’t like, find funny, relaxing, hopeful, inspiring, etc. A visual board of different musicians can also help facilitate this activity. Perhaps try music therapy where you learn to play instruments too as a part of your multi-sensory experience. For information on music therapy and to find a certified music therapist, go to the American Music Therapy Association.
*Rebecca Eisenberg, MS, CCC-SLP, is a certified speech-language pathologist, author, instructor, and parent of two children. She has been working in the field of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) for more than 18 years in a variety of settings. Currently, she works with both autistic children and adults and other varying disabilities who have complex communication needs. She is currently on the assistive tech team at WIHD in Valhalla, NY.
Rebecca also writes a blog, called Gravity Bread, for parents that focuses on using mealtime as a learning opportunity for language. She is a children’s book author of The Monkey Balloon, and she will be releasing two more children’s books titled My Second Year of Kindergarten (releases in April 2018) and A Tale of The Monkey Balloon (releases in February 2018). She has also published multiple games and a workbook for children with special needs through Super Duper Publications.
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