Fun, Joyful Ways to Develop Social and Motor Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum or Sensory Processing Disorders
Here is a game that has three important elements. It takes fine motor skills to work the eyedropper, cognitive skills to understand the principle of fill and release, and a sense of fun to squirt another.
- Awareness of others
- Fine motor control
- Cognition of a two- step process
- Tactile stimulation
- One eyedropper per child
- Pail of water or a smaller container of water for each child
Give each child an eyedropper and a separate container of water, or put the one pail of water in the middle of a circle for them all to share.
Show each child how to fill the eyedropper with water by using a four-part sequence:
- First, squeeze the top closed.
- Second, place the eyedropper in the water.
- Third, stop squeezing the top of the eyedropper and watch the water come up the tube.
- Fourth, take it out of the water, squeeze the top again, and squirt the water (on each other!).
- Squirt water on specific body parts, as in “Let’s squirt water on my (or your) hand. Now on your elbow.”
- Use paints instead of water and squirt paint on paper. Have different colors in separate eyedroppers or clear the eyedropper with water between colors.
- Using paint, drop paint from higher and higher distances to get different effects in the paint splotches on paper.
What is being learned
- By squirting water at each other, children are becoming more aware of each other and enjoying the silly give - and - take of the situation. They also gain experience in motor planning as they modify the squirt to aim it up and out and connect with the person they are aiming at!
- If they squirt their different body parts, they are increasing their awareness of the parts of their bodies and the names of those parts.
- If they drop paint from the dropper onto paper they get the fun of experimenting with color. They get to see how different colors look next to each other and how the paint forms a different design when dropped from higher distances.
Tactilely defensive children might have difficulty with a sudden burst of water squirted out. Instead, dribble the water slowly on different body parts to help increase their tolerance.
If the child can’t handle that amount of touch yet, you can both squirt water at something else, such as at your reflections in the mirror.
Watching feathers can be fascinating because they move slowly and respond to the slightest current.
- Eye-hand coordination
- Partner play
- Breath control and modulation
- Visual, proprioceptive, and vestibular input
If two children play together, have them stand close, facing each other. If it’s an adult and a child, the adult should be at the child’s level.
Show your partner how to cup her hands in anticipation of catching a floating feather. Softly blow a feather and have your partner catch it. Give as little or as much help as is needed.
Take turns being the blower and the catcher. Work toward having two children play together, with adults assisting as needed.
- Get in a circle and blow the feather from one person to the next.
- Have each child blow a feather up and catch it with his own hands.
- Use a balloon instead of a feather. Or blow up the balloon, then let it go, and have the child try to catch it as it flies around the room.
What is being learned
- Children are learning to modulate their breath, which controls volume.
- They need to know how to control their breath so they can learn to use their “inside voices.” Controlled respiration also helps create longer sentences.
- Controlled breathing also helps create calmness.
- They are practicing focusing because they have to keep their eyes on the feather in order to catch it. And they have to get their hands in position to catch the falling feather. Thus, they are learning eye-hand coordination.
- If the children have to move in order to get in the best position to catch the feather, they are challenging their sense of balance and thereby increasing it.
- They are also learning the pleasures of back- and- forth play.
- For the child who gets distracted more easily and won’t keep his eye on the feather, make the distance between you very small and reward him for each catch. The reward can be whatever he likes, such as a hug, high five, treat, favorite toy, or verbal praise.
- For children who need more work on breath control, which is an underlying factor in the ability to speak longer sentences, hold the feather in your hand and have them practice blowing softly and then blowing strongly. Comment on the difference.
- For children who need a lot of visual stimulation in order to stay attentive, use the balloon variation.
Hearing a sound they can’t identify can be scary for children, and there are so many sounds in our world. This game helps make them familiar.
- Auditory stimulation
- Group participation
Recording of common sounds
Make a recording of common sounds, such as a car starting, water running, a vacuum cleaner running, a dog barking, a door closing, and a toilet flushing.
Have the children sit and tell them you are going to ask them to listen to some sounds. When they are quiet, start the recording. Stop the recording after each sound and ask, “What made that sound?” If needed, give them choices, “Was that a toilet flushing or a dog barking?” Make the choices as obvious or subtle as needed by your group.
- Let one of the players start and stop the recorder.
- Have children try to imitate the sounds they hear.
What is being learned
- Children are learning to identify by sound the things that are in their lives. This will help them not be alarmed when a sound comes on suddenly.
- They begin to see that many things make a sound and these sounds can be identified.
- They are also being part of a group and hearing others’ interpretations.
- For the child who alarms easily, let him control the stopping and starting of the recorder, or play the sounds at a low volume.
- For the child who needs visuals to understand, have photos or pictures of the objects to accompany the sounds.
LOST IN RICE
This is a classic game, and there is a reason for that. Everyone enjoys digging for treasures.
- Playing with others
- Tactile stimulation
- Decreasing tactile sensitivity
- Rice or any small, dry material, such as beans, birdseed, corn kernels
- Medium-size container or bucket
- Small toys or objects, such as toy cars, figures, wrapped treats, combs, Ping Pong balls
Fill a container with the rice or other material. Use a basin, box, or any container that allows children the freedom to dig without the rice spilling over the sides.
Either bury the items in the rice yourself, or have another child bury the items to find. You can do this with or without the child watching. “Tanya buried something in the rice. Can you find it? A car! You found a car!”
Let the child play with the car for a while before saying, “Now it’s your turn to bury the car for Tanya to find.”
- For a small number of children, bury quite a few toys in the rice and have each child take a turn to find an object.
- Name one of the objects hidden and encourage children to find the object without looking and using just their hands.
- What is being learned
- If children watch the toy being buried, they learn that objects that are no longer seen still exist (object permanence).
- If they have tactile issues, they can learn to increase their tolerance.
- If they tend to put things in their mouths to identify texture, they learn to use their finger pads for identification instead.
- Feeling the pressure of the rice or other material on their hands as they search for the toys can also be very calming.
For the child who is tactilely sensitive and reluctant to let his hands touch unfamiliar things, allow him to watch the desired toy being buried so that he’ll be willing to go get it. As he becomes more familiar and comfortable with the game, try using other materials, such as sand or damp oatmeal, to get him to tolerate more textures. Keep a bucket of water nearby so he can rinse as needed. Then, later, keep the bucket of water further away so he learns to tolerate the feeling for longer periods.
SINK THE BOAT
This game has an element of suspense. Will your pebble be the one that sinks the boat? Watch and see.
- Working with others to achieve a common goal
- Eye- hand coordination
- Visual and proprioceptive stimulation
- Understanding of cause and effect
- Plastic basin (like the kind used for dishwashing)
- Small plastic container (such as a margarine container) or Styrofoam meat tray
Place a basin in the middle of the table, filled with water. Float a small plastic container (or tray) on the water.
Tell the players that they are going to see how many pebbles it takes to sink the boat. Go around the table giving each child in turn a pebble and have them put their pebble in the small container.
Comment on the progress. After one child puts his pebble in, say, “Still floating. Next turn,” “Still floating,” and so on until, “It sank!”
- Have several containers floating on the water to be sunk, one at a time.
- Play the “Will it sink or float?” game instead. Take turns placing various objects, such a feather, cork, rock, penny, and so forth, on the water to see if they will sink or float.
What is being learned
- Because all of the children are contributing, the success of the boat sinking has the potential of making a child feel a part of the whole group, an often unusual but welcome experience for the child who wants to interact with others but is unsure how to do so.
- If children toss the pebble into the container rather than just placing it in, there is the possibility of increasing their eye-hand coordination.
- If you do the variation of several boats, you can use this activity to practice counting. How many boats sank?
- Practice ahead of time, on your own, to see how many pebbles it takes to sink the boat. Vary the size of the pebbles or the size of the boat to fit the attention span of your group. If they would get too impatient or distracted and lose the connection between their actions and the consequence, use a smaller container or larger pebbles.
- If you’re worried that some kids will throw their pebbles while waiting their turns, give each child a pebble at the moment it’s her turn, rather than handing out the pebbles ahead of time.
- If your child is likely to put pebbles in his mouth, use larger objects, such as small rocks that are too big to be swallowed. The boat will just sink a little faster.