Our lives are full of sensory experiences. We take in information about the world around us through our senses – we touch, move, see, hear, taste and smell.
Many people with autism have difficulties interpreting this sensory information. Sensory sensitivity can significantly impact an individual’s behaviour and ability to develop independence in life skills.
Here are a few of the personal care strategies that have helped me to better manage my son’s sensory-driven behaviours.
- Use comfortable clothes – consider particularly the type of fabric and length of sleeve
- Cut off care labels from inside clothes
- If seams cannot be tolerated try wearing undergarments (eg leggings under trousers) to reduce friction
- Wash and dry clothes in unscented products
- Dressing in front of a mirror can help provide visual cues to improve sequencing and body awareness
- Use non-perfumed soap
- Apply firm pressure when shampooing or drying with a towel
- Be aware of bathroom lighting levels and reduce any loud noises e.g. run the bath before the young person goes into the bathroom
- Provide deep touch using a towel to head, hands and feet
- Use a firm stroke or pressure as you comb or wash their hair
- Count or have the young person count as you comb, wash or cut their hair
- Give a definite time limit to the task e.g. brush or cut until you or they count to 10
- Use moist toilet roll if the young person is sensitive to toilet tissue
- If feet don’t reach the ground when sitting, using a stepping stool to rest feet on will help the child feel safer
- Try a padded seat insert if the young person doesn’t like how the toilet seat feels
It’s important to talk to the young person to try and understand their individual issues and to explain each step of what you are doing to help them.
Visual aids can also be used to help the young person understand the activity and remember the order or sequence of actions. Our TomTag self care pack is designed to help guide self care tasks such as dressing, washing, toileting etc.
We also recommend Little Grippers socks which use “stay on technology” to help them to stick rather than grip the skin so they don’t fall down or move around.
For more tips, this friendshipcircle blog has some really useful information.
Please feel free to share and let us know which strategies have worked well for you.
We all experience stress during our daily lives but for many autistic people the experience of stress can feel very intense and cause severe difficulties.
Like many young people with autism, my son has been experiencing anxiety related to an overly-literal understanding of what it means to follow school rules and when he is faced with an unplanned change both inside and outside the school setting. He has a very narrow view of what it means to be in the correct uniform or be on time for lessons or appointments. When he is feeling stressed he will rock on his feet, pace the floor and ask repetitive questions. In these situations, he finds it difficult to respond to any reassurance.
Together with his Speech and Language therapist (‘SLT’) and Occupational therapist (‘OT’) we have been using some strategies to help him. We have taught him that the concept of feeling overwhelmed means either too many feelings all at once or a very strong reaction to a situation. He can now use this word to express how he is feeling. He has been taught a format for identifying the worry and setting out actions to help resolve it. The actions relate to what he can think, say or do to make things better. We’ve taught him the phrase self talk and he is beginning to understand what a trusted adult would do or say to him in that situation to help and to use this as self talk. We are sharing this work with his teachers and support staff to ensure a consistent approach to talking about worries and solutions.
On the suggestion of my son’s OT we are trialling a tactical breathing programme developed for the military and emergency services to use in times of extreme stress. We wanted to have activities that were discreet and applicable to the classroom environment. Tactical breathing is a great strategy as no one needs to know that he’s doing it and he can use it to prepare for stressful situations as well as once he is feeling stressed. We’ve incorporated tactical breathing into an anxiety busting resource for him called the 3 O’s- Overwhelmed, OT, OK.
One of the resources we’re using is a simple free app called ’Tactical Breather’ which I’ve downloaded onto his phone so it’s readily to hand for stressful situations. I’m also encouraging him to use his phone to record worries and solutions so that these can be kept and built up to form a ‘library’ of helpful strategies for managing situations.
It is hoped that over time and with continued support in this area he will become more able to self soothe and manage his anxiety. Incidentally, studies have shown that stress levels of mothers of kids with autism are similar to that of combat soldiers. Perhaps I should download that app for myself too!
This week – 3rd to 9th Nov – the UK’s 30,000 occupational therapists are celebrating Occupational Therapy Week 2013.
Occupational therapy enables people to live more independent and rewarding lives and occupational therapists are the skilled professionals who help people achieve this goal.
Occupational Therapy Week has made me reflect on the huge difference occupational therapy has made to the life of my autistic son Tom over the last 6 years. For Tom, ‘occupation’ refers to daily occupation i.e. the ability to participate in everyday life. Like many children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Tom has a sensory processing disorder which can make everyday tasks overwhelming, such as coping with classroom noise, the feel of certain fabrics or standing in a queue for lunch. He also has difficulties with both gross motor and fine motor activities such as handwriting.
We have worked closely with an occupational therapist (OT) to identify strategies and interventions to help Tom. Activities to improve his motor skills development and reduce his sensory processing disorder have been built into a daily programme and we are very lucky that Tomas is able to follow this programme at school before lessons start. His teachers report that he is able to learn and concentrate better after his occupational therapy sessions. He also follows a ‘Chill Out’ programme devised by his OT to help him overcome any anxiety he faces throughout the school day.
Six years on and I’m very proud of the progress Tom has made and hugely grateful to the occupational therapists who have helped him to carry out activities he needs or wants to do. Now I just need to dig out that ‘Chill Out’ programme for myself!
Find out more about what occupational therapists do and how occupational therapy can help by visiting the British Association of Occupational Therapists’ website www.cot.co.uk.