Teenagers and children with Asperger’s syndrome and autism often have problems in one or more sensory areas. These include tactile, oral, visual, olfactory, auditory and the general ability to balance and control the body. In the book, Asperger Syndrome in Adolescence, Mark Willey and Liane Holliday Willey describe forms of occupational therapy that can be carried out at home.
Recognizing Sensory Problems in Teens with Asperger’s Syndrome
Young people with Asperger’s Syndrome often have difficulties with gross and fine motor control as well as over or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch and smell. While these weaknesses should be diagnosed by a professional, here are some warning signs to look out for:
- problems with hand-eye coordination
- balance problems
- poor posture
- sensitivity to sound, light, smell and touch
- difficulties in social situations
- learning disabilities
- poor eating habits
Simple Steps to Overcome Sensory Weaknesses in Teens with Asperger’s Syndrome
An occupational therapist will often recommend simple exercises that can be practised at home. Here are some ideas to experiment with:
Help for over and under-sensitivity to tactile experiences:
- Encourage and offer tight squeezes and hugs.
- Use tactile-rich decor such as cork, sisal rugs and furry blankets.
- Supply a bag of different textured items such as feathers, leather, silk, tinfoil, sandpaper and sponge and encourage the child to rub them and feel the different surfaces.
- Cook meals with different size pieces of vegetables and different texture foods.
- Encourage gardening and patting down soil and working with sand.
- Provide clothing the child is comfortable in.
Help for over and under-sensitivity to oral experiences:
- Offer chewing gum, lollipops and hard candy.
- Supply straws or cups with built in straws.
- Ensure the child is on a multivitamin to make up for any dietary deficiency.
- Encourage bubble blowing.
- Supply simple wind instruments such as recorders and harmonicas.
Help for children with auditory sensitivity:
- Supply earplugs or earmuffs when at a loud event or sports match.
- Expose the child to a variety of music and see which is most enjoyed.
- Teach the child how to cope with or move away from loud noises such as a passing train or screaming children.
- Take the child to quiet places on outings such as the library, art galleries, coffee shops and parks.
Help for children with olfactory sensitivity:
- Supply a small vial of a perfume the child likes that he can sniff if he needs to.
- Give permission for the child to leave the room if an odour is too strong and try and make the same provision at his school.
- Don’t bring home magazines with perfumed pages.
- Teach a child to breathe through his mouth to minimize unwanted smells.
Help for children with visual sensitivity:
- Work with an ophthalmologist as different color and strength lenses can help.
- Do jigsaw puzzles with the child.
- Encourage activities where the child sorts items into shapes and sizes.
- Work on collages.
- Build 3D models.
Children with Asperger’s Syndrome often display weaknesses in motor control and sensory areas and simple repetitive exercises can create new patterns of ability and behavior. It is helpful to get the child assessed professionally and then integrate the occupational therapist’s suggestions into everyday routines.
Willey,Liane Holliday, Asperger Syndrome in Adolescence, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2003