For children to interact effectively with their world, it is crucial for their sensory perception mechanisms to promote proper reactions to stimuli. Children with autism have difficulty responding to their environments due to internal barriers that either prevent or limit them from forging tangible connections with people, situations, and other external forces. Medical experts have tapped into the powerful tool of sensory learning therapy — an innovative method that provides stimulation that will encourage the gradual development of positive responses within the child. As a result, the child’s brain will subconsciously begin to experience the world through the use of all of his/her senses, thus prompting a solid connection to environment.
A long-time professional in the practice of sensory integration, Lorna Jean King (OTR, FAOTA) provides an in-depth look at the methodology of this breakthrough therapy in her 1996 interview with Stephen M. Edelson. According to King, the goal of sensory therapy is to encourage normal organization of information in the brain. The better the child’s brain is able to organize information, the more effective the response will be. King stresses the importance of properly developed vestibular, proprioceptor, and tactile systems within the body, citing autism as the by-product of systems that require targeted sensory therapies.
Applied pressure is of considerable value in the therapy process. King advises therapies that involve massage and the “hug machine” since these activities promote what she has labeled “sustained pressure.” The child is able to create trusting relationships with this positive stimuli, which over time will help his/her brain to automatically process information and provoke a desirable reaction. King firmly believes that by developing these three major sensory systems, all of the senses will benefit. For instance, King describes “shirt chewing” as a way for the autistic child to relieve stress. She encourages caregivers to equip children with “safer” methods of alleviating stress. For example, children can instead use baby toothbrushes and other objects that will prove more socially acceptable. By eliminating stress, all of the child’s senses will be positively impacted.
Likewise, AutismSpeaks.org provides even more effective tools for caregivers when it comes to incorporating sensory therapies into everyday routines. The brand Comfort Silkie is home to the “Autism Comfort Therapy” line that includes weighted blankets and pillows designed specifically for evoking powerful feelings of safety and security. The site also advertises Autism Movement Therapy, which is a superb learning method that combines music and movement exercises with Positive Behavior Support therapies.
Special Needs Products LLC is home to a line of weighted vests. These vests “hug” the child using gentle stimulation and are an excellent means of relaxing, soothing, and encouraging positive emotional exchange. Perhaps the best method of assisting a child with autism is the tender embrace from a loving caregiver. Lorna King emphasizes the effectiveness of a light back rub, a warm cuddle, and a special story time — all of which are excellent ways of developing a positive, peaceful, and trusting environment that promotes lasting personal growth.