Sometimes sensory processing doesn't happen as it should. Pupils with autism often experience sensory processing issues that may present in an obvious or subtle fashion.
Sensory issues can only be identified through observation of a child's behavioiur and how they respond and interact within their environment. They may impact on every aspect of a child's learning and development.
Children who have difficulties with sensory processing may have issues with motor co-ordination. They may have problems with fine motor skills which are required for activities such as writing, playing instruments, crafts and self care skills such as tying shoelaces, doing zips and buttons. Difficulties with gross motor skills for sitting, running and skipping will influence abilties in activities such as dressing, dancing, riding a bike, P.E. and other sports.
By not addressing sensory issues, learning may not take place. Issues you may see include:
- Carrying out motor tasks
- Daily living skills
- Fine motor tasks, including handwriting
- Personal organisation
- Interaction with peers
- Eating and drinking
It is important to allow time to 'be autistic' rather than have expectations of complying with normal behavioural patterns at all times. Whilst it may not be appropriate, and indeed can be distracting for other pupils if a child is hand-flapping all the time, it is essential to consider if the behaviour plays a vital role in stress reduction for the individual. It may be important to create times when he can indulge in sensory behaviour. One suggestion is that the child has a 'sensory box' that he is able to spend 5 minutes with at scheduled times throughout the day. This should integrate into the timetable and not be seen as a 'reward' or 'add on'.
Some pupils may find it difficult to settle after an active session or playtime. Consider a short "wind down" standing activity before expecting a pupil to undertake a seated task. Consultation with an Occupational Therapist may be useful in order to obtain further information on classroom strategies specific to your pupil, and for assistance in creating a sensory activities suitable for the individual pupil's needs.
The Learning Grid on the Impact of Sensory Processing Issues in autism provides some further, though by no means exhaustive ideas for adapting the school environment to suit the pupil with autism.