As an autism parent, you’re aware of how eager your little munchkin is to literally put everything in the house straight into their mouth. Once they’ve made the developmental leap of leaning forward to take things or grab things in their eyeline, the next place they move it to is the mouth. It’s not that they’re hungry. It’s that babies use their mouths as their main path of exploration. Their tongues feel all the textures. They bite against everything that they can to try the tastes of different things. This is no different for your child with autism as he follows the same developmental path albeit at a much older chronological age.
One of the most important things that you can do as a parent, is help your child explore their world. The world is a very big place from the point of view of a child, and in the very early days, their eyesight isn’t all that great. So, babies use their hands and mouths to explore absolutely everything. When you feed your baby, have you noticed that he will hold your fingers and open and close his hands, squeezing them? Have you seen the way his little fingers stroke and unfurl around his blankets? Well, this is him feeling his way around the big world in front of him. Sensory play is pretty much the best and biggest way that you can engage your baby and get them excited by new things in the big world around them. Sensory play is a good way to engage every single sense and it encourages scientific processes; with their five senses of touch, taste, smell, feeling and sight, they are solving problems around them. How does it feel? What does it look like? Babies want to know EVERYTHING: they’re simply mini, soggy computers ready to download as much information as possible. Your child with autism will exhibit these same characteristics as they fill in the gaps left by their brain being wired differently.
Stimulating the senses of your child through play is going help them develop in so many ways. Socially, cognitively and physically, your child will find some things in the world around them so much easier to deal with when sensory play happens. By purposely meeting your child’s sensory needs at their developmental level, you allow them to easily and quickly make new neural pathways. There are toys, teething rings and even larger toys designed for babies that stimulate their senses. The Baby Bjorn Bliss is probably the best baby bouncer in the market for sensory play, because it moves with your child and they are getting moved as they move. Your baby will quickly learn that when they are excited and kicking, their chair will move. You’ve probably seen the video of the baby who throws themselves backward on their chair because they simply like the way that it feels. Baby products like this are specifically designed to give you some free time, but they’re also there to help the development of your child. Sensory play is a vital part of their learning as they grow, and unless the item that they are exploring is dangerous, let them get on with it and explore where they can. Baby products like this are great too for slightly older children who still need that sensory input but are usually too big for baby items.
There is such a thing as overstimulation, and it’s something that your child will let you know about when they’ve had enough. You certainly don’t want to incite a meltdown in your child with autism. Some babies only like five to ten-minute bursts of excitement and play time, because it can become overwhelming for them. They will start to cry when they’re done. It’s best to back off at this point and let your child’s system reboot. Don’t take it to heart if you’re playing and they start to cry; it’s not personal. The toys and the noise and the sensations can become too much for a baby, so play daily in smaller bites and life will be calm. Remember that you are playing at your child’s developmental level. By taking it at that level, your child will grow even if it’s only in short burts. Sensory play is vital for children of all ages, as more information is engaged and retained when the senses are taking in everything. Making the time for your kids to play in a sensory way is so important for their future, and you can do this from glitter and paint to mud outside in the garden.
Babies experience surroundings in a very different way than adults, which means that engaging their senses will be different as well. Some of their senses develop faster than others, which means some are sharper than others. This is what I meant earlier when I said that their mouths may do more exploring than their eyes. You can start by decorating their space in bold patterns and colours. Clear patterns in black and white can ensure that your baby is able to train their eyes to focus on the bold colour differences and trace the patterns. Hand games will help them to develop their sense of touch, with pat-a-cake being the most popular baby game out there. They’ll get a kick out of hearing the pitch in your voice change and you’ll get a kick out of their giggle when they’re having fun. The good thing about hand games is that they can be played anywhere with no extra equipment needed. Being in constant contact with your baby may not always be possible, but lots of cuddles with you so that they can learn your scent and your touch can really help them to understand and identify the people that they love the most. There are lots of ideas for sensory toys that your baby will love.
The bond that you create with your baby is one like nothing you’ll ever experience with anyone else. Make sure that you create the time to get close to your baby and get nose to nose with them, so you can breathe them in. Children are remarkable little creatures and you’re their teacher; the one who is going to teach them all about the world around them. start with their senses and watch them bloom from there. By overlooking their chronological age to their developmental age, you will help your child make progress that seems impossible. Don’t underestimate the benefits of meeting your child where he’s at regardless of age.