According to American professor of psychology at the University of California, Alison Gopnik, children are like little scientists.
They use their imaginations to develop hypotheses and then test them with their sense perception. It’s the primary way they learn about the world.
For this reason, sensory play is vital, particularly for children with autism. Playgrounds that stimulate sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch, have the potential to enrich their experience of life.
Moreover, depending on where they fall on the autistic spectrum, ASD children may not be able to learn through conventional methods. Many autistic children are naturally kinaesthetic learners, needing to get up close and personal with the environment around them to truly understand it.
The Benefits of Sensory Play for Children with Autism
Children living with ASD can benefit tremendously from playground-based activities.
Improved Social Skills
Sage Journal research shows that sensory play can improve autistic children’s social skills. Investigators found that interventions of as little as 10-weeks, can have lasting effects on speech, body language and interpersonal communication skills.
Researchers believe that sensory play improves information processing in the brain. Autistic children, they say, can transfer lessons learned on the playground into other areas of their life, including the classroom and extra-curricular social situations.
Improved Motor Skill Development
According to Spectrum News, around 87 percent of children with ASD experience motor difficulties.
Many struggle with actions, such as skipping, hopping and jumping, while others have trouble catching a ball, or imitating throwing movements.
Playground sensory play can improve this in two ways, by:
- Helping to better manage postural issues and improve low muscle tone.
- Fostering enjoyment of physical play, encouraging ASD children to voluntarily engage in it in the future.
Sensory play develops both fine and gross motor skills. Fine motor skills include things like picking up balls or holding hands with other children. Gross motor skills are important for sitting, jumping, walking and climbing – all activities that playgrounds encourage.
Autistic children have a higher propensity for emotional dysregulation. They are more prone to fear- and rage-driven episodes. PMC research shows that among community samples, 71 to 80 percent of ASD children have at least one concurrent psychiatric diagnosis, with 40 percent having two or more.
Accessible playgrounds can help ASD children calm down.
Soothing colour schemes and specially-adapted accessible play options make these facilities more amenable to mood control, than conventional play areas.
While the effects of ASD can appear in the body, it is primarily a cognitive disorder.
According to the National Centre For Biotechnology, evidence suggests that neurotransmitter disequilibrium in the frontal lobe may be responsible for some of its clinical features.
Carefully calibrated playgrounds may help in this regard. Designs can directly stimulate the areas of the brain responsible for cognitive processing, helping to activate rationality pathways.
With long-term play, ASD children may be able to develop sufficient faculties to independently regulate their behaviour, without the need for caregiver assistance.
Why not read our other blogs about Sensory Play… Sensory Activities For Toddlers