Sensory circuits can be a great way to help children with autism manage their anxieties and can encourage self-regulation. Sensory circuits can be designed to help with calming, speed pupils up and get them ready to learn. It is important to recognise the relationship between sensory overload and anxiety. Also important is to realise that sensory circuits can include activities that are as simple as walking a “note” to another familiar adult all the way up to fully designed circuits with varying activities. Firstly you need to have an understanding of what sensory processing is and how it can feel to a child:
It is important to seek advice from an Occupational Therapist with regard to sensory circuits. For more advanced activities, like the use of weighted blankets an OT needs to be advising you on their usage.
You can also find an assessment check list on the Autism Educational Trust website:
Sensory circuits need to be carefully planned activities and should always include an organising activity, for example lying on a yoga ball whilst building blocks or following a set of instructions, like a game of ‘Simon Says’. Usually sensory circuits are visually supported with a now/next board.
As each movement is undertaken, praise should be given to the child. The next activity undertaken is usually a highly motivating reward:
Now: 10 Wall press ups
Next: Thomas puzzle (2 minutes)
Each activity should be timed or counted, use a timer or a countdown to visually represent this to the pupil.
Ideas for calming activities:
These activities may help children to slow down and allow them to improve their ability to sit in a more controlled way and pay more attention to what is happening around them:
The child places their palms on top of their head and press down (described as squashing himself into the floor) with even pressure for a count of 10.
Using a ball, (foam or squishy one) get the child to hold it between two flat hands in front of his chest. Squash the ball as hard as possible to flatten it and hold for a count of 10.
Push against a wall or down against a desk for a count of 20. Complete activities encouraging the child to lie on their tummy propping on elbows.
Oral/ Mouth tools:
Chewing crunchy food: apples, popcorn, nuts, orange etc.
Drinking thick fluids from a straw/ exercise bottle.
Sucking lollipops/ sweets.
Touch/ hand Tools:
Pour out dry beans from a tin.
Apply deep pressure to calm (big bear hugs on shoulders and limbs).
Weighted vet/ blanket.
Roll the child up in a heavy blanket
Slow rhythmical movement – swinging back and forth in a swing or hammock
Looking/ Eye tools:
Looking at a book/ pictures with an adult.
Watching a calming DVD.
Slow, rhythmical music.
Ideas for Increasing Energy (Alerting)
Some of these activities will require the use of an outdoor or larger area and may be chosen during play time
- Go for a run or jog before sitting down to tasks
- Jump up and down or do star jumps
- Bounce on a large ball
- Tap your fingers on the table or feet on the floor
- Rub your hands together
- Have a shake or stretch your body
- Listen to dance music
- Work in a “noisy” room
- Sucking activities
- Getting up and down stairs.
- Walking quickly.
- Shaking head or limbs.
- Sit on Move n’ Sit cushion or therapy ball.
- Fidget with a Fidget cube, paper clips, rubber bands, straws, thera-band, small figurines, marbles etc.
- Stroking rough textures or soft textures.