By: Stephanie Harrison Cruz, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist & Technological Equipment Manager
SER from Puerto Rico

One of the greatest challenges that children with autism present is the interaction with other people and with the sensory environment that surrounds them. These challenges may be related to a disorder in sensory processing, which is defined as a process in which the brain has difficulty responding to information received by the senses. These difficulties can result in overwhelming experiences, impacting the person's performance in activities of daily living and social participation. For this reason, it is important to monitor the interaction with the physical and social environment. Some behaviors related to a need in sensory processing that may be reflected in a child diagnosed with autism are:

  • Constant search for movement
  • Repetitive movements (eg hand flapping, sounds, body rocking back and forth).
  • Talk fast or loud
  • cover your ears
  • Inconsistent responses to pain
  • Difficulty tolerating textures
  • Difficulty grading strength (eg, exerting too much or too little force on tasks)
  • Difficulty controlling emotions

Occupational therapy is a tool to address these types of manifestations, as it is a discipline that uses a variety of therapeutic approaches in order to promote the participation of people in occupations that are meaningful to them. One of the approaches that is most used with the population of children with autism is the sensory approach. Through this, the game is used to stimulate the processing of the stimuli that are received through the senses.

An example of the techniques used in Occupational Therapy is the Multisensory Room "Snoezelen". This has different types of sensory equipment, designed to facilitate the interaction and processing of stimuli, according to the individual needs of each person. The "Snoezelen" combines light, sounds and other sensations through a variety of equipment, such as fiber optics, interactive panels, projectors, radios, vibration equipment, textures and aroma diffusers. The use of the Multisensory Room equipment can produce the following benefits in the participants:

  • Relaxation
  • self control
  • Decrease in self-injurious behaviors
  • exploration of the environment
  • Verbal and non-verbal communication
  • selection capacity
  • Learning
  • Increased attention span
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Decrease in stereotyped behaviors

Modifying sensory demands and providing a variety of sensory stimulation tailored to the needs of people with autism can facilitate participation in activities that are important for skill development and occupational performance. If you identify possible needs in the sensory functions of your son or daughter with the diagnosis
on the autism spectrum, ask your doctor about Occupational Therapy services.