Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Behavioral Strategies for Dealing with Sensory Issues

Sensory issues are common in children with ASD.  There are many different approaches to treating sensory-related problems.  Occupational therapists can set up sensory diets that include a variety of therapeutic techniques.  As a behaviorist, I do have to say, that sometimes treating sensory problems behaviorally can be quite effective.  You can use environmental arrangements and shaping.  If a child gets overstimulated with certain levels of sensory information, you should first assesses what the child can handle and arrange learning environments that are responsive to the child's sensory profile by limiting the sensory information in the environment to what the child can handle.  Once you do that, gradually increase the amount of sensory information in the learning environment, providing any supports the child may need to deal with the increase in sensory information, and positively reinforce the student for engaging appropriately.  With that said, there are times when you should just treat the issue like ripping off a band-aid.  The best example I have of this is something that one of the moms that I worked with did with her son who would not go in a bounce house because he didn't like the feeling of having his shoes off.  At first she tried persuading him to go in, but his anxiety level just increased more and more as she tried to get him to take his shoes off to go in the bounce house.  His mom knew that once he was in the bounce house, he would love it.  It was an easy social environment.  All he had to do was jump and smile and he would be just like everyone else.  So...she decided to just quickly take of his shoes and kind of pushed him into the bounce house against his will.  He tried to come out.  She playfully pushed him back in.  Within seconds he realized it wasn't so bad and started jumping and smiling just like the other kids.  From that day on, he loved bounce houses and would willingly take off his shoes and go right in whenever he had the opportunity.  I know some people may be annoyed by my analogy of treating sensory issues like ripping off a band-aid, but if the main cause of the sensory problem is anxiety, sometimes it is the most effective way to get the child past the fear.  Not always...but sometimes.

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