Everyone has their own perspective on the sensory information we take in from our surroundings. We may love the feeling of a certain fabric against our skin, or the smell of cookies baking. Children with autism are no different in that regard; however, people with autism often experience sensory hypersensitivity. They may feel overwhelmed by the sensory stimulation in the environment, or favor sensations that others may find odd, like the feeling of flapping their arms against their bodies. They may prefer certain senses over others; for example, they may prefer to smell people instead of look at them. There is nothing wrong with this. This is simply how they relate to the world. While many people try to eliminate such behaviors, by doing this, you are missing an opportunity to communicate with your child the way that makes the most sense for them. Here are some ways you can develop sensory communication skills with your child with autism:


Begin by observing your child in order to determine which sense is your child’s preferred channel of communication. For example, a child who hits or scratches themselves may be comforted by their sense of touch and may benefit from massage and other forms of physical closeness, like hugs. Look at what your child does to comfort themselves, and in what they show an interest.

Switch channels

After you have identified your child’s preferred sensation, you can start by “switching channels.” This means that you begin to communicate with your child through their preferred channel. For example, if your child responds to smells, you can begin to incorporate that into play. You could buy scented markers, candles, creams, or essential oils with which they can experiment. You may find they are much more engaged and interested in your play now that you have engaged their preferred sense.

Additionally, you could try “coupling channels,” meaning combining your child’s preferred channel with a different channel. For example, if your child likes flapping their arms, you may try playing music so they can listen at the same time. This may make them more interested in listening in the future.

Use it as a reward

Knowing the sensory preference of your child allows you to use this information as a reward. For example, if you are working with your child to teach them how to wash their hands independently and they enjoy the sense of smell, you may reward them with a special scented lotion they love.

Help them cope

For children with autism, the sensations in the world around them are often too overwhelming. You can also use your child’s sensory preference to help them cope with this feeling. When your child is upset, observe what strategies they use to comfort themselves. For example, if your child tends to bang their hands against their ears, it may be that they are overwhelmed by sounds. Buying a pair of earmuffs or noise-cancelling headphones may help them during these moments. By observing your child’s relationship with the sensory world, you can use the information you find to encourage certain behaviors and help them cope.

When you need autism support services, Normal Life Inc. is here for your. Check out our autism resource support center.

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