Giving a New Life To Autistic Children Through Sensory Enrichment Therapy


Most of the children who suffer from Autism Spectrum disorder suffer from troubles related to sensory functions. They might be sensory avoiding or sensory seeking or a little bit of both. They might get disturbed by some textures. Smell, crowd and lights can also upset them.

As a result, parents have to come up with a sensory strategy to cope up with this situation. One of these approaches is giving the child the sensory response which makes him/her feel better. The other approach is making him/her to avoid the sensory stimulation which has negative causes. Sometimes the child is exposed to stimulations repeatedly to minimize the negative effects.

A new approach to sensory stimulation for children suffering from ASD: Sensory Enrichment Therapy

This therapy not only helps the children to control their sensory stimulation, but also to enhance their brain functioning. As a result, it helps in the improvement of sensory functioning, IQ level, social skills, speech, eye contact, attention span and other symptoms related to ASD.

When and how was SET discovered?

SET was accidentally discovered in 1947 by Donald Hebb when he was conducting an experiment on rats. During his experiment he observed that lab rats lag behind pet rats when it comes to problem solving skills. But no conclusion was drawn at that particular time. Later, Mark Rosenzweig (in 1962) discovered that the pet rats were influenced by their environment which included the presence of humans and other animals and it enhanced their brain function.

In order to get the required and proper stimulation the activity should include more than a sense or movement at once. The activity must be conducted in an unobstructed environment. It should involve the child completely so that his attention does not go somewhere else. The stimulation which includes more than a sense should be something that one can observe in daily life. This activity, when done helps in the enrichment of brain activity.

SET has applied the principals of ‘Environment Enrichment’ on human behavior to come up with this therapy. SET activities also include games as a part of therapy.

How can SET be done at home itself?

Here is a list of some of the ideas of SET which can be introduced at home:

  1. Include the introduction of a pleasant fragrance as a part of your daily schedule. Include it as a part of a massage. See if the child likes rubbing his/her forehead, cheeks, forearm, palm etc. Keep the massage gentle so that the child doesn’t find it annoying.
  2. Try to play soothing instrumental music during child’s bedtime. If he/she likes this activity repeat it frequently.
  3. Fill the pillow of the child with scented cotton.
  4. Give a massage to the child after the shower with perfumed lotion.
  5. Include walking barefoot on mats with different textures as a part of child’s daily activity.
  6. Decorate the house in such a way that it becomes sensory stimulating. Try to include more pleasant fragrance, art, music and textures in the child’s daily activities.

By using all these activities mentioned above, parents can regulate the sensory stimulation of their child and also enhance its brain functionality.


Structuring individual SET plans for the child

The activities mentioned above gives a general outline about the working of SET. A more structured plan can be drawn according to the necessities of a child. The assessment of the child must be done to recognize the shortcomings. One must assess which part of the brain requires more exercise, which sensory stimulation has to be reduced or increased etc. A daily worksheet should be prepared. It will include three to five exercises on a daily basis. The therapy should be done for around 15 minutes daily.

Let’s look at one example of individual SET program:

1: Take two bowls. Fill one with cold water and the second with warm water.

2: Make the child dip its hands in these bowls.  One hand dipped in cold water and the second in warm water simultaneously.

3: Swap the bowls so that both the hands feel different temperature. Do not make the child cross its arms, rather swap the bowls.

4: Keep doing the activity twice in such a way that one hand feels at least four dips.

It is seen that this exercise helps in improving the functioning of corpus callosum of the brain. The corpus callosum is that part of the brain, which acts as a connection between the two halves. Studies conducted recently have shown that autism systems and corpus callosum are interlinked. Many activities like sensory functioning or maths require rapid interaction between the two halves of the brain. Keeping the result of the assessment in mind, the exercise that is mentioned above can be combined with other exercises.

Does SET really work?

The most asked question when a new therapy is introduced is, does it really work? Here are three studies which shows the positive impact of SET.

Research 1: An article in Behavioral Neuroscience stated that 42% of children enhanced on the Childhood Autism Scale by at least five points. 69% parents said that their children improved as a result of the SET. It showed an increase of nine points on average in raw IQ.

Research 2:  This study showed eleven point increase in their sensory profile, eight point increase in IQ, five point increase in expressive language and seven point increase in receptive language. It also showed that 21 percent of surveyed children did not qualify for autism diagnosis, according to ADOS as a result of the SET.

Research 3: Survey of 1,002 people showed a great improvement in memory, learning, attention span, anxiety, eating motor skills, sensory processing sleeping, communication, self-awareness, and social skills, autism behaviors. It was termed as an efficient measure for all age groups.

In conclusion, these studies show that SET is an effective method to treat your child. The SET program can be accessed online for free. It will include clinical studies, online assessment and video instructions.

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