Using Sensory Activities to Build Language Skills
Updated: Aug 26, 2022
With kids on the spectrum, it is so important that we know how to get them into a regulated state, because if they’re not in a regulated state they are not going to be ready to learn language.
One of the biggest myths that I hear is, “Just send the kid to OT first, then he’ll be ready to learn - then he’ll be regulated!” Or, “I’m just gonna start with a sensory activity, and then he’s gonna be regulated.” For a lot of our kids on the spectrum, it does not work like that!
A lot of kids need sensory input consistently - it’s not just a “one and done.”
So, instead of planning your sensory activities and doing one, and then doing a language activity…do it together. Here are some ways you can do that.
If the child is low arousal, give him spaghetti arms (shake his arms like noodles) when singing hello. If the child is high arousal, give him deep squeezes on his arms and shoulders while signing hello.
Five Little Monkeys:
Have the child jump on a mini trampoline (or in place) while signing the beginning of the song. When one monkey "falls off," have him jump off and take a felt piece to the felt board.
"Where" Questions Activity:
Hide animals around the room and put the child on a spinning office chair. Give the child 3 spins to the right, then 3 spins to the left, and then ask him where one of the animals is, e.g., "Where is the cow?" Now you're giving him vestibular input while targeting WH-questions!
Have the child sit in a chair and then give him an object in the room to go get. After you give the direction, tell him "Run! Run! Run! Go grab it!" Have him run back to the chair after he picks it up, and give him spaghetti arms. This is a simple way to target following directions while giving sensory input at the same time.
Think, think, think...
What we always want to think about is, what are ways that we can integrate sensory activities throughout a language activity? Because for most of our kids it’s not going to be enough just to do a sensory activity at the beginning of a language activity, or one in the middle, or one at the end. Sensory activities can be integrated throughout the whole day.
You don't need a gym to incorporate sensory activities into a child's day! You can use basic pieces of furniture, such as using an office chair to give vestibular input, like this.
So remember, using sensory activities to get kids regulated is not a “one and done.” It’s not “Send him to OT and then he’ll be regulated for the rest of the day.” We have to think about how we can keep a child regulated - because it is possible to target sensory processing and language at the same time!
If you're an SLP, click here to learn about the Inside Out Sensory Certificate for SLPs. If you're a parent of an autistic child or child with sensory needs, click here to learn about the Inside Out Sensory Communication Program for Parents.
Jessie Ginsburg, M.S., CCC-SLP is the creator of the ASD from the Inside Out and founder of Pediatric Therapy Playhouse, a multidisciplinary clinic in Los Angeles.