Though there is no exact figure to date, it is estimated that roughly 700,000 individuals in the UK suffer from some form of autism. It is described as a developmental disability and spectrum condition by The National Autistic Society. Many who have autism, particularly those with acute cases, struggle to make sense of their surroundings. In addition, autistic individuals may experience communication difficulties, involving problems with speech or social situations.
Also, in some cases, individuals with autism will experience either over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity with the senses. By this we mean touch, smells, sounds, tastes and occasionally colours. This video depicts sensory sensitivity and how it can affect the senses. The video was created by The National Autistic Society; it recreates a sensory surfeit.
In cases of under-sensitivity though, it can be difficult for people with autism to make sense of what's around them and differentiate one item from another. In fact, those with hypersensitivity may also struggle to distinguish objects in cases of distorted vision, audio and favoured textures.
So, what can we do? Well, luckily there are ways we can aid development and provide support to loved ones or friends who have autism and suffer from one of the sensory sensitivities listed above. In this post though, we will be focusing on under-sensitivity.
One of the ways we can help is by creating a sensory garden. While the winter weather may seem unforgiving, there's no reason we can't bring our garden indoors. An indoor sensory garden is a long-term investment, not to mention a safe place that can be used all year round. This makes it ideal for parents and family members who care for a loved one with autism.
If you are interested in creating an indoor sensory garden, read on. In this blog post, we will look at just a few of the ways you can design the perfect space for those with autism and hyposensitivity.
Hyposensitive individuals often learn best through visual supports, such as photographs and objects. This may also help them to recognise sounds through verbal instruction.
So, to start your indoor sensory garden, consider posting a couple of pictures in a row on the wall. You could use them to display day-to-day activities and pop them in chronological order. This way, you can take your loved one through the sequence and help them learn and distinguish details and features.
For on-the-go learning, consider investing in a folder to keep the pictures in. This will keep them all together, and allows the individual to refer to them when needed.
For hyposensitivity, you can gradually introduce a variety of textures. This may help the individual to recognise similarities and differences over time.
A couple of texture ideas include velvet, soft make-up sponges and artificial grass. All of these suggestions are soft to touch, making them ideal for this practice. The latter, fake grass, can be used as flooring to provide a cushy surface. Alternatively, you can create little circle spots for your loved one to walk on or feel when they're ready.
If you have a lot of furniture in your sensory garden space, consider removing some and positioning chairs and sofas so they border the room. This will allow more space for your loved one to explore.
In addition to furniture, you can also dot a couple of colourful items around the room. In time, this may help them to distinguish between patterns and colours. You could use soft toys or polychromatic tape, to teach them about boundaries. There are also plenty of soft sensory furnishings you can purchase. These usually come in bright colours to help with visual recognition, and they are fun and educational.
To aid smell, you can use safe scented products. These could be used as a reward for remembering a texture or visual support, or to introduce them to and help them distinguish between smells; notably good smells and bad smells.
These are just a few ways you can transform your spare room into an indoor sensory garden for hyposensitive, autistic individuals.
Patience, reassurance and support can all help to aid your loved one's development. Many people with autism learn to lead independent lives, depending on the severity of their condition.
So, give the indoor sensory garden a try and see what works for you and your loved one.