April 22, 2012

Love with your “senses”, to touch their “hearts”!

Whereas we live in a world of language, children with autism live in a world of senses. They think, feel, and experience through their sensory preferences. They live intense sensory experiences, where they explore, process, and categorize their world based on vivid visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory images. They encode these sensory memor...ies, and use them to build their sense of safety and security, connect with others, and organize their experiences.

Since they experience the world through their senses, we need to use these sensory pathways to communicate our love for them. Children on the spectrum are attracted to “sensory patterns”, which are visual, auditory (sound), tactile (touch), vestibular (movement) and olfactory (smell) patterns. These patterns may be movement patterns like rocking, swinging, swaying back and forth; or auditory patterns such as humming, chanting, singing, and whistling. Probably the most interpersonal senses are touch and smells. Whether it be deep pressure massage, soft stroking, simple hand games, or rhythmic brushing of the hair, the medium of touch can establish those sensory memories that build strong bonds of love. In addition to touch, smells are very powerful for building emotional memories. Smells go directly to the “Limbic system”, the emotion center of the brain. The smell of your hair, the perfume you wear, the hand lotion you use, or just the natural smell of your skin become highly associated with strong emotion.

So, to help your child connect with you, use their sensory intuition to encode strong episodic memories of safety and security, love and belongingness. Develop a sensory profile of your child, identifying what sensory patterns help the child feel safe, accepted, and loved. Learn which patterns calm and sooth the child, alert and organize the child, as well as those that scare and overwhelm the child. Use their favorite sensory preferences to associate your presence with. Incorporate their favorite smells into your lotions and perfumes, or avoid them altogether if your child is defensive to them. Be conscious of the shampoos, deodorants, lotions, soaps, and perfumes you use, and the reactions they receive from your children. Try to only use one scent on a consistent basis rather than varying your scents, or wearing multiple scents (deodorant, perfume, lotion) at one time. Find the scent they prefer and wear it consistently. Pair this with your child’s favorite touch; stroking, brushing, massaging, snuggling, etc. Again, this will depend on their sensitivities, as well as their preferences. Avoid their sensitivities and identify their favorite tactile (touch) patterns. Pairing these favorite touch patterns with their favorite smells and you are on our way to establishing strong sensory memories of you.

To augment this emotional connection even stronger, pair your tactile/smell associations with the child’s favorite auditory and movement patterns. Identify what movement patterns (slow rocking, swinging, dancing, etc.) and auditory patterns (simple little chants, sing song phrases, singing, humming, etc.) that attracts the child. Make an inventory of all these little smells, touch, movement, and auditory patterns that can be combined together to build simple “I love you rituals” that can be repeated several times a day. Begin the day with a sensory pattern “I love you ritual”, use them to ease transitions, sooth difficult times, and end their day with sensory connections. Stay with them, keep them consistent, and use them to establish stronger bonds. Touch through their senses, to captivate their hearts.

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