Among emerging techniques used in the treatment and education of people with autism, multisensory approaches are among the most popular, incorporated into a wide range of therapy plans and special education programs. Therapists and educators use multisensory approaches to reduce the affects of sensory integration dysfunction in the motor and cognitive development of autistic individuals. These techniques use two or more senses simultaneously so that one sense, perhaps a stronger one, can reinforce another, taking advantage of an individual's strengths to aid in addressing his weaknesses.
Common Components of Autism Multisensory Approaches
Many individuals with autism are visual learners. For this reason, visual teaching methods are often incorporated into a multisensory approach to learning. For instance, a speech pathologist may teach language and communication skills by using verbal language and sign language simultaneously. Reinforcing a verbal cue with a visual one in this manner can create a mental association that will make that information easier to absorb and recall. Using picture or text cards, videos, models, computers, and augmentative picture communication cards can make this same verbal-visual connection.
Auditory techniques are multisensory methods that rely upon sound to reinforce learning, used in conjunction with other forms of sensory input. Combining songs, rhymes or chants with picture cards that correspond with the words is one example, as is using audio combined with text or video.
Among the most frequently used autism multisensory approaches, are those based on tactile techniques. Manipulatives, such as small textured objects, are often used to reinforce math and counting skills. Putty or clay can be used in making models that correspond with learning concepts, and the use of puzzles, chalk, or paint can aid in developing fine motor skills. Tactile stimulation has proven very effective in reinforcing learning concepts when combined with a variety of other sensory experiences.
These techniques involve the use of body movement to stimulate learning. Movement stimulates communication, therefore speech therapists and special educators use this method often. Bouncing, clapping, foot stomping, or any other movement combined with activities like counting or singing learning-songs are examples of kinesthetic methods used for young children. Combining motor activity with academic concepts to create competitive learning games is a kinesthetic method for older individuals with autism.
Most multisensory environments are dedicated rooms designed to block outside noise and control space, temperature and lighting. These rooms are part of sensory integration therapy, education routines, and behavioral therapy. From floor to ceiling, these environments incorporate various elements of sensory stimulation, giving auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and tactile input through specially designed lighting and equipment.
Results May Vary
Most autism multisensory approaches are designed to be flexible, using these methods in various combinations to suit the individual needs of each person to whom they are applied. As anyone with even a little experience with autism knows, nothing works for everyone. For those who do see results, the degree of benefit differs according to the methods used, the goals set, and the severity of autism symptoms. However, according to many parents, educators, and therapists, multisensory approaches have shown promising results, enhancing learning and coping skills in many individuals with autism.