Children with autism, as well as those with other developmental disabilities, may have a dysfunctional sensory system. Sometimes one or more senses are either over- or under-reactive to stimulation. Such sensory problems may be the underlying reason for such behaviors as rocking, spinning, and hand-flapping. Although the receptors for the senses are located in the peripheral nervous system (which includes everything but the brain and spinal cord), it is believed that the problem stems from neurological dysfunction in the central nervous system–the brain. As described by individuals with autism, sensory integration techniques, such as pressure-touch can facilitate attention and awareness, and reduce overall arousal.
Evaluation and treatment of basic sensory integrative processes are performed by occupational therapists and/or physical therapists. The therapist’s general goals are: (1) to provide the child with sensory information which helps organize the central nervous system, (2) to assist the child in inhibiting and/or modulating sensory information, and 3) to assist the child in processing a more organized response to sensory stimuli.
Fine motor control is the coordination of muscles, bones, and nerves to produce small, precise movements. An example of fine motor control is picking up a small item with the index finger and thumb.
The amount of fine motor control in children is used to determine the child’s developmental age. Children develop fine motor skills over time by practicing and being taught. To have fine motor control, children need:
- Awareness and planning
- Muscle strength
- Normal sensation
The following tasks can only occur if the nervous system matures in the right way:
- Cutting out shapes with scissors
- Drawing lines or circles
- Folding clothes
- Holding and writing with a pencil
- Stacking blocks
- Zipping a zipper
Postural Stability refers to your child’s ability to utilize their trunk muscles to maintain position and control of their bodies in the activities that occur throughout the school day. To understand the importance of a strong and stable trunk, try to imagine a fishing rod that is made of rubber. It would be very hard to control the line and hook with a floppy rod.
Signs of trunk weakness can be observed while your child writes or colors for more than several minutes.
- Does he/she lean their arms or body on the table?
- Does he/she rest their head on their hands?
- Does he/she complain of being tired during coloring or fine motor activities?
- Does your child lean on walls or touch other surfaces for support when standing?
It is very important to develop the muscles that support the trunk so that it can be a stable base of support for activities that require controlled use of the arms and hands. Well developed postural control allows your child to sit at their desk in an upright posture enabling free use their hands to manipulate objects or classroom tools, stand steady while working at the chalkboard, and have their head in optimal positioning. Proper trunk stability also allows improved breathing leading to optimal levels of oxygen reaching their brain.