Special school

Background

A is an 8-year-old boy with a diagnosis of autism and developmental delay.  He attends the local special school.  A enjoys dressing up in his collection of superhero costumes, playing board games with supporting adults and going to the playpark with his mum and younger sister.

A has a strong visual learning preference.  At school, he is supported with the use of a symbol-based visual timetable.  This helps him understand what is happening during the day and reduces anxiety experienced during times of uncertainty.

When accessing the playpark at home, A struggles to interact with the equipment.  He is often unsure what to play with and spends most of his time running around the perimeter fence.

Triggers

A’s difficulties with accessing the playpark are related to two main challenges: sensory processing and difficulties managing unstructured time. A sensory processing assessment revealed that A experiences movement sensitivities (also known as gravitational insecurity).  This sensory modulation concern impacts any activity in which his feet are off the ground, or his head and body are not in line (i.e., using a swing, monkey bars, sliding etc.).  He also has difficulties with sensory perception, specifically with the perception of vestibular (movement/balance) and proprioception (body awareness). This affects planning of movements (also known as praxis), motor skills and coordination. This presents as appearing more clumsy than other children his age. 

A also finds it challenging without a clear understanding of how to occupy time during unstructured activities.  He prefers a structured approach, detailing how he can use the equipment, for how long and in what order.

Strategies

  • A was supported to engage with equipment where his feet and hands are used to provide a stable base.  This included the climbing frame, ladders, and balance beams.  
  • Additional items were brought on trips to the park to provide alternative activities.  
    • Chalk – hopscotch was drawn on the pavement.
    • Bean Bag – targets were drawn on the ground for A to throw the bean bag on to.
    • A ball – throwing and catching supports A’s preference to have his feet on the ground.
  • He was also encouraged to use the swing for ever increasing periods of time on days that he wanted to try. Initially, he sat on the swing with his feet off the ground for a few visits. He then asked to be pushed, which he was for a small distance and then stopped after 1 swing, then 2, then 3 etc.
  • A scarf was used to add proprioceptive input while using the swing. An adult held one end while A propelled himself gently on the swing.  The addition of active proprioception to this type of movement activity supports motor control.
  • Visual supports were introduced for visits to the park.  This provided structure to an otherwise confusing situation.  Symbols of the equipment or photographs of the activities were taken, printed, laminated and attached with Velcro to a strip of laminated card. This was easily transportable to the park.
  • A countdown strip was also used to support A’s concept of time and to make transitions easier for him (see below)

Summary

The family’s visits to the park are now a much more enjoyable experience for A.  He knows how to navigate some of the more stable equipment, as well as having more opportunities for alternative structured activities.

A is beginning to tolerate increasing periods of time with his feet off the ground, with the support of the gradual exposure during visits to the park.