X is a 5-year-old boy who lives at home with his parents. X is autistic and attends an autism specific class in a Primary School. X is a sensory seeker and loves to play and explore different tactile items including cotton wool, feathers, or polystyrene. Presently X is experiencing difficulties in communication, social interaction, sensory regulation and generalisation of learnt skills across home and school settings. X often functions around his own agenda and finds it difficult to follow the adults’ lead, including transitioning between activities and settings. X is primarily focused on his own activity preferences, sensory seeking behaviours, and is highly motivated by consumable items both in school and at home.
X was observed and reported to be following his own agenda which is often filled with sensory seeking behaviours or activities in the home and school setting. X has a limited repertoire of preferred activities and objects during unstructured time indoors and outdoors. This can lead to X feeling dysregulated and engaging in repetitive sensory seeking behaviours. X needs regular access to a sensory diet with increased sensory input to support his engagement, attention, and participation in activities both at home and in school. X also experiences difficulty transitioning between locations and activities.
X enjoys tactile and visual objects during indoor activities and the aim was to expand this to outdoor play using outdoor elements such as water, grass, flowers, leaves, etc. This activity would then be another sensory regulatory strategy that could be implemented during X’s day to support his sensory regulation both indoors and outdoors. This activity would also expand X’s interest in different sensory play activities.
To support X to engage in outdoor sensory play, the following strategies were introduced:
- A functional object schedule was introduced to assist with his understanding of what is expected and what activities are taking place throughout his day. An object schedule is a schedule made up of objects. These objects represent the activity that X is transitioning to and makes the transition more concrete in that he can touch and feel the item. The items are then used in the activity that X is transitioning to.
- To represent ‘outdoor play’, X’s welly boot was placed on the schedule.
- To represent the outdoor sensory play activity, a clear container filled with the specific element to be used in the activity (e.g. soil, leaves, flowers) was placed on his schedule.
- At home and school, a specific area for outdoor sensory play was set up in the outdoor spaces. This supported X’s understanding on where the sensory play activity was taking place and to distinguish between when it was time for outdoor yard play and outdoor sensory play. These spaces were created among existing trees, flowers, plants, grass areas, etc. Parents/Teachers then added different elements and structures to this area over time. This included buckets of pebbles, soil, water and leaves, empty trays for mixing elements together, branches for stirring elements, etc.
- When it was time for outdoor sensory play, X transitioned to the outdoor space and the supporting adults encouraged X to explore the different elements. The supporting adults modelled touching, mixing, sprinkling, shredding and pouring the different elements.
- A ‘first/then’ approach was then used to aid transitions between activities and to inform X specifically of when an activity is coming to an end and what is expected of him next. Prior to ending the sensory play activity X was given advance notice of when the activity was over (e.g. ‘2 minutes left’, ‘1 minute left’), and then a verbal countdown accompanied by a visual countdown strip from 5 -4-3-2-1 was shown to X.
Since the implementation of the above strategies X has a clearer understanding of what is expected and what is happening throughout his day. X now a has a variety of preferred activities he can choose between. X will pick his preferred items (including outdoor sensory play) from an array of pictures on his choice board. X will then exchange the picture with his communicative partner or vocally request the item. X will transition successfully between activities in home and school. During outdoor sensory play there is an increase in opportunities for shared enjoyable experiences and social exchanges with supporting adults. X is observed to be more engaged and communicative during this activity. X will initiate social interaction using gentle touch and eye contact. X will also request a different items and actions using one-word vocal exchanges (e.g. water/pour/leaves/flower).
Sensory outdoor play is now part of X’s sensory breaks, and these are scheduled on his object schedule throughout his day. The development of a sensory routine helps X feel calm and alert throughout the day and develop his emotional stability. X enjoys exploring tactile objects and calming repetitive visual stimuli and these preferences could be incorporated into his outdoor sensory play activity.