Children on the autism spectrum have high rates of visual and visual perceptual problems that interfere with learning and succeeding in school. Occupational therapists often use fun table top activities such as the following that have a sensory component while working on scanning, crossing midline, visual accommodation, making visual discriminations and learning directionality concepts such as right and left.
The Sequencing Blocks Game
Scatter alphabet blocks on the table and ask the student to use the right hand to find and line up the A block, then the left hand to find and place the B block next to it. Continue asking the student to find and line up the letters in alphabetical sequence by alternating use of the right and left hands. The student will be forced to scan the blocks and cross midline whenever necessary to line up the blocks. Midline is an imaginary vertical line that divides the body into right and left sides. Many children with autism avoid crossing midline due to poor brain organization. Designing activities that require reaching with the right hand toward the left of midline and reaching with the left hand to the right of midline develops coordination between right and left sides and promotes developing a hand preference. As the child works on this task ask him to describe his actions such as-“right hand moves the D” or “left hand is moving the G”. Add a sensory component by using weighted blocks or blocks that make sounds.
Velcro Matching Boards
The Velcro Matching Board is made with strips of sticky back adhesive (i.e. Velcro) attached to a board so that matching length pieces can be attached to them. This activity promotes position in space perception, visual discrimination (of length), scanning and eye-hand coordination. Position in space involves recognition of the spatial relationships between parts of objects shapes such as the dot above the vertical line that forms letter i.
Most children love to pull Velcro strips off their backings because they make a funny sound and using force to pull provides an enjoyable sensory experience. The following Velcro matching activity requires the child to position and match same length strips of Loop Velcro to the Hook Velcro attached to the board.
• Cut various lengths of sticky back Loop and Hook Velcro
• Attach attractive contact paper to the backs of the Loop Velcro
• Attach the Hook pieces to a large piece of cardboard so that they are facing different directions.
• Show the child how to match and place the loop pieces to the same length hook pieces on the board.
Adapted Puzzle Activity
Children work in the horizontal play when they typically use puzzles that are either on the floor or the table. A puzzle can be adapted so that the child alternates between looking in vertical and horizontal planes. This is a visual skill that students need in order to look back and forth between the classroom black board and paper on the desk. The following adapted puzzle develops the accommodation skills to quickly refocus from one plane to the other or on objects located at different distances.
• Place the puzzle board inside a flat cardboard box (as shown in the photo)
• Attach the puzzle pieces with Velcro to the box lid or to another box positioned further away on the table
• Show the student how to stabilize the box lid while removing the puzzle pieces.
This set up also promotes visual attention because the puzzle pieces on the box lid are right in front of the child’s face. Pulling the puzzle pieces from the vertical surface provides sensory stimulation to muscles that makes this an enjoyable activity and this set-up forces the child to coordinate using both hands together.