According to a research report by The National Autism Society in February 2017, at least 1.1% of the British population have autism. 75% of all children in the UK are labeled as “strange” in their schools. In the U.S., 1 in 68 children is diagnosed with autism. While these statistics are enough for any parent to consider keeping their children protected inside the safe boundaries of their house, the fact is that it is your child’s right to get an education, find work and become a successful individual. Occupational therapies and medicines are used in the treatment of autism. Fidget spinners have grabbed the attention of researchers, as these fidget tools produce a similar effect as sensory play activities on an autistic child’s brain.
Below is why fidget spinners can help treat children with autism. Before that, let’s understand the real cause of autism.
What causes Autism?
The core symptom of Autism Spectrum Disorder is problematic communication and misinterpretation. The term ‘spectrum’ reflects a variety of causes of autism, which include environmental, biological, medical and genetic factors. Also, chemical imbalances during pregnancy and lack of oxygen at the time of delivery may also cause autism. Since the causes are many, occupational therapists and physicians focus on treating the symptoms of autism, instead of its cause. A treatment of this kind can go a long way and bring lifetime improvements.
In the majority of autistic children, symptoms start showing up at the age of 3–4 months. A child without autism is more responsive and expressive at this age, whereas autistic children are least responsive. Sometimes, autistic children can also behave normally up till 18 months. Such children face more social and communicative challenges, especially later in their lives. The parents may feel that their child is disconnected or prefers spending time alone however; they must take the child to a pediatrician for early diagnosis. It is because the treatment of autism is more effective if it starts at an early age.
Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder
There is no direct proof backed by research that reveals a direct connection between sensory processing disorder and autism. However, all autistic children experience the symptoms of sensory processing disorder. Isn’t it strange?
Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD is a neurological disorder in which the body experiences difficulty in processing information. The person with SPD suffers decreased the performance of the five senses, which include hearing, vision, taste, touch, and olfaction. Along with these, the person with SPD has poor balance and positional sense of the body; the latter is also known as proprioception. Sensory Processing Disorder is not a definitive cause of autism. However, according to a research, almost all parents and guardians have stated that autistic children experience challenges in sensory processing.
Sensory Play in Occupational Therapies
Activities that stimulate the five senses, balance and body positioning are included in sensory play. These activities are designed to facilitate the natural ability of exploration and interpretation and improve the ability to respond by building stronger brain connections. The purpose of sensory play is to build trust and understanding and improve exploring, planning and experimenting in autistic children. These outcomes build positive brain pathways and help children in shaping choices that bring positive outcomes. Sensory activities are best when applied in flexible learning environments.
Fidgeting as a Sensory Input
Any kind of sensory input, be it a sport or an activity, improves sensory exploration. It includes examining the situation/statement, discovering and categorizing information and interpreting it in a productive manner. For example, a tree is just a tree for an autistic child. However, after sensory input improves the child’s performance, it becomes easier to identify that a tree has bark, stems, leaves, root etc.
Using Fidget Spinners
Fidgeting is a touch-sense based sensory input and fidgeting tools such as fidget spinners can be used in occupational therapy programs to improve brain performance. Fidget spinners can improve the motor skills, decrease stress and muscle tension. With fidget spinners, your child can improve two types of motor skills – gross motor skills and fine motor skills. The best fidget spinners for children with autism may be those that are brighter in color.
Gross motor skills are responsible for improving the functioning of large muscles groups. These, in turn, improve physical performance such as walking and running. Fine motor skills refer to the skills related to your child’s intellect. Fidget spinners help improve these skills to strengthen the performance of small muscle groups which are involved in activities such as speech, writing, buttoning, zipping, tying shoes etc.
Fidget spinners can reduce stress by keeping autistic children distracted. Repeated activities such as moving legs back and forth, doodling and clicking a pen distract the attention of a person from stress and help relieve tension. Similarly, fidget spinners can be used to relax an autistic child and to improve his/her sensory receptors. Fidgeting is equally beneficial for children with ADHD, sensory receptor disorders and other hyperactivity disorders.