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Environmental Enrichment

AN EFFECTIVE TREATMENT FOR AUTISM

Why use Environment Enrichment?

Autism is expressed as a social-behavioural disorder, often accompanied by communication difficulties, maladaptive behaviours, cognitive dysfunction, motor problems and anxiety. Significant improvement in autism symptoms follow intensive early behavioural interventions, these expensive approaches are only effective if initiated early in life. Environment Enrichment is a low cost therapeutic approach that reduces many symptoms of autism and benefits children who are past the age of which other treatments are effective.

Sensory Abnormalities in Autism


The presence of sensory processing dysfunction contributes to the daily challenges of children with autism. More than 90% of those with autism have sensory abnormalities expressed as oversensitivity, unresponsiveness, or sensory-seeking behaviours which persist across all ages.

The most commonly observed sensory issues in autism involve olfaction and touch sensitivity.
Sensory processing dysfunction correlatesd with maladaptive behaviours and autism severity. Touch issues are strong predictors of social behaviours and poor social communication skills in children with autism.

Sensorimotor Deprivation Increases Autism Symptoms

Sensorimotor experiences can alter autistic symptoms. Autistic symptoms such as stereotypic behaviours, an inability to identify human emotions, as well as disordered communication, language, cognition and attachment. Reducing the amount of environmental stimulation increases their expression.

Conversely, increasing such stimulation decreases the expression of these symptoms.

Environmental Enrichment

Parents give novel sensorimotor enrichment with simultaneous stimulation of different sensory systems to their children at home each day. Introducing new enrichment activities at regular intervals throughout the day. Novelty appears to be a critical aspect of the environmental enrichment.

Olfactory (smell) and tactile stimulation, as well as various combinations of visual, thermal, motor, balance, auditory stimuli and cognitive tasks.

For Olfactory Enrichment


You will need

Expose your child to 4 different fragrances at different times during the day. Place a drop of odorant on a cotton ball and let your child smell the fragrance. This olfactory stimulation is paired with gentle tactile stimulation, rubbing their back with a closed hand. Place a scented cotton ball in your child's pillow case at night so they are exposed to a fragrance throughout the night. Use scented bath soap and massage your child with body oil after their bath.

7 scented essential oils e.g. Apple, lavender, lemon, sweet orange, vanilla, rose, hibiscus. Cotton balls

Scented bath soap


Body oil

If your child does not like any of the fragrances replace it with one they do like.

Sensorimotor Enrichment Exercises


Plastic doormat Smooth foam Rubber sink mat Aluminum foil Fine sandpaper Felt Sponges

Engage your child in 4-7 exercises twice a day. These exercises should involve somewhat arbitrary combinations of sensory stimuli with different tactile qualities Combine exercises with thermal, visual and motor activities.

Different Objects to Manipulate


Small piggy bank with plastic coins. Miniature plastic fruits. Coloured beads. A small fishing pole with a magnetic hook. Colourful paper clips. A large button. 20+ small toys of varying shapes/colours/textures

Engage your child in alternative exercises 4-7 times, twice a day. These exercises should involve somewhat arbitrary combinations of sensory stimuli with different manipulative requirements Combine exercises with thermal, visual and motor activities. Engage in different sets of exercises every 2 weeks and the exercises become increasing challenging.

Auditory Stimulation

Ipod or portable cd player or music device. Headphones or portable speakers. Classical music.

Let your child listen to the classical music once a day. If your child does not like the headphones use speakers. Pair auditory and tactile stimulation.

Motor and Thermal Exercises


Large salad bowl for warm water Ice Metal spoons Wooden plank Textured carpet Oven dish Play-Doh

Walking for exercise daily for approximately 15 minutes. Walk on different pathways of textures. Get child to place their hands and feet in different temperature water, sometime with ice or play-doh.

In conclusion

We have found that in-home 6 month sensorimotor enrichment therapy produced improvements in cognition, anxiety and symptoms of severity in children of all ages. Sensory integration is often used by occupational therapists to treat children with autism.
Source: Cynthia C. Woo and Michael Leon. University of California Irvine

Behavioural Neuroscience 2013, Vol. 127, No 4, 487-497