What do you do when your child with autism is over stimulated, over hyper and over tired? When one of my children was having one of those days we busted out our arsenal of heavy work activities. We learned about heavy work from our first occupational therapist many years ago. Basically, heavy work allows a child to receive an adequate amount of proprioceptive input; in turn the child will have better focus and increased self-regulation. Heavy work isn’t really work, though, it is actually fun. Next time your child with autism is over stimulated, try one of these 5 fun heavy work activities.
1. Push a Filled Laundry Basket
Get a laundry basket that is appropriate for your child’s size and fill it with weighted items. You want to ensure that the basket is heavy enough that it requires work on your child’s part, but not too heavy that he has to struggle to push it. Once the basket is filled, set up an obstacle course in your house and make a fun race out of it. Have long straight areas where the child can pick up some speed and then, depending on his age, put in some twists and turns adding a degree of difficulty.
2. Spend Some Time “Crashing”
A favorite activity of children who are sensory-seekers is crashing. They’ll crash into anything, or anyone, they see which can lead to injuries. Setting up a controlled area to crash lessens the likelihood of injury. A quick and easy way to do this is if you have a bean bag, or even some couch cushions, to use as a crash pad. Set these up on the floor and then put some blankets or other padding around the edges. Allow the child to jump into the crash area while under your constant supervision. This activity can provide endless fun for the child while also meeting his sensory needs.
Something as simple as jumping can benefit a child’s need for sensory input. Naturally it’s the most fun if you have a trampoline, even a mini trampoline, however any form of jumping will do. If a child is old enough, using a jump rope or even a pogo stick is a great way to get some fun jumping in.
4. Wheelbarrow Walking
Good old-fashioned wheelbarrow walking, or even a fun wheelbarrow race, is another easy way to provide your child with some heavy work. Depending on the child’s age, you may need to support him at the waist. As he gets older, or more proficient at wheelbarrow walking, start moving your hands down to his hips and then progressively down his legs. Once he’s at a point where you just need to hold his ankles, challenge him by walking farther distances.
5. Clean the House
This one serves a dual purpose, your child can get some fun sensory work in and you’ll end up with sparkling floors! What child doesn’t like to emulate mommy or daddy and help them clean? Pushing around a vacuum, broom, or mop provides the child with proprioceptive input. Younger children can “help” with the use of a toy vacuum, broom, or mop.
Picking one or two of these sensory activities and implementing them into your day may lead to a calmer and more attentive child at the end of the day. An added benefit may be a restful night of sleep for a previously restless child. Always take your child’s cues; if he gets tired take a break, if he protests skip the activity. Heavy work activities are meant to be a fun way of meeting your child’s sensory needs.
A version of this article originally appeared on Suite101.com in December 2007.