Sensory Neuron
Sensory Input

The sensory area is one that is sometimes neglected or under valued.Educators and parents may see behaviors such as “tackling” a teacher during story time as being inappropriate and disruptive.However, underlying that behavior may be a need for sensory input such as movement or firm pressure.There may also be students who are unable to manage uncomfortable environmental factors such as sitting on a scratchy rug or the 'hum' of the computer in the background.Consideration of sensory stimuli allows the investigation of whether a sensory need exists. The use of a daily sensory dietconsists of access to various sensory calming activities and/or physical activities that are scheduled throughout the student’s day.Use of sensory strategies can decrease stress, anxiety and repetitive behaviors as well as increase calm, relaxed states and focused attention.

Visit R4ATandAutism wikispace for an in-depth explanation of sensory processing in individuals with ASD and further insight into integration of the no-tech, low-tech and mid-tech strategies that support sensory processing problems


An assessment for sensory strategies would ideally be conducted by an occupational therapist trained in sensory integration. An informal yet effective assessment can be conducted through observation of the student in various environments. Additionally, interviews of the student's family and school personnel often yield a great deal of information regarding the student's likes and dislikes of various sensory stimuli.

The Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (WATI) has provided several tools to aid in the consideration of assistive technology tools and strategies for students on the autism spectrum. The manual "Assistive Technology Supports for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders" may be downloaded in PDF format from their website www.wati.org. Simply click on the 'Supports' tab for 'Free Publications.' This manual contains a sensory checklist and an environmental observation guide to assist in the identification sensory needs.

A checklist of sensory reinforcers was developed by Amy McGinnis, M.S., OTR of Establishing Operations (www.establishingoperationsinc.com), an organization which provides consultation services in verbal behavior programs for children with autism. It is available below.

No Tech Tools and Strategies
Visual Stimulation
  • Limit the amount of visual information hanging from ceiling or walls (i.e., mobiles, pictures, designs)
  • Review floor surfaces, rugs, mats, etc., for potential visual distraction
  • Review counter and table tops for clutter
  • Store manipulatives inside opaque containers
  • Keep amount of visual information on a worksheet to a minimum
  • Allow student to sit with back to teacher / classmates (i.e., look at a solid wall)
  • Maintain neutral colors and bare walls in one part of the room
  • Fluorescent lights often flicker. Replace with other bulb types or natural light sources if possible
  • Sunglasses, tinted glasses or a hat with a brim to shade the eyes (this may need to be added to the IEP if the school forbids students to wear them in the building)

Auditory Stimulation
  • Reduce the tension and volume in staff voices
  • Use soft, easy speech
  • Observe student reaction to various staff members (pitch, volume, rate)
  • Minimize verbal directions
  • Provide plenty of "wait" time when providing verbal directions or information
  • Desensitize a student to a 'noisy' area through slow integration via numerous visits
  • Take walks outside
  • Fluorescent lights often produce a hum or buzz that can be distracting to irritating to someone who is hypersensitive to sounds

Olfactory Stimulation
  • Be aware of staff use of
    • colognes and perfumes
    • soap and shampoo
    • laundry soaps and fabric softeners

Multisensory Stimulation
  • Staff and peer proximity - Is the student negatively or positively affected by the close proximity of another?
  • Large and open spaces such as cafeteria, auditorium, gymnasium

Vestibular Stimulation
  • Allow student frequent opportunities for stretch breaks or the liberty to get up and move around
  • Assign student specific jobs throughout the day in which s/he must get up and move about to obtain/gather materials or run errands

Light Tech Tools and Strategies

Visual Stimulation
  • Put pictures on containers for students with poor visual memory
    Storage Containers
  • Use picture templates of where items belong in places (i.e., desk, room, etc.)
  • Tape a number or letter line onto student's desk
  • Provide primary lined paper or graph paper to help with spacing
  • Use colored overlays to reduce eye strain. A template to make your own is provided here. rdg guides template.doc.
  • If unable to replace fluorescent fixtures, cover them with light diffusing filters such as Sky Panels, Cozy Shades and Classroom Light Filters

Auditory Stimulation
  • Use ear plugs or head phones

Oral Stimulation
  • Gum or sports bottle of water
  • Oral motor chewies

Vestibular Stimulation
  • Outdoor playground activities (i.e., swinging, merry go round, hanging upside down, etc.)
  • Indoor activities (i.e., sit and spin, hammock, somersaults, etc.)
  • Alternative seating choices (i.e., therapy ball, bean bag, inflatable cushion, chairs with springs, etc.)

Proprioceptive Stimulation
  • Roll student in a mat or between pillows
  • Give student a 'firm' bear hug
  • Weighted vest or lap blanket
  • Wear a backpack filled with books (not too heavy!)
  • Push or pull a cart/basket filled with heavy items
  • Jump on a trampoline

Multisensory Stimulation
  • Break Cards.pdf to allow student to choose a short break to escape overstimulation
  • Self-regulation visual representation such as a thermometer or car engine to represent his/her arousal system.

Tactile Stimulation
  • Skishies, Koosh balls, strips of hook Velcro, etc.
  • Messy textures such as Goop, sand and shaving cream
  • Play Doh
  • Foods at various temperatures and textures
  • Play dress up
  • Work with wood and sandpaper, knitting, scrapbooking or other tactile hobbies

Mid Tech Tools and Strategies

Visual Stimulation
  • Use a lamp with an alternate bulb to overhead fluorescent lighting

Auditory Stimulation
  • Allow time for student to listen to favorite music
  • Use natural sound recordings or music specially engineered to promote calm, focus, energy or creativity


High Tech Tools and Strategies

  • Computer software that is visually and/or auditorially stimulating and relatively fast paced
  • ZacBrowseris an internet 'browser' developed by the grandfather of a child with ASD
  • Video game systems

Proprioceptive Stimulation
  • Stretch Break for Kidsis a freeware program that allows you to preset when exercises occur and which exercises are displayed


You will find many products that address a variety of sensory processing issues.

From their website “…(The Alert Program) supports children, teachers, parents, and therapists to choose appropriate strategies to change or maintain states of alertness. Students learn what they can do before a spelling test or homework time to attain an optimal state of alertness for their tasks. Teachers learn what they can do after lunch, when their adult nervous systems are in a low alert state and their students are in a high alert state. Parents learn what they can do to help their toddler's nervous system change from a high alert state to a more appropriate low state at bedtime.”

Another website with materials and tools for sensory processing.

Click on the sensory integration link for more information and resources.

You can experience what Scotopic Sensitivity or Irlen Syndrome visual distortions are like at this site.

The primary website for information on colored overlays for Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome.

Lindsey Biel, M.A., OTR/L and Nancy Peske a freelance writer are the authors of “Raising a Sensory Smart Child” and the hosts of this informative website. You’ll find sensory diet activities as well as recommendations on other books, toys and equipment and other websites that provide information on sensory processing.

Sensory Processing Disorder site with resources

A software program to make sensory diets (planners and activities) using visuals of stick figures for children with sensory processing, sensory integration and motor challenges ($89.95)