Messy play and the importance of it for the autistic child

Autism intervention is all about schedules, routines and structures and whilst routines play an important role in the lives of people with autism we need to realize that the world we live in is not always scheduled or structured. 

Structured play can be a good way for children with autism spectrum disorder to learn play skills like sharing, taking turns and being with other children the same can be said for messy play.  Yes!  Messy play is extremely important for the autistic child.

Messy play helps develop early motor skills and it can also be great for Sensory integration.  Squeezing play dough or scooping sand all helps refine fine motor skills by using the muscles in their fingers, wrists, arms, toes and shoulders to make small movements.

Messy Play Activities that you can do with your child at home:

  • Anything involving sand and water is extremely popular and will engage children in messy play for hours.  Pouring water from one container to another has huge development benefits and is and extremely hands-on sensory activity.
  • Slime also known as gloop – cheap and can be found at most toy or grocery stores.  This is great for the children to pull and stretch and when you see they are getting bored with it you can always add in a bit of glitter to the mix.
  • Finger painting – adding in sponges and forks or pieces of wool or cotton wool and some pegs with help the children experiment with different materials.  Getting the child to pinch the cotton wool into the peg and then using this as a paint brush is fantastic for finger muscle development.  Simple actions such as holding a paint brush over an easel helps the child focus their fine and gross motor skills, which improves their control and balance with practice.
  • Shaving foam fun – squirt shaving foam into a tray and you can even mix in different food colourings.  Allow your child to touch and squeeze the foam in their hands. Add a few sponges or even action figurines or toy cars.  Encourage the child to create colourful patterns on scrap pieces of paper;
  •  Kinetic Sand can either be bought or it can be made at home.  Either way it is a great activity.
  • If you want to take messy play to a new level and have the space – allow your child to jump in water or sand.  Throw water bombs!  These will all help enhance their gross motor development.  Throwing water bombs through a hoola-hoop or into a bucket is great fun and will build up muscle strength, hand-eye co-ordination and so much more.

There is no right way to carry out messy play, it is all about letting your autistic child explore and experiment with different objects and raw materials without any end goals to restrict them.  Get creative and remember you can add anything to the messy play activities above –  you can also use it to develop language and literacy skills and to encourage speech development.  An example of this would be to incorporate letters or numbers.  Encourage speech by talking about textures and what he/she is feeling. 

Amazing K is a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. We are a private day school and therapy centre for children from age 2 years. Our learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. We offer Individualized Education Programs, ABA, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum. Read more about us.

Ilse Kilian-Ross
ilse@amazingk.co.za

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, ABA, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.