Sensory Regulation and Prompting for Creative Play

Sensory Regulation and Prompting for Creative Play

Inspiring children to learn through creative play has long been the mission of Gilbert House Children’s Museum.  We are constantly evolving in best practices, advancing opportunities, and novel experiences for children.  It is also our priority that the museum is accessible and welcoming for all children.

Recently, our staff has assessed ways in which we can partner with families and children with disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and sensory processing disorder (SPD), to facilitate a positive and educational experience across our exhibits.  We are excited to introduce our visitors to Sensory Kits that are now available to checkout upon request at our Welcome Desk.  The Sensory Kits include tools for sensory regulation, such as noise-cancelling headphones, fidgets, sensory chews, a visual timer, pair of gloves, sunglasses, and a weighted vest.  It is anticipated that these accommodations will allow for families to enjoy the museum for a longer duration of time, allow children with ASD and SPD to feel more comfortable at the museum, and engage in meaningful play experiences in a focused way.

We celebrate the individual differences that make children unique, and desire caregivers to feel supported during museum visits.  We’ve rounded up some helpful play-based prompting strategies from leading researchers1, doctors, and directors of autism centers and clinics.  The compiled list of prompting procedures are encouraged for caregivers to guide a child with ASD into meaningful play opportunities:

  1. Modeling: Demonstrate the desired behavior.  For example, in our Farm to Table exhibit, begin to pick the apples from the tree or gather the eggs, letting your child observe how to collect them in the basket.
  2. Physical Guidance: Use your hands to guide your child’s hands.  For example, place your hands over your child’s to guide the motion of reaching toward the apple, picking the apple, and releasing the apple into the basket.  Fade this prompting as you go along (i.e. guiding hands toward the apple and letting your child do the rest).
  3. Proximity:  Help your child locate and choose the corresponding items for the play activity.  In Main Street, an example may be gathering the rolling pin, mixer, and cupcakes together on one play surface.
  4. Gestures: Gesture toward the correct response.  If your child picks up a train in Salem Station, gesture toward the railroad track it can roll along.    
  5. Verbal Modeling:  Demonstrate the correct sound or phrase for your child.  In Vet Clinic, you may model, “Meow,” when playing together with the cat, or “Hello?” when answering the phone on the secretary desk.   

Why play?  We believe in the power of our mission for all children, as it’s backed by research.  Exploratory and functional play aids children in cognitive development, facilitates language development, teaches joint attention, and promotes relationship building (Charlop et al, 2018).  As we continue to evolve to meet the needs of our community, we hope to be at the top of your list when it comes to family friendly fun.

1 Charlop M.H., Lang R., Rispoli M. (2018) All Children Can Play: Prompting and Modeling Procedures to Teach Play to Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In: Play and Social Skills for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Evidence-Based Practices in Behavioral Health. Springer, Cham