Multisensory Stimulation

I recently got back from vacation in beautiful Naples with my boyfriend. This trip inspired me to do a post on one of my favorite themes for my summer music therapy sessions – a Trip to the Beach!

I have used this session plan for  groups of children on the autism spectrum and also those with severe and profound intellectual disability. Both groups of children benefit from multisensory experiences involving tactile, visual, auditory, and olfactory stimulation.

Here are some of the activities and items I use to make them feel as if they are really at the beach …

A Trip to the Beach

 – Suntan Lotion: Rub suntan lotion on the arms and legs of each child. Encourage them to smell the lotion OR put it on your finger so they can smell it. (For older children, this can also be a teaching opportunity about the importance of wearing suntan lotion in the summer!) “I Like to Put Lotion on My Skin” is an original song I sing during this activity.

Palm fronds: Use palm fronds (real ones if you are lucky enough to live in a subtropical environment OR just stop by Target!) to provide tactile stimulation and promote relaxation. Run the palm fronds over the arms and legs of each child. This activity also allows for the opportunity to work on identifying various body parts. “Feel the Leaves” is an original song I sing during this activity.

Ocean drum: This is one of my favorite instruments because of the unique auditory, visual, and tactile stimulation it provides. It goes without saying that this instrument is perfect for simulating the sound of the ocean. “Listen to the Ocean Drum” is an original song that I sing during this activity.

Beach Ball: This is a great item for encouraging gross motor movement. I play the Beach Boys CD in the background and toss the beach ball around the circle.

Sand, Seashells, and Water: During various trips to the beach I have collected real sand and seashells that I put into Tupperware containers. I pass these around along with a bowl of water and sing the original song “I Like to Go to the Beach.” Sand and shells have unique textures, and water of different temperatures provides unique tactile stimulation for a child. For older children, you can encourage the use of adjectives by asking them to describe how the sand, shells, and water feel (rough, smooth, warm, cold, etc.)

Bubbles: These are always a crowd favorite! Bubbles are great for encouraging behaviors in various domains. In the cognitive domain, bubbles can be used to encourage visual tracking, visual processing and direction following. In the motor/physical domain, they can be used to encourage gross motor movements such as reaching, bilateral coordination, and bringing arms to midline. In the communication domain, bubbles can be used to encourage lip closure (when the child blows); verbalization of bilabials (“pop!” or “more”); and sign language (“more” or “finished”). Did you have any idea bubbles were so amazing? “Bubbles, Bubbles” is the original song I sing during this activity.

Ocean Animals: I pass around my large my large stuffed fish, lobster, and crab for tactile stimulation. For older children, this part of the session can be used to work on identification of body parts and colors, as well as to teach facts about fish and other ocean animals (where they live, what they eat, etc.) “The Fish in the Sea” and “Flora the Fish” are original songs I sing during this activity.

Mangoes: This is one of my favorite fruits and luckily it is plentiful in South Florida! I sing my original “Mangoes” song and allow the children to feel, smell, and taste the sweet, squishy mango. It is a little messy, but it’s worth it!

– Creative add-ons:

To add an extra summery flare, I distribute fun sunglasses with star-shaped lenses and colorful leis for each child to wear. (All purchased at the Dollar Tree)

I use my favorite instrument, the ukulele, to give the session a “beachy” feel (hey, it works for Jack Johnson!) Basic hula dancing steps are a fun dancing activity for children of all ages.

Are you looking for even more sensory ideas to incorporate into your music therapy sessions with children with autism and other special needs? Check out the Sensational Songs & Activities E-Book: it is jam packed with creative session planning ideas!

Sensational Songs & Activities