Sensory Social Routines

Sensory Social Routines are “joint activity routines in which each partners’ attention is focused on the other person, rather than on objects, in which mutual engagement and pleasure dominate play.” They involve two people who are engaged in the same activity in a reciprocal way. This may involve taking turns, imitating each other, communicating using words, gestures, or facial expressions, and building on each other’s activity.

These may include:

  • Lap Games – ex: Peek a Boo

  • Song Routines with Motions – ex: The Itsy Bitsy Spider, The Wheels On The Bus

  • Floor Song Games – ex: Ring Around the Rosie

  • Finger Play – ex: Creepy Fingers

  • Movement Routines – ex: Airplane, Chase, Hide and Seek

In each of these activities, the child’s attention is directed to the other individual’s face, voice, body, etc. rather

than to an object.

When teaching sensory social routines, the following goals can be targeted:

  • Increasing attention to other people’s social-communicative cues (eye contact, physical gestures, facial movements, anticipatory gestures, etc.)

  • Developing awareness of facial expressions and the ability to share emotional expressions with another person

  • Increasing social interactions through eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, sounds, and words

  • Increasing attention and engagement

It is important that during sensory social routines, the child is facing the instructor so that they are able to see their expressions and movements. The instructor will set up sensory social routines including interesting activities, wait until the child is engaged in the activity, then pause, waiting for the child to signal for them to continue. The child’s “signal” may consist of looking, reaching, vocalizing, making eye contact, or another gesture. The instructor will then respond by continuing the activity. Communication can be shaped over time from eye contact, gestures, etc. to vocalizations and word approximations.

When teaching a new sensory social routine, you will likely need to start and stop the activity several times without variation. This way, the child will learn what to expect.

Though the focus of the child during sensory social routines should be on the other person rather than on an object, objects can be incorporated. Some examples of sensory social routines that involve objects include blowing bubbles, blowing pinwheels, pushing the child on a swing, rocking the child on a chair or rocking horse, blowing in a noisemaker.

Rogers, S. J., & Dawson, G. (2010). Early Start Denver Model for young children with autism: Promoting language, learning, and engagement. Guilford Press.

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