Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Speech and Occupational Therapy

Blog #83~Sensory Anchors

Blog #83~Sensory Anchors

Nick doesn’t play with toys like most kids do. Having Down syndrome and autism has changed the playing field for him.  He tends to use many of them to seek out some sensory benefit.  For instance, he likes to mound his toys up in one spot…..


Even more fun was piling them on our cat……

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The other day he was stacking random objects here and there around the house.

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Why do kids with autism, Down syndrome and other sensory related issues  play with objects in such different ways?

sensory anchor one

There are many sensory issues associated with having autism.  Their world may get too bombarded with stimulus or feel unpredictable and overwhelming.  Finding a way to stay grounded becomes even more of a need when the senses are flooded with too much stimuli.  Often a child with sensory issues seeks out comfort in the form of a “sensory anchor” which helps them calm down.  These sensory anchors can be a repetitive activity that provides comfort and is soothing for them

Here are some examples of sensory anchors: 

*Lining up toys

*Spinning objects

*Following a line with their eyes

*Sitting in bean bag chair or swinging

*Looking at reflective objects

*Hand flapping

*Rocking back and forth

*Rubbing hands together

*Chewing on sleeves or collar of shirts and other non-food objects

*Smelling things

*Making repetitive sounds with mouth

How many of you have been out in public and notice a person with autism making odd sounds, rocking, or maybe banging on something loudly. These are ways in which they are  trying to cope in the world by using sensory anchors.  Nick’s include a variety of activities. He often chews on his sleeves and collar of his shirt.  Other times he is rocking, hand flapping, and tapping or making sounds with his mouth (that by the way sounds like a cow mooing)  🙂 

Nick’s first choice and all-time favorite is tapping a can of tennis balls against his mouth!

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Second choice, doing heavy work vacuuming!

Nick vacumming_Tabor Hills (3)

I realize that some of these are not acceptable in public, so I try to find alternatives for such occasions. For instance, I will provide deep pressure in the form of hugging to help calm him down.  But around the house and in the car, I have to respect his need to do this to help him self-regulate.   After all, everyone has some way of doing this whether it’s nail biting, twisting your hair, chewing on a pen, sitting while one leg is fidgeting to stay alert.  We all find our own way to decompress after a hectic day, right?  What’s your sensory anchor?  Music, meditation, exercise, hit the hunting or driving range, X-Box, a bubble bath or glass of wine?


Bottom line, it’s important to provide opportunities for a child with autism and sensory integration issues to get grounded and centered.  So if it’s a can of tennis balls, then so be it!  That’s what is in my noggin this week.



Teresa is the Author of "A New Course: A Mother's Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism" and the mother of two boys. Her youngest son, Nick is 29 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). Teresa's passion is helping others understand and navigate co-occurring Down syndrome and autism. She is a DS-ASD consultant, advocate, speaker, and author. Follow Nick's world on Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice of Autism and on Twitter @tjunnerstall. For more information and media links, visit

3 thoughts on “Blog #83~Sensory Anchors

  1. Just read your blog. I found the link between sensory overload and a “sensory anchor” and what non- autistic folks do to get centered or relax, enlightening. Knowing that puts an entirely new perspective on autistic behavior.

    In the end, everything we all do is for some reason, some purpose. Our inability to understand does not diminish the value of that activity, particularly in the case of autism.

    By understanding the role of stemming, e.g., we can learn to tolerate and help those with autism to gain control and find some orienting device in the middle of waves of stimulus, which for the rest of us is everyday life.

    Very educational, Teresa!

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