Encouraging Speech and Sensory Exploration this Summer

Summer is a wonderful time to let go of inhibitions, embrace spontaneity and just enjoy the tide of life- but these are all easier said than done when you’re a parent whose child feels the opposite. When children feel anxiety and/or resist the unknown, spontaneity feels less like an exciting endeavor and more like a recipe for disaster.

Here are some tips for those that want to plan a beach trip this summer, but feel like it’s an impossible task:

1. Create a social story

Ask your therapist to assist you in the creation of a Social Story for your child prior to making the trip. Social Stories are narratives that assist in helping individuals, typically those with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), deal with a challenging situation, skill or concept.

They are also often written to provide praise. Written in a first-person point of view, Social Stories help improve an individual’s perspective of a situation to make it more meaningful. With the help of your speech-language pathologist (SLP) and/or occupational therapist (OT), you can utilize a narrative to read with your child about the fun day of exploration they will have!

2. Utilize sensory bins

 For children with sensory aversions to various stimuli, consider creating and utilizing sensory bins in your home that can help familiarize your child with “all the feels.” Invest in some clear plastic bins and fill them with materials you might see on your adventure to the beach. Ideas include filling bins with:

  • sand
  • water
  • rocks
  • rocks in water
  • shells
  • sand with water
  • (which will help with sand castle building!)

While tactile play with hands is great exposure, don’t stop there! Think of all the functional ways in which your child may experience these sensations and try to mimic them. Take their socks off and have them feel the sensation of wet rocks on their feet. Bring your sensory bins outside (to avoid indoor messes) and sprinkle some sand on their shoulders, arms, and even hair. As always when participating in sensory play, read your child’s cues regarding their comfort level and cater to it. Gently nudge them forward when they exhibit hesitancy, but don’t shove them, as it could make their aversions even worse. If any questions or concerns arise, be sure to discuss them with your child’s OT.

3. Make a visual schedule

Don’t most of us like some structure and expectation in our lives? Well, most kids crave it, particularly when the world and all of its sensory stimuli (i.e., lights, noises, sensations of touch and movement) can be overwhelming in its unpredictability. Help decrease some anxiety and increase expectation with the simple use of a visual schedule. Using pictures, words, and/or object cues, create a schedule and review it with your child on the day of your adventure. Better yet, review it with them in the days leading up to the trip if you feel certain of the day’s itinerary.

4. Create verbal scripts for your child to use

Similar to the use of a visual schedule, some children benefit from the use of scripts that they can use as their “go to” when they’re feeling unnerved about an event or a situation. Prompting them to take deep breaths and repeat dialogues such as, “I am going to love the beach!” or “Today will be so much fun!” can often help children feel a sense of comfort and control. If these scripts appear to be backfiring in the moment, in the sense that your child’s negative response appears to escalate the more they repeat the script, give them something to imitate that honors their emotions, such as, “I’m scared but I’m ok.” For children who are non- or minimally verbal, having picture cues on hand to communicate these messages (i.e., picture cues depicting happy, sad, scared) can be helpful in diffusing or reducing negative behaviors that may arise during a meltdown. Discuss your desire for visual aids for communication with your child’s SLP, who would likely be happy to provide any resources they have.

5. Use apps that mimic ocean/lake or other nature sounds

Take advantage of free apps and download one that offers nature sounds that correlate with your beach adventure. Sit with your child and play sound clips of things they may hear while describing them or providing an accompanying visual, if possible. Consider searching for sound clips via apps or YouTube such as ocean waves, seagulls, balmy breezes, motor boats and more. Some apps to check out include:

Relax Melodies

Nature Sounds Relax and Sleep


Some of these apps can even be utilized on timers at night to lull your child to sleep, if they tolerate it.

6. Recreate a beach scene in your backyard

Finally, pulling in and merging some suggestions previously mentioned, consider taking a day to recreate a beach scene with your child as a way to prep for the big day. Sprinkle some sand and rocks on the lawn, set out shovels and pails of water, spread some beach towels, get in swimsuits, open that beach umbrella, play some nature sounds on your phone and of course…slather on that sunblock! If your child initially resists, take a break and try again later.

Time your child’s length in their tolerance of this activity and see if it extends with continued exposure. Use lots of positive praise and encouragement for his/her willingness to participate in new experiences and take videos when they are calm and enjoying their interactions. You can play these videos for them as your beach day gets closer and remind them of how much they enjoyed it (e.g., “Look! Remember when you loved playing in the wet sand?”)

This may seem like a lot of effort to put into preparation for one outing. However, it’s important to remember that for children with sensory sensitivities and communication difficulties, carefully executed prep work for the unknown can make the difference between a day filled with stressful meltdowns and a day filled with comfort and ease. Or at least something in between!

Local summer fun activities

Orland Park Farmer’s Market – Crescent Park
(with free rock painting!)

23 Fun Activities to Do With Your Kids This Summer
(And They’re FREE!) –  Hip2save.com


2019 Guide to Free Summer Fun – ChicagoKids.com https://www.chicagokids.com/Blog/Detail/66/2019-guide-to-free-summer-fun

Want to learn more about a topic of interest in an upcoming newsletter or blog?

Please submit any requests to megan@ctctherapy.com

A reminder to all of our families:
We will be closed on Thursday, July 4th in observance of our national holiday. We wish a happy and SAFE 4th of July to all of our CTC families and beyond. Enjoy some summer fun and relaxation with your loved ones and friends!


Children Therapy Connections is committed to providing effective intervention to children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. If your child does not have diagnosis but you suspect delays with development, do not wait, call today for a free screening. 708-226-9200.  

We proudly serve the Chicagoland area, including Orland Park, Tinley Park, Mokena, Oak Forest, Palos Areas, Homer Glen, Lemont, New Lenox, Crestwood, Oak Lawn, and more.