Sensory Social Routines in Pediatric ABA Therapy

Sensory social routines are a type of joint attention. Joint attention consists of two people interacting with an object or playing together with the same objects working on a common activity. In sensory social routines, the focus is on a partner and one’s self. During ABA therapy, this involves the therapist and the child. The therapist and child use sensory social routines to engage in social communication.

Sensory social routines consist of games such as “Peekaboo”, “Wheels on the Bus”, “Itsy Bitsy spider”, “Ring around the Rosy”, “Hide and Seek”, and other gestural routines. The routines consist of movements incorporated with the words which allow opportunities for different social exchanges. These sensory social routines help increase better imitation skills, social skills, communication skills, and language skills. We want to engage the child with these routines so the attention is on the adult. Then the child becomes more aware of the adult’s gestures, voice, and facial expressions during the routines over time.

During an ABA therapy session, the therapist will use these routines. The therapist will start out by doing the routine multiple times so the child gets an understanding. Then, the therapist will start to manipulate the routine by pausing to initiate requests. These requests can be eye contact, gestures, vocalizations, or verbalizations to tell the therapist to continue with the routine. The therapist uses this to cue the child that its their turn to join in on the routine. This involves the child to learn turn-taking that is not made up of just sharing an item. The turn-taking is the social exchange between the therapist and child.

Sensory social routines are not just for therapy. Parents can incorporate them into their every day activities too! Parents can use these routines to increase social exchanges with their child not only during play but other times of the day as well. You can use sensory social routines during feeding time to incorporate imitation and to increase eye contact. For example, you can eat a spoonful of your food while narrating, “I am eating my food. Yummy food!” You can also incorporate eye contact by using their spoon as an airplane. For example, you can pause before giving them the spoonful of food and wait for eye contact or a vocalization.

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Sensory Social Routines