Young children with autism often appear to be living in the perpetual now with a mental focus that is only the width of one sensory experience at a time. If the child is seeing then seeing is all. If the child is touching then nothing but touch exists. The child sees a stick on the ground and picks it up looking intently at the length of it. But if the child then notices a bright patch of grass in the sunshine and moves toward that, he drops the stick as though it has ceased to exist. Placing the child in a sandbox may inspire the child to run sand through his fingers over and over, consumed by the feel of the sand and oblivious to the child sitting a few inches away digging with a plastic shovel. It is as though each sensory experience is so all consuming as to cause everything else to fade into nothingness. This is, I have heard and I believe, because the child has a sensory system that takes in information at ten-fold the typical intensity. Being so caught up in each sensory experience is one of the neurological hazard of having a sensory system that is so acutely sensitive. None-the-less, it is the aim of every kind of intervention to help the child with autism learn to detach mentally from the clutches of such sensory experiences enough to begin to connect a set of sensory experiences into a larger framework. Eventually, we want the child to know that "Going to play at the park" includes the experience of picking up sticks, running on the grass in the sunshine, playing in the sandbox and we want the child to know that the park includes activities that can be chosen like swinging, sliding, climbing or drinking from the drinking fountain. We want the child to learn to shift attention between what he is doing in the sand box to watch what other children are doing and eventually to imitate and then join in when a different activity looks like fun.
Route Games, for a child at this stage of development are little routines, typically a sequence of sensory treats that occur in order, one after the other so that the child can learn how to detach from one sensory experience intentionally and move on to another sensory experience. Below, you can see a little boy learning over the course of two therapy sessions, a three location Route Game. He has learned how to go up and then slide down a slide. He can jump with dad on a trampoline. He has learned to put a ball into a basketball hoop. Now, we want him to learn how to move intentionally from one of these activities to the next. We use a photo of the trampoline to help him move from the slide activity to go and jump--which is an exciting thing for him to learn. We then use the ball to help him move toward the hoop. Here is the Route Game as he learns it: