It’s now almost 5 years since I met the first occupational therapist who would treat our son and who would introduce us to the life-changing power of Ayres Sensory Integration Therapy. The words she said that day have stuck in my mind ever since…“I love this, and how it works because it is deeply rooted in neuroscience” Something in those words and in watching the changes in my son as he experienced therapy sparked a curiosity and interest in me to find out more.
Since then I have spent many hours reading, studying and reflecting on the importance of understanding the workings of our brains and nervous systems and how much this learning has changed our day to day lives. Whilst searching online I found the beautiful early hand-drawn images from Ramón y Cajal one of the first ever neuroscientists.
The images featured here which are taken from the article are – Pyramidal cells stained with the Golgi method by Ramón y Cajal, and Ramón y Cajal’s Purkinje neurons, illustrating their tree-like structure in great detail, like this one from the cerebellum.
Illustrations by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the Spanish neuroscientist, from the book “The Beautiful Brain.” From left: A diagram suggesting how the eyes might transmit a unified picture of the world to the brain; a Purkinje neuron from the human cerebellum; and a diagram showing the flow of information through the hippocampus in the brain.
Another fantastic blog post from It Must be Mum. Highlighting how the cost of the government cuts in healthcare leaves practitioners feeling like they cant be more proactive, and its the most vulnerable who have no voice who are the first to suffer.
It has encouraged me to think more carefully about why some families are unable to engage with services and about how more can be done in terms of equity and equal access.
It’s a fantastic, easy to read, accessible book, which great for recommending to families. It outlines an easy to follow practical plan to guide families in choosing which new foods to introduce to a child with avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), or other sensory-based feeding and eating difficulties. It is written by medical professionals who have experience and expertise in the field.
Not a replacement for assessment and therapy
Food Chaining as a home-based approach which sits nicely alongside support from a qualified occupational therapist, and alongside Ayres’ Sensory Integration therapy. Once medical conditions interfering with eating have been ruled out, the therapist can assess for seating, sensory-motor difficulties, or modulation problems which may be interfering with eating and address these in therapy while the book will support the family to develop a greater understanding of their child difficulties and gives them a simple practical tool to use at home.
Foood Chaining encourages families to closely observe their child’s eating choices and to think about the sensory qualities of the foods, seeing the food through the child’s eyes rather than their own.
Some children may prefer colourful, spicy foods, crunchy foods others may only find circular beige foods acceptable. Rather than seeing this as a problem, the book encourages families to reframe this as the platform from which to start.
So how does it work in real life…
Understanding that some foods which may have been perceived as unhealthy are actually stepping stones towards more desirable foods is helpful. For example, rather than discouraging our child from eating fast food chicken nuggets we have learned to encourage them and use them as a stepping stone towards other breaded items, and other white meats.
Overall the book is very helpful. Some of the food chains suggested in the book were overly ambitious for my son, and many of the food suggestions were American brands. However, the principals of observing what he will accept and gently exposing him to new foods with similar qualities have given us a plan and a structure.
The book also reinforced that the difficulties our son experienced were due to his sensory processing and integration differences, rather than a medical or behavioural problem. I regularly recommend this book to other families who are experiencing sensory related feeding and eating difficulties.
Get some support
If you are a therapist working with children with sensory-based feeding and eating difficulties, or a parent of a child who struggles to eat you are welcome to join our facebook support and information groups
There are so many fantastic books available to those interested in finding out more about Ayres’ Sensory Integration, Check out our Facebook “book corner” photo album and some of our previous blog posts for some fantastic reviews of these books.
When I was a child my English teacher told my mother that she should encourage me to read more, my mum simply told her that if she did that she would never actually get to see me. You see from the moment I could read that was what I most loved. I loved the books, I loved our weekly trips to the library, I still love the smell of a new book, the feel of an old book, folding back the pages of places I needed to find again. I especially love when the book is my own and I can make my own notes in it and mark the pages. Oh and books that are gifts which have personal inscriptions on the front page.
Twenty years after I started my first university course I found myself back in higher education. On returning to study my first question was…”Where have all the books gone?” I have to confess that the geek in me was really looking forward to getting my hands on some new reading material. Our online library and the access we have to databases is mindblowing in its extent. The Internet has absolutely revolutionised the speed at which I can access almost any book or journal from anywhere at anytime.
In lectures we are encouraged not to write so much, and told that “the powerpoints are available online”, and they always are. However, whilst I have almost unlimited access to endless amounts of quality information I just don’t feel that I am learning effectively from a screen, and learning without a pen in my hand feels strange.
I came across this post by business insider which summarised this systematic review by Lauren M. Singer and Patricia A. Alexander who looked at many years of empirical research to see if there was any evidence for differences in comprehension between reading on paper and reading digitally. It appears that I am not alone in struggling to learn digitally. The study found that students tend to read faster online which is more effective when trying to understand a general idea but for in-depth comprehension that most students did significantly better when reading printed text.
Currently, Amazon is my new best friend, as is the colouring in book I carry with me to class each day.
If you are a book lover, digital paper or otherwise, you have some post-grad education in Ayres’ Sensory Integration and you would like to join us in reviewing some relevant books and articles you are welcome to follow this link to join our facebook group – also please don’t forget to answer the questions – Ayres’ Sensory Integration Book and Journal club.
We will be adding more book reviews over the coming months, make sure you have signed up to follow us on – If you would like to review your favourite book for us as a guest blogger, please get in contact with us
Last week I found a copy of a therapy review that a young person wrote a few years ago.
“My sensory me is about me – and only me. It’s not about anybody else. It helps me be me. I don’t worry about what other people think I should be. I am starting to like me now. I’m not so sad anymore. Knowing why I’m different helps me to not worry anymore, and it means I can say what I need.”
He continued “before people told me what to do and how I should feel, and what I needed. It didn’t match up with what I really wanted. That confused me. It made me worry because I kept being wrong. When I did things, people didn’t understand what ‘made me’ do these things. I could see that, but I couldn’t understand why.
I loved therapy and all the stuff we could do. Making safe spaces on my first session helped me know you really knew what I was feeling inside. That was a bit scary. It was like you were a mind-reader. Then I got to know it was because you know about the brain and the senses, and you watch a lot. We did lots of experiments to discover how my body works. I liked that. All the stuff we got to use, the big golden hippo, barrel and all the swings. I loved playing Harry Potter with you – with the golden snitch, the hats and the magic wand. The swing was my fantastic flying broomstick. It was the best part of all. I liked to ride it with my cat. I really liked bouncing on the mattresses and trampette. And the hot chocolate with cream was the best.
It’s different now. I can stop and wait to find the words. Then I check it out. I have much less meltdowns. My Sensory Ladder helps me explain what is going on. I use it with my new Mum and Dad, my new Gran, my teachers and even my friends know that when I am a techy scratchy cat, then the snarly spitting cat is not far away and I need a sensory movement break.
And because of therapy, my body knows more now. I get it right more. I think I am just able to do everything easier. My new friends understand me better now. I don’t always get it right everytime.e, but it is better than ever before. I am calmer, clearer and concentrate better. I even join in with Netball now. My room is tidier now, and I can finally have shoes that have laces.
Thank you for helping me learn about how my brain is changing all the time. It means I didn’t have to worry about how it was wired. I could just work on making new wires ready for my new life.
In the beginning, therapy can be really scary. You don’t want anyone to know what is hard. The book we used to get to know more about my senses helped me know it might really work when I didn’t know it would.”
Here is a copy of the James’ My Sensory Me document including his sensory strategies – made during OT sessions. We made his Sensory Ladder together so others would know how to help and support me at school and home. He used it and practiced telling people his story until he didn’t need to use it anymore.
His Sensory Ladder was printed off and made into keyring sized tags to attach to his pencil case, his Foster Mum’s key ring with copies on the fridge at home, on his desk at school and a copy went to his first visit with his forever family.
“Our Harry Potter Therapy was the best thing I ever did and I will never forget it. I believe in the magic.”
The first Sensory Ladder was made in 2001. It is reported in articles published in 2006 and 2009.
1. Brown S, Shankar R, Smith K, et al. Sensory processing disorder in mental health. Occupational Therapy News 2006; May:28-29.