“Early trauma is stored in the body via the senses, this is why therapy through the senses is effective.”
Smith, K BPD and SI 2004
boy wearing gray hoodieOccupational Therapists are ideally placed to work through play and via the senses to promote the development of healthy neurological pathways and structures; impacting the development of sensory motor skills and abilities that underpin our ability to move, learn, play, develop, communicate, think and process emotions.

 Sensory integration is integral to the process of healthy development ‘when the functions of the brain are whole and balanced, body movements are highly adaptive, learning is easy and good behaviour is a natural outcome’

Ayres, 1979

girl jeans kid lonelinessThey can do this with clients who are very young, or those who are adults with childhood trauma, who often find talking therapies very hard to engage with as the trauma memories are stored before language has developed, so are instead stored in the body and via the senses.
These young people do need trauma-informed schools, but this is not enough! The problem with whole school approaches to trauma is that for these children whole school strategies are not individualised and personalised and as such, are not specifically targeted. Specialist assessment and intervention is needed for these young people to reduce the impact of trauma on their young plastic brains, still in development.

Postgraduate education in Ayres’ Sensory Integration theory and practice alongside undergraduate education in infant and child development means that occupational therapists are ideally placed to address the sensory-motor needs of looked after children who have often been subjected to trauma in utero and early childhood.

Ayres’ Sensory Integration is a theory that suggests that brain “maturation is the process of the unfolding of genetic coding in conjunction with the interaction of the individual with the physical and social environment. As a result of experience, there are changes in the nervous system.”
Spitzer and Roley 1996
Sensory qualities of the environment can positively or negatively interact with function and development.
Schneider et al, 200
IMG_2043
created, a sensory ladder key ring with football players, to support a young man with trauma to develop improved self-awareness and how to communicate what he needs and when to others

Occupational Therapists working in this area are able to use a discreet but comprehensive range of skills and resources within their scope of practice to offer direct one to one sensory integration – based intervention. These may be with the individual child, while also supporting foster and adoptive families, and typically includes parent participation in therapy.  Occupational therapists will also offer parent and family education and work alongside schools and other organisations via a consultation model, offering education, in-service training, supervision for staff.

“Adopted children who have suffered traumatic early experiences are “barely surviving” in the current high-pressure school environment and need greater support if they are to have an equal chance of success, a charity has said.

They are falling behind in their studies because they are struggling to cope emotionally with the demands of the current education system which “prizes exam results at the expense of wellbeing”, according to a report from Adoption UK.”

from The Guardian 27 June 2018

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jun/27/adopted-children-barely-surviving-in-high-pressure-schools

The development of Occupational Therapy care pathways for children, adolescents and adults with trauma is increasing, as the role of Occupational Therapists in this area is increasingly being recognised.
‘Sensory Integration sorts, orders and eventually puts all the sensory inputs together into whole brain function.’
Ayres 1979
What emerges from this process is increasingly complex behaviour, the adaptive response and occupational engagement.
Allen, Delport and Smith 2011
You can read more about work in this area by following these links:
1. MayBenson, T. A. (2016). A Sensory Integrative Intervention Perspective to
TraumaInformed Care. OTA The Koomar Center White Paper. Newton,
MA: OTA The Koomar Center(PDF) A Sensory Integration-Based Perspective to Trauma-Informed Care for Children. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303383214_A_Sensory_Integration-Based_Perspective_to_Trauma-Informed_Care_for_Children [accessed Jul 01 2018]
3. Werner, K. (2016) “Occupational Therapy’s Role in Addressing the Sensory Processing Needs of Young Children with Trauma History” Entry-Level OTD Capstones. 8. http://commons.pacificu.edu/otde/8[accessed Jul 01 2018]

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