In the North East we are collecting normative data for the EASI Project, part of the ASI 2020 Vision. This photo is from our first planning meeting about our contribution to standardising the EASI assessment.
The EASI has been developed by Zoe Mailloux, L. Dianne Parham and Susanne Smith Roley in the USA. Teams worldwide are assembling EASI test kits, learning how how to administer it and administering it to typically developing children so that it can be standardised.
We have learned a lot from other regions helping with the standardising of the EASI for the UK. At our meeting, 3 of our 4 testers met to plan what we needed to do;
We reviewed the tests and divided them up
We chose dates to practice all the tests together
We choose dates to complete our tests
We only need to test 15 children and have been delighted in all the interest in our region: therapists are volunteering to help out and parents are volunteering their children. If you would like to volunteer yourself or a child to participate, please search the EASI website or EASI FB page to get in touch.
Stay tuned to the EASI FB Page for more pictures and progress.
Anyone who has ever heard me teach about the importance of considering the senses to provide trauma informed practice will remember my story about the tyre swing.
The smell or olfactory system is the quickest acting, shortest and most immediate pathway into the brain. It’s essentially important we learn more about this sensory system and how it lays down very strong almost indelible memories that retraumatise and provoke unsettling unconscious body feelings of trauma before language development and conscious memory.
Research literature about torture confirms the importance of smell on evoking the past. However and most importantly though, is how positive and happy memories and smells can do the opposite – creating therapeutic moments of calm and contentment, weaving through and wrapping round spaces to create places of recovery and escape, free from emotional and physical pain.
My earliest lectures about sensory integration in mental health, to in-patent teams and later our learner DBT team included information hard gathered from medical libraries, books and journals before Google. We still teach this information on our ASI Module 1 and in our mental health workshops, exploring the sense of smell, so essential to human survival and success.
My earliest learnings about the power of smell and trauma recovery shaped in the informal settlements and rural villages where I first worked in post apartheid South Africa.
Our sense of smell helps keep us safe. It is like vision and hearing an advance warning system. It tells us where it is safe to live, helps us find food, helps us choose the right partner and helps us to recognise our own baby.
Research confirms that it warns us of longer term dangers. We know from experiences in life it is critical to ensuring we make ourselves safe from immediate danger. The smell of fire, bad food and illness alerts the brain into immediate avoiding or defensive actions.
Equally it can help to soothe and calm. Knowing this and building on the power of smell to support health and wellbeing changes lives. The smell of 4711 perfume will forever remind me of magical journeys up into The Faraway Tree, Kit Kat fingers and the safety of Granny’s lap.
Some therapies like DBT encourage the use of smell to supper mindfulness practice and tolerance of distress.
My clinical experience is that the power of smell can do much more than that. Over the last 20 years and more I have collected lovely case studies and stories about the power of smell when it is used wisely in clinical practice.
The smell of evening, red dust and hot rain – a smell so strong that in Africa it had the power to create the sounds of crickets, evoke the warm encircling arms of safety and care, that wash away pain.
The smell of white musk from a famous body product shop in the UK that could calm and soothe, allaying fight and flight, reducing self-injury, dissociative events and attacks on others.
The smell of coffee, cinnamon and oranges facilitated peaceful sleep and calm, memories of a Mum and escape from nightmares; a way to self regulate and remain grounded in talking therapy. Not just in one session, on one day, but over time making sure that historical patterns of disengagement from therapy ceased.
The puppy breath and fresh mown grass were personal special memories belonging to one of the service users group who were helping us develop tools to assess sensory reactivity as part of sensory integration in adult mental health services nearly 20 years ago.
Nowadays sensory integration and the power of the senses in trauma recovery is more mainstream. Using smell to create healthy environments that support participation and engagement in everyday life seems relatively simple to do. Smell is inherent or can be made to be inherent to almost any activity. From using a smell to support recall and reduce stress in exams, helping sleepy teens to wake up or calming elderly adults in their increasing moments of confusion.
The power of smell, like another powerful sense, proprioception should become and remain a subject of further research and development within occupational therapy practice.
In her book, the autistic brain, Temple Grandin says “you can’t study autism without figuring out a way to categorise sensory issues”. She goes on to talk about the neurology behind her condition, linking her lived experience to the neuroscience of her brain.
So it is incredibly exciting when new ways of understanding the neuroscience of touch enhance our understanding of how those with autism experience touch. This article encourages us to think about how social touch (or affective touch) differs from the discriminative touch we all for daily tasks and explains the neuroscience of how both kinds of touch are registered and used by our brains.
This article describes the patients in medical literature whose life experience has taught us to think differently about touch. It introduces us to the studies that these thoughts have prompted, a wonderful reminder that there is always more to know.