Our two day workshop is a “great opportunity to reflect on clinical practice and learn new skills”. Find out more about the application of Ayres’ Sensory Integration beyond childhood to support health and wellbeing.
“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
Occupational 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’
They 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
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.”
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.’
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. May–Benson, T. A. (2016). A Sensory Integrative Intervention Perspective to
Trauma–Informed Care. OTA The Koomar Center White Paper. Newton,
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]
On our courses, we teach staff from CAMHS and adult/older adult mental health services how to use Ayres’ Sensory Integration to inform care including for those who have had early trauma.
On our in-house courses, we regularly teach mixed staff teams including Mental Health Nurses and Healthcare Assistants, CPN’s, OT’s, PT’s, SLT’s and Therapy Support Staff, Complementary Therapists, Psychologists and Psychiatrists. Working with staff teams from forensic, secure, acute and longer stay units, our lecturers help teams to develop and implement sensory informed care pathways. This includes working with sensory providers to develop secure safe sensory rooms for safe self-regulation and sensory-rich movement activities suitable for secure and forensic environments, where ligature risks mean traditional swings and other equipment cannot be used.
The use of Ayres’ Sensory Integration to support health and well-being has grown across the UK and Ireland.
The research and evidence base is expanding across the globe, with more clinical audits and studies being published that report that Ayres’ Sensory Integration is
promoting participation in everyday life
increasing clients ability to engage with others, with therapy
this means that there are significant reductions in
days in secure or acute care
the use of PRN medication
the need for the use of physical support aka TMAV
We’d like to thank Tina Champagne for pointing us in the direction of this resource which fits so neatly alongside the resources and tools we teach on our courses.
Tina is a critical friend of ASI WISE and wrote several chapters in this free online resource about developmental trauma and practical ways to institute trauma-informed care.
Resources for Eliminating Control and Restraint aka Therapeutic Manage of Aggression and Violence
This article by Clinical Psychologists Christopher Robinson and Alicia Madeleine Brown in the Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care includes a lovely environmental checklist (adapted from Simpson 2009) used in considering the physical environment in three children’s residential homes.
Abstract: Sensory processing issues are generally considered to be clinically significant in children who have suffered abuse and trauma and much has been written about the possible neurological correlates of such sensitivities (De Bellis and Thomas, 2003; van der Kolk, 2014). Comparatively little focus has been given to the functional aspects of these sensitivities, and particularly how these might interact, in context, with a child’s underlying neurological vulnerabilities. In this respect, the environment surrounding the child is a neglected area of significant, perhaps critical, importance. In terms of potential hypersensitivity to environmental stimuli, children with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC), although with different aetiological correlates to trauma affected children, are known to face profound environmental challenges. Children with ASCs have received a wealth of attention in the literature with regard to these sensory challenges, whereas, in contrast, trauma affected children have received very little direct attention at all. It is the aim of this paper to focus on the environmental aspects of sensory processing in trauma affected children, specifically in relation to the physical environment of children’s residential homes.
from the Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care 2016 – Vol.15, No.1 Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care ISSN 1478 – 1840 6
The ASI Wise lecture team have been at Abbot’s Lea School in Liverpool this weekend with a fantastic group of committed and enthusiastic occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and teachers exploring the use of sensory strategies and Ayres’ Sensory Integration therapy to support children, young people and adults mental and wellbeing health.
Experiential learning opportunities, embedded into the course, help participants to understand their own sensory systems and to experience the challenges that the people they are working with face on a daily basis.
With a mixture of classroom-based and hands-on practical learning, participants explored how to use the spaces and environment available in both school and clinic to support regulation and praxis. The workshop provided an opportunity to hear about the theory and practice of Ayres’ Sensory Integration, it’s application supporting those with autism, ADHD and dyspraxia, with up to date research and evidence supporting practice.
To find out more about our courses and learning here
We are so grateful to Abbot’s Lea School who have allowed us to use such a beautiful spacious venue. The three lovely well-lit rooms allowed us to create a pop-up sensory clinic, where participants had space to move about; extra room to break into groups supporting learning and the sharing of ideas. The school staff and local therapist volunteer support team have been incredibly welcoming and supportive, helping the workshop to run smoothly. As a bonus, the sun has shone all weekend which has allowed us to use the outdoor spaces, we have spotted a few daffodils and blossom trees around the city – it feels like spring is on its way.
Thank you to our volunteer therapists who helped to make the weekend such a success.
This feature article was written by Claire Smith, one of the first UK OT’s to deliver Sensory Integration alongside Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). I am delighted to introduce Claire to you, as she was one of the first people I ever lectured about how to apply Sensory Integration’s in Mental Health. That was way back in 2004 and tonight she features on a BBC Documentary – Girls on the Edge.
Here is what Claire would like to add about how Ayres’ Sensory Integration can be used when we work with adults who have trauma and related sensory integration challenges.
As a DBT therapist and SI Practioner I am fortunate to be able to deliver a full DBT programme, alongside an inter-disciplinary DBT team, provide ASI intervention and use sensory strategies that I believe make a real difference to people’s lives.
We combine sensory strategies with DBT skills that support young people to self-regulate and reduce high emotional arousal. These are personalised and individualised to each young person forming part of their positive behavioural support care-plan. Sensory strategies are often used to help young people become ‘talking therapy ready’ prior to starting DBT. There is much stigma around mental health and what it means to be in a secure unit.
Three teenage girls and their families will be sharing their stories and lookIng at the impact on families in a documentary on Thu 22nd Feb, Girls on the Edge, at 9pm on BBC2. Their bravery, openness and honesty helps to break some of this stigma.
The programme has footage of some of the activities offered at FitzRoy House and features glimpses of a number of OT’s I work with providing meaningful occupations and supporting young people in their journey to recovery.
Bessel A. van der Kolk M.D. is a clinical researcher who integrates developmental, neurobiological, psychodynamic and interpersonal aspects of the impact of trauma and it’s treatment. Learn a bit more from him about how perceptual changes happen because of trauma, and how this impacts on engaging with ordinary situations, focus as well as attention. Hear how this can impact on someone’s sense of self.