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The Importance of the Sensory Environment for Premature Babies

Read more about one family’s journey through neonatal intensive care and what they have learned about the impact of the sensory environment on the developing nervous system of premature babies in this blog post By Anna Lee Beyer

 

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Christmas Themed – Calm Down Glitter Bottle Timer

Thanks so much for this beautiful, simple idea sent to us by one of our families.

Have you tried making and using a glitter-filled calm down bottle timer to help your little ones? It’s easy to put a Christmas theme into them by using festive colours and adding seasonal themed sequins or beads.

With so many versions on the internet, here is a blog post from my Crazy Blessed Life with tried and tested instructions to make your own. While Mama OT explains how the bottles can work by aiding self-regulation http://mamaot.com/sensory-calm-down-bottle/

And a Christmas themed jar from Teaching Mama

Christmas Sensory Bottle

Don’t forget there is still time for you to win a copy of Love Jean by entering our Christmas time book give away. Share your Christmas themed sensory ideas with our community… by leaving a comment on one of our Christmas themed blog posts or on our facebook page … before the 15th December 2018

love jean book

 

 

 

assorted color sequins

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Helping Autistic Children Manage the School Christmas Play

Christmas time in school can be difficult for children with additional needs, changes in routine and new experiences can be hard to manage. Here is some advice from Its a Tink Thing with ideas for helping autistic children to be included in the Christmas play.

https://itsatinkthing.com/how-to-help-an-autistic-child-to-manage-the-school-christmas-play/

Christmas photo 1495318_541193059305224_1470605699_o

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Early trauma is stored in the body via the senses, this is why therapy through the senses is effective

“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
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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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A Weekend of Learning at Abbot’s Lea School, Liverpool – Using Sensory Strategies for Mental Health and wellbeing Weekend Workshop

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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Sensory Ladders

The first Sensory Ladders were made in 2001 for adults with sensory integration difficulties receiving help with mental health difficulties in Cornwall. Influenced by the paediatric Alert Program, they offered therapists a way to combine Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and Ayres’ Sensory Integration, addressing the development of the person’s self-awareness in collaboration with ward staff on an acute psychiatric inpatient unit.

The need to start with the person where they are at, before introducing learning about new ways of being, including the development of new skills, made it necessary for the Sensory Ladder to remain a very individualised and personalised journey within a close safe therapeutic relationship.

Both Ayres’ Sensory Integration(ASI) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy(DBT) share a common understanding that development and change can only occur within a safe environment. The DBT idea of balancing safety and challenge reverberates strongly with Ayres’ concept of the ‘just right challenge’.

Creating a Sensory Ladder is about creating opportunities for an adult or child to learn to become aware of themselves in a new way – to explore and discover new things about mind, body and brain. It allows the therapist and person to do “curious wondering” together, and for the person to try new things – creating and promoting active but informed risk-taking; testing how we might feel and experience something when we do it differently; new ways of being – new ways of responding.

Making and using a Sensory Ladder is about the journey together within a safe therapeutic relationship. It’s about getting to see and know someone in a very different way, getting underneath the skin of behaviours that are perhaps being described by others as tricky or challenging.

The Sensory Ladder facilitates the reframing of behaviour that are a result of sensory integration challenges, providing the first step of acceptance of the behaviour necessary before strategies and therapy support development and change to happen.

To see more Sensory Ladders, visit our Sensory Ladder FB Page

Pokemon Sensory Ladder copy

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It’s not about our own stress, it appears stress can be catchy too.

Is your stress changing someone else’s brain? A research study by Jaideep Bains and a team at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI), at the University of Calgary, has suggested that stress can be transmitted from one person to another, changing the brain of the other person too. The study shows that social contact by female mice reverses the effects, but not for male mice.  

A full article “Social transmission and buffering of synaptic changes after stress” can be found at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41593-017-0044-6.

 

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Scientists have discovered that stress transmitted from others can change the brain in the same way as a real stress does.
 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180308143212.htm
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Watch the air hostess…

Wow, this is so powerful, honest and well written. I love the air hostesses analogy, I have used this idea myself when traveling but this blog post has helped me to see how it applies to parenting too. Our little ones look to us for cues as to how they should process big emotions when things get tricky for them. When we stay calm in the midst of their chaos we become a protective factor in their lives, the rock in their emotional storms.

“…What do we do when we’re afraid on an airplane? We look at the flight attendants. If they seem scared, we panic, too. If they seem calm, we stay calm. So what I’m telling you is that you are the flight attendant in this scenario, and you’ve been through enough turbulence to know you’ll all make it. Your kids are new to flying, so they’re going to look to you to see whether they’re okay. Your job right now is to stay calm, smile—and keep serving the freaking peanuts.” ….”

One of our toughest jobs as parents is to allow our kids to weather life’s storms. Of the many many things that we do for our children, staying calm and giving them reassurance when things are tricky can be one of the most valuable.

Read more: On Oprah.com

 

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How anxiety is related to processing and integration of sensory input

“How and why is anxiety related to sensory processing difficulties? What is the relationship? Why are they often co-morbid?” One of the parents we support through our facebook parents group recently asked this question, it made me stop and think, below is the answer I wrote to her.

Hi, this is a really good question, and a tricky one to explain as a parent. Here is what I have learned and hope it might help others develop their own way of explaining their child’s sensory differences.  Reading books and practicing telling people what is going on in his brain, has helped me advocate for him in tricky meetings.

Here’s my patter, this is how I explain it…

It’s my understanding that sensory processing and sensory integration difficulties can be underlying causes of anxiety for many of our kids and definitely, this true for my son.

He has poor tactile discrimination this means that doesn’t understand what he feels, and what or where something is touching him. This leads to him avoiding touch / messy play and eating type situations. Because he avoids them, he doesn’t learn or build up positive experience and therefore is even more anxious the next time. Add to that he has difficulties making sense of vestibular input (the sensory system in our inner ear that tells us how we are moving out head in space and helps us know how to balance). When this sensory system is out of whack, it impacts on so much, his body just wants to know it’s not on ‘dodgy ground’ but it never tells him this, and he remains agitated. His brain has tried to compensate for this, but again he needs many movement experiences to learn how to do this well. Until he started therapy he used to avoid these experiences but now he is slowly starting to seek them out. He loves swings and zip wires!

Sensory integration difficulties including poor body awareness can also lead to problems with motor planning and coordination. Not having a good idea where your body is or what it can do can increase anxiety.

We also know that the parts of your brain that process light touch information and balance movement information inform our alerting centres and those responsible for us being calm or in fight or flight. My boy used to spend lots of time existing in fight or flight mode. This is one of the reasons Ayres’ Sensory Integration therapy helps him because it taps into his neuro-plasticity helping his brain to have new positive experiences, especially in his balance and touch systems. This helps it to rewire and so be much less hyper-vigilant all the time.

Here is a fantastic infographic from BelievePHQ which explains what anxiety looks like, the symptoms will look different for each individual person.

what anxiety loks like

 

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Changing lives with trauma; Sensory Ladders, Sensory Strategies and Ayres’ Sensory Integration

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.

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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.”

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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.

2. Brown SShankar RSmith K2009Borderline personality disorder and sensory processing impairment. Prog Neurol Psychiatry 13:1016.

Thank you to James’ and his forever family for allowing me to share his story, with a few changes made to protect his identity.