Jo SEN Leader Magazine Issue 5

06 | Using sensory stories

A learned response Sadly researchers have also shown that some of the passivity observed in children with profound disabilities is not wholly a direct result of their disability, but in part a learned response to being unable to interact with the stimuli they perceive. They know there is a world out there but their experience tells them they can’t interact with it and so they turn inwards. In some cases this can result in children engaging in self-injurious behaviours as a way of seeking stimulation. When supporting a child with profound disabilities it is vital that you provide them with as many opportunities as possible to have sensory experiences, both to support their cognitive development and to enrich their lives. There are many ways to provide such stimulation, from fabulous sensory rooms, to simple everyday tasks like washing your hands with scented soap. Sensory stories – stories that engage the senses – are another such tool. “ Children can demonstrate what they like or dislike through their reaction to the stimuli in the story. ” Benefits If used in an organised and consistent manner, sensory stories can have multiple benefits. • Development of communication skills Sensory stories can aid eye tracking (a precursor to reading), turn taking (communication is essentially a turn taking activity), concentration etc. • Expression of preferences Children can demonstrate what they like or dislike through their reaction to the stimuli in the story. • Increased confidence Encountering stimuli within the safe story telling space can enable children to feel more confident in encountering similar stimuli in the big wide world, e.g. loud noises like dogs barking or strong smells like take away meals. • Improved tolerance of stimuli This is especially significant for children who experience difficulties processing sensory stimulation, as can often happen for children with autism. By practising experiencing stimuli, children can improve their ability to tolerate those they find difficult. In the last issue of SEN Leader magazine Rosie Eachus explained how the structure of stories can build confidence; the same is true here. Children with autism especially will find the predictable nature of a repeated story reassuring. • Personalisation of care Expressed preferences can be used to inform decisions taken on behalf of the child. For example, when purchasing a lampshade for a child’s bedroom you might choose a blue one because you’ve noticed they particularly liked looking at a blue light during a sensory story. • Being able to demonstrate learning It is not so long ago that society considered children with profound disabilities to be unable to learn and unworthy of

being taught. People still find it hard to recognise learning when progress is made in very small steps. Anticipation is a wonderful way to demonstrate learning when working with sensory stories. One story will be repeated on many occasions. Imagine the story has a dog bark in it, following the line ‘The dog barked.’ On the first telling of the story the child may flinch when they hear the dog bark. They may continue to do this on subsequent tellings, but on the nth telling, suppose the child flinches as you say ‘The dog barked’ prior to hearing the actual bark. This flinch communicates to you that they know what happens next in the story. Accessing and creating sensory stories Sensory stories, like other stories, are told about a range of subjects. Bagbooks sell ready-resourced stories about all sorts of things, from traditional tales such as Aladdin to religious stories such as the Christmas story. Pamis’ sensitive story project created stories about things that a child with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) might find difficult, such as a trip to the dentist. I was personally inspired by a piece of research highlighting the importance of social contact for children with PMLD, to create stories that could be enjoyed equally by a child with PMLD and their siblings. I also wanted to create stories that would be affordable to most people. I launched a Kickstarter project to enable me to do this and I am happy to report that the self-resourcing stories are available to purchase at You can, of course, have a go at creating your own sensory story using the tools in the Toolkit. I encourage you to have fun exploring your senses with all your students. Best of all, sensory stories are a lot of fun!

Further information • • • •

Toolkit Use the following items in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practice: • Worked example – Creating a sensory story (page 18) • Handout – Creating a sensory story (page 19) • Handout – Using sensory stories (page 20) Joanna Grace is a special educational needs and disabilities consultant who writes educational resources for organisations wishing to connect with individuals with special educational needs and disabilities. She recently ran the Sensory Story Project and provides training to people looking to share sensory stories successfully.

SEN LEADER | January 2014

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