Evaluation article: Autism - Championing transitions to university Evaluation article: Mild deafness - Significant challenges Evaluation article: SEN reform - Progress so far Evaluation article: Access arrangements Evaluation article: ADHD in the classroom Evaluation article: Developing phonological awareness skills for struggling readers Evaluation article: Pupil premium Evaluation article: Using sensory stories - The importance of sensory learning Evaluation article: Working with wellbeing Evaluation article: Parental engagement - Changes for parents and schools Evaluation article: Meeting everyone’s needs - The most able students Evaluation article: Selective mutism: Seen but not always heard - part one Evaluation article: Early years, SEN and inspection Evaluation article: A day in the life ... of a speech and language therapist

Evaluation article: Autism - Championing transitions to university

The University of Bath’s Summer School for students on the autism spectrum has experience in easing the transition between school and university. Steph Calley, a research assistant at the summer…

Evaluation article: Mild deafness - Significant challenges

Rachel O’Neill looks at the impact of mild deafness on children, and explains why calling something mild does not prevent it from being a real challenge to the affected student.

Evaluation article: SEN reform - Progress so far

After one year of implementation of SEN reform, schools and parents are reporting a very mixed picture across the country. Suzanne O’Connell considers what the DfE is proposing and what…

Evaluation article: Access arrangements

Access arrangements are a contentious issue, debated every year, but they are vital to ensure a level playing field for all our students. Sam Garner, a trainer and consultant for access arrangements, addresses…

Evaluation article: ADHD in the classroom

Are you waiting for them to fail or challenging them to succeed? Jane Cordez reminds us that pupils do not care what you know until they know that you care.

Evaluation article: Developing phonological awareness skills for struggling readers

Rosie Eachus explores using phonological awareness activities with young children to ensure that any learning gaps are noticed and given extra support.

Evaluation article: Pupil premium

The pupil premium remains the government’s flagship method of providing additional resources to disadvantaged pupils. In this article we give advice to the SENCo about how it might be used.

Evaluation article: Using sensory stories - The importance of sensory learning

Joanna Grace explains how children with disabilities can benefit from stories that are told by sharing sensory experiences.

Evaluation article: Working with wellbeing

Working on children's wellbeing does more than make them happier. Giles Bryant explains the observable difference that simple exercises can make to pupils with SEN, with something for every age.

Evaluation article: Parental engagement - Changes for parents and schools

Jenny Townsend gives an overview of the green paper’s potential impact on schools’ relationships with parents.

Evaluation article: Meeting everyone’s needs - The most able students

Ofsted’s new report on the most able has implications for every group of students in the school. In this article we look at the recommendations and what they might mean…

Evaluation article: Selective mutism: Seen but not always heard - part one

In the first of two articles, Liz Tucker explains selective mutism and what the implications can mean for the child.

Evaluation article: Early years, SEN and inspection

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework sets out requirements for the education and care of all children in early years settings.Christine Newton examines the framework and Ofsted inspection requirements,…

Evaluation article: A day in the life ... of a speech and language therapist

In this regular feature, we look at what a usual day holds for a professional who works with children with special educational needs. Here the speech and language therapist (SLT)…

Evaluation article: Using sensory stories - The importance of sensory learning

Published: Thursday, 20 February 2014

Joanna Grace explains how children with disabilities can benefit from stories that are told by sharing sensory experiences.

Summary

  • How sensory stimulation helps cognitive development.
  • Using sensory experiences to enrich the lives of children with PMLD.
  • Helping to demonstrate learning.
  • Creating your own sensory stories.

Over time our brain takes in information received from the senses and uses it to build neural pathways in our mind. As a baby, when we hear something and turn our head, see something and reach out for it, we are building our neural pathways. Repetition of these experiences makes our neural pathways stronger and forms connections between them, which results in a better understanding of the world.

Of course we gain a lot from being played with, from having people dangle toys in front of us and talk to us, but do not underestimate quite how much of our early development we do on our own.

Now consider the child who cannot turn their head when they hear something, whose physical disability means they are unable to reach out for the object they’ve seen. It can be easy for us to assume that someone with profound physical disabilities will have cognitive difficulties as well, and whilst it is certainly true that they often co-occur, I challenge readers to consider how much could be down to the lack of stimulation. If you are unable to access sensory stimulation for yourself you will be on the back foot when it comes to your cognitive development.

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.

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.

Best of all, sensory stories are a lot of fun!

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 www.bit.ly/sensestory

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.

Further information

Toolkits

The following Toolkit items are available to subscribers to SEN Leader Magazine Premium Plus.

About the author

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.

This article was first published in the January 2014 edition of SEN Leader magazine. 

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