Sensory Processing Disorder
Many of our learners come to us with a form of ‘sensory processing disorder’. Sensory processing disorder is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses.
We have 7 senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell and 2 other ‘hidden senses’; vestibular (movement) and proprioception (awareness of body position). Sensory processing disorder can involve either some or all of these and to varying degrees. This can result in our learners being oversensitive and overwhelmed by things in their environment (hypersensitive) and perhaps under responsive (hyposensitive) in others. Here are some examples:
- Hypersensitive responses may include touch, where the light touch of a shirt chafes their skin; sight, where fluorescent or bright lights hurt their skin; sound, where loud noises may be unbearable or distracting; taste, where certain foods may be of a certain texture that they simply can’t cope with.
- Hyposensitive responses may include touch where they don’t seem to notice when they hurt themselves or smell, when they can’t smell things you can. Learners with hyposensitivity may look passive and quiet, requiring more motivation to respond.
- Our ‘Sensory Seekers’ crave sensory input and may be seen constantly rocking, spinning, chewing non-food items, etc.
We assess every learner within the first 6 weeks of them coming to us and ensure that we have a clear sensory profile right from the beginning. This is revisited regularly to ensure our learners develop appropriate skills and coping strategies, which will support them through into adulthood
We know that each learner has their own sensory needs and where required, we will implement a ‘sensory diet’ for them in class to help them cope. A sensory diet is a personalised plan that incorporates sensory activities into their daily schedule. It aims to provide sensory input the learner needs to stay focused and organised throughout the day.
Our learners may also find it hard to use their ‘body awareness’ system. This system tells us where our bodies are in relation to the rest of the world, so for those with difficulty in this area, it may be hard for them to navigate a room avoiding obstructions or they may struggle to stand an appropriate distance from other people. They may also find it difficult to use their hands effectively and carry out ‘fine motor’ tasks such as tying shoelaces, doing up buttons or sorting out zips.
PODD in Action
PODD is our communication approach supporting our learners who have severely challenging language and communication (please see ‘Our Approach’ page). This ‘tool’ helps learners to develop their talking and listening, offering them an opportunity to express themselves much more effectively and a lot less frustratingly.
Please watch our short video showing one of our learners across the period of a year.
1. Before PODD – Before we introduced PODD to our learner, he found it really difficult to get his message across. In the first part of the video he makes use of a number of different communication strategies including vocalising, signing, physically dragging the person and so on. Similarly, the communication partner (in this case his teacher) has to use a lot of guess work in order to understand what our learner is trying to say. Even then, they don’t always get it right!
At this point in time, our learner appears frustrated and his communication is largely unintelligible and heavily dependent on others trying to interpret his needs.
2. Starting PODD – Eventually, soon after the introduction of PODD, the second part of the video shows him making a request for a drink of water. He is very specific about his request and very efficient in how he does it making it known to his communication partner through the competent use of his PODD book. Now he is a calm, intelligible and autonomous communicator!
3. A Year On – Now, he is expressing himself emotionally and with remarkable speed and efficiency with his communication partner (again, his teacher). Our proficient learner is feeling ‘excited’, demonstrating an emotional vocabulary beyond anything he could have reached previously.
So, what did he want to share with his communication partner? That he wanted the latest copy of OK Magazine! when they went to the supermarket. Amazing!
Fun with food group
Often, our therapists will work collaboratively in order to support our learners with new skills. Here, a speech and language therapist and occupational therapist are working jointly to develop the ‘Fun with Food’ therapy group.
Eating and feeding difficulties are common amongst our learners so this group aims to support them by providing a safe and fun environment to experiment and play with a different range of foods. Therapists introduce them to new tastes and textures, as many can be very limited in what they will eat. As you can imagine, families very much appreciate the work we do with learners in this area and quickly feel the benefits at home.
Handwriting is a complex skill that goes hand in hand with reading and writing – and a skill that many of our learners have real difficulties with. This tends to go hand in hand with poor motor skills. Often, learners may appear very capable in their use of language and their ability to communication, but are unable to transfer these skills into their handwriting. The whole process of writing can become a battle ground and learners can become frustrated and tired as however hard they try, it just doesn’t seem to get any better!
We know that it is commonly seen in individuals with an ASD as many of them have some level of fine and gross motor difficulty so our team are always on the ‘look out’. When a learner is referred, an occupational therapist will consult, assess and design interventions to support them at every level. There are an abundance of tools, which they will use to help learners to improve this important skill, including a variety of different finger grips, appropriate seating, angled writing boards and many other solutions.