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For individuals with sensory integration difficulties, (sometimes referred to as sensory processing disorder), attending a festival or concert can seem daunting. The crowds, restricted entry points, sound levels, flashing lights, unexpected events, large venues and different smells might feel too overwhelming a challenge.
But event organisers are increasingly looking at enabling access to people with sensory challenges, for example, here’s an encouraging account of how the O2 concert venue in London provided wonderful support for a young girl with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) attending a Linkin Park gig with her mother.
Alternatively, there are a number of events specifically designed for people with conditions that often coexist with sensory challenges, including ASD. A quick internet search found: A Different World Festival 2019, Spectrum Autism Friendly Festival, Spectrum - The Autism Festival, Inclusion Festival, and The AWESOME International Arts Festival for Bright Young Things.
Contact the venue in advance to ask what support is available.
Prepare by looking at images or videos of what the event might look and sound like in advance.
Ask if the venue provides a social story which is a printable, visual presentation of what to expect at the event, eg, here is a social story for an Inclusion Festival in the USA.
Request access to the viewing platforms for disabled patrons as these will be less crowded.
Check with the venue in advance what can and can’t be taken onto the festival/concert ground so there’s no disappointment when something is refused or confiscated
Make use of designated calm areas, scheduling in regular breaks.
Taking into account individual needs, pack items such as ear plugs, noise-reducing headphones, sunglasses, fidgets, weighted blanket, familiar toys etc.
Make it acceptable to leave before the event finishes.
To celebrate the United Nations’ International Day of Yoga (21 June), we’ve had a look back at our SensorNet article on Mel Campbell, Occupational Therapist, Advanced Practitioner in Sensory Integration, yoga teacher and author.
As an experienced OT and yoga teacher, Mel found herself drawn to the study of sensory integration (SI) which fitted well with her interest in neurology. Mel told us that the more she studied the theory of SI, the more she found her two worlds of being a yoga teacher and an Advanced SI Practitioner merging.
For individuals with sensory integration difficulties, (sometimes called sensory processing disorder) , SI therapists devise sensory diets. Through these personalised programmes, which involve various vestibular (movement/balance), proprioception (movement and resistance) and tactile (deep pressure and touch) activities, individuals can receive the sensory input they need to help them become focused and organised throughout the day. Yoga poses and exercises can complement and contribute to these programmes.
You can see Mel demonstrate some of the yoga poses she uses to help people with SI difficulties on YouTube and her website.
There are some informative blogs for parents, carers and therapists wishing to introduce yoga to their children. Five tips for teaching yoga to children with special needs, Using aerial yoga for kids with ADHD, ASD, and everything else! and The therapeutic benefits of yoga for kids are all by US-based OT and blogger Jamie Spencer.
For those who prefer books, Sensory Yoga for Kids: Therapeutic Movement for Children of All Abilities is written by OT Britt Collins who guides readers on how to use yoga to help address SI difficulties, increasing body awareness and fine tuning coordination skills. Yoga for Children and Young People with Autism: Yoga Games and Activities to Engage Everyone Across the Spectrum by Michael Chissick is also relevant for use with children who have sensory processing challenges.
This beautiful BBC video shows children from a North London school for children with special needs explaining how practising yoga helps them to relax and expressing how much they enjoyed it. The programme has been so successful that the school is sending its teachers on a yoga teacher training course so that they can incorporate yoga classes into the curriculum.
Research on the impact of yoga for people with special needs and related SI difficulties exists but more is needed. This research (1), published last year, compared the brain structure and function of yoga practitioners with a control group and found an association between regular long-term yoga practice and differential structure and function of specific brain regions involved in executive function, specifically working memory. This literature review (2) of research on the benefits of yoga and mindfulness for youth with autism spectrum disorder acknowledges that the evidence is inconclusive but notes that all the studies reviewed demonstrated positive effects on social, emotional, or behavioural issues.
Gothe NP, Hayes JM, Temali C, Damoiseaux JS. Differences in Brain Structure and Function Among Yoga Practitioners and Controls. Front Integr Neurosci. 2018;12:26. Published 2018 Jun 22. doi:10.3389/fnint.2018.00026
Semple, R. J. (2019), Review: Yoga and mindfulness for youth with autism spectrum disorder: review of the current evidence. Child Adolesc Ment Health, 24: 12-18. doi:10.1111/camh.12295
Sensory Integration Education’s partner, the UK’s Ulster University, has soared up the league tables for the 2020 academic year, rising up 34 rankings compared to last year.
The tables, released by The Guardian newspaper, now rank Ulster University at number 59 in the whole of the UK out of 121 institutions.
Ulster University is Sensory Integration Education’s partner in delivering the SI Modular Pathway: the first, and still the only, university-accredited postgraduate SI programme in the world.
Speaking about Ulster’s success to Belfast Live, Vice Chancellor Paddy Nixon said, “Our philosophy is to put students and research first and the rankings will follow suit, and this has proven that it works.”
Congratulations Ulster University!
Research released for Carers Week 2019 (10 – 16 June) has found that unpaid carers looking after loved ones living with an illness, disability, mental health condition or as they grow older are seven times more likely to be lonely compared with the general public.
Not having enough time, or money, to participate in leisure activities, as well as the stigma of being a carer, means one in three unpaid carers (35 per cent) are always or often lonely, compared with just one in twenty (five per cent) of the general population.
Carers Week is an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring, highlight the challenges unpaid carers face and recognise the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK. This year, seven national charities have come together to highlight the urgent need to tackle loneliness and improve wellbeing among the UK’s carers, who all too often put their needs second.
If you are a carer, you can access information and support via these charities.
If you work with people with caring responsibilities, Carers Week are suggesting ways in with you can support them here.
At Sensory Integration Education, we run a free Facebook Group for parents and carers of loved ones with sensory integration, (sometimes called sensory processing), difficulties. It’s a safe, supportive environment with over 2,000 people who can understand and empathise with you.
Mind, the charity for better mental health, offers these suggestions for carers to help look after their own well being (see their website for fuller advice):
Talk about how you feel
Ask for help if you need it
Support their independence
Find positives in your relationship
Take a break and make time for yourself
Get enough sleep
Learn a relaxation technique
Look after your physical health
As therapists, we know from our everyday clinical experience the importance of considering the whole family’s role in supporting a child with sensory integration difficulties, and also the transactional nature of the parents’ and siblings’ relationship with that child. This month, at Sensory Integration Education, we are focusing on parents and carers and so we’ve gathered some pertinent research that you may find illuminating or confirmatory of your own clinical experiences.
This intriguing research study (1) explores the contribution of sensory features to caregiver strain when caring for children with autism and other developmental disabilities. The authors found that increased hyperresponsiveness and hyporesponsiveness in children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) correlated with increased levels of objective strain in caregivers. This implies that both a lack of response and an over-response to sensory stimuli are associated with negative impacts on the daily functioning of caregivers, such as with increased financial strain and impacted family routines. However, the authors note that increases in sensory seeking behaviours within the ASD group were associated with decreases in objective caregiver strain.
The authors speculate that when children are engaged in sensory seeking behaviors, they are occupied and, therefore, not placing immediate demands on their caregivers. It also may be easier for caregivers to carry out their daily routines while their child is occupied with, and seemingly deriving pleasure from, sensory experiences. These findings may have significant implications for interventions related to sensory seeking behaviours. Specifically, ask the authors: could interventions aimed at reducing sensory seeking behaviours result in more stress for parents?
A longitudinal study (2) undertaken over 15 years looking at families of children with developmental disabilities found that not only were the parents at increased risk of psychological stress but also evidence for parent-driven stress and that maternal stress was a predictor of later child problematic behaviour.
This more recent longitudinal study (3) explores the association between sensory features and family participation and caregiver strain, in families of children with autism and developmental disabilities. The authors urge practitioners to better understand the potentially enduring effects of children’s sensory features on family functioning so as to begin to identify supportive interventions with more optimal long-term effects.
This paper (4) explores the wellness of adult siblings of people with intellectual disabilities (ID) related to caregiving experiences and outcomes, and support for siblings. The authors found that, overall, siblings of people with ID have positive outcomes in childhood while increased anxiety may happen in adolescence, and they call for greater exploration of the outcomes for adults. The authors also share ideas about future research needed on interventions that target adult siblings of people with ID.
This research study (5) investigates the sensory responsiveness in siblings of children with autism spectrum disorders.
This qualitative study (6) explores how sensory processing difficulties in children with autism affect family routines and the strategies that parents and carers implement to manage this. The importance for therapists to work collaboratively with parents and carers to identify and address sensory needs, and the impact they have on the family routines is emphasised by the author.
(1) Kirby, Anne V et al. Caregiver strain and sensory features in children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities. American journal on intellectual and developmental disabilities vol. 120,1 (2015): 32-45. https://doi.org/10.1352/1944-7558-120.1.32
(2) Woodman, A.C., Mawdsley, H.P., & Hauser-Cram, P., Parenting stress and child behavior problems within families of children with developmental disabilities: Transactional relations across 15 years.Research in Developmental Disabilities, Volume 36, January 2015, Pages 264-276. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2014.10.011
(3) Anne V. Kirby, Kathryn L. Williams, Linda R. Watson, John Sideris, John Bulluck, Grace T. Baranek. Sensory Features and Family Functioning in Families of Children With Autism and Developmental Disabilities: Longitudinal Associations. Am J Occup Ther 2019;73(2):7302205040p1-7302205040p14. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2018.027391 .
(4) Arnold, C.K. & Heller, T. Caregiving Experiences and Outcomes: Wellness of Adult Siblings of People with Intellectual Disabilities Current Developmental Disorders Reports, September 2018, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 143–149. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40474-018-0143-4
(5) Hilton, C.L., Babb-Keeble, A., Westover, E.E. et al. Sensory Responsiveness in Siblings of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, (2016) 46: 3778. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-016-2918-y
(6) Schaaf, R. C., Toth-Cohen, S., Johnson, S. L., Outten, G., & Benevides, T. W. (2011). The everyday routines of families of children with autism: Examining the impact of sensory processing difficulties on the family. Autism, 15(3), 373–389. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361310386505
This Telegraph article has invaluable advice for parents travelling and holidaying with children with autism or sensory sensitivities.
Dr Miriam Bindman, clinical psychologist, explains the challenges:
“Children with autism experience differences in sensory processing, meaning they can find noisy, bright and busy environments overwhelming. They may also have difficulty understanding what other people mean, and have trouble understanding their own emotions, which they may find hard to communicate in socially expected ways.”
And the best advice… “Cut yourselves some slack. The whole family needs a holiday and it’s unlikely that anyone will perish if the children eat spaghetti bolognese every day for two weeks.”
The article also lists which airports and travel operators will make accommodations for families, and you can see a list of the UK’s most autism-friendly businesses, including tourist attractions and airports, on the website for the National Autistic Society.
Q: Can you recommend exercises/activities suitable for an older resident living with mild dementia who has poor balance?
A: Exercise is very important for keeping physically and mentally well but can become more challenging when balance is affected. The Department of Health recommends that people with dementia engage in 30 minutes of exercise a day, which can be broken into 3 shorter 10-minute sessions throughout the day. Creating a routine that works for the individual is crucial.
Supervised water-based activities like gentle swimming or walking or exercising in water can be great as buoyancy in water and swimming aids can compensate for poor balance. Regular swimming can also improve and maintain balance in older people and, for those who like to be in water, the tactile and auditory sensation of water can be calming and relaxing.
Seated exercises activities can also be very impactful. YouTube has some examples of seated yoga sessions which can be easily done anywhere (with internet!). The Alzheimer’s Society also has examples seated exercises, as well as recommendations for keeping physically active in all stages of dementia.
Finally, walking is a simply wonderful way of staying active and is an enjoyable activity to do with friends or family. Be mindful of the terrain, distance, pace and any need for a walking aid.
Have you got an SI question for us on Families or Carers? Drop us an email and your question could feature in the July edition of EmphaSIze!
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I graduated as an occupational therapist from Trinity College in Dublin in 2012. After that I moved to London and started working in a SEN primary school for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other intellectual disabilities.
Working in the school environment every day I noticed early on the impact that sensory processing difficulties has on pupils’ participation in learning and play. I trained to become an SI practitioner, through Sensory Integration Education, in order to gain a greater understanding of sensory integration theory and to increase my knowledge of and skills for using evidence-based assessment and intervention guided by theory in order to better inform my practice.
The knowledge and skills I gained from these courses has been so valuable when working with this population and influences my clinical practice in the school setting in many different ways, for example when:
Recently I have also started working with Sensory Integration Education as part of the team sourcing and sharing relevant resources and literature with their members and followers in order to stay update on current practice.
See more from our EmphaSIze Newsletter
I currently work as a Senior Paediatric Occupational Therapist as part of a Primary Care Community Team in Cork, Ireland. My role involves working with children aged 0-18 years with various needs to develop skills to perform the purposeful activities that make up everyday life. Primary care occupational therapy aims to help children to be as independent as possible in their everyday lives.
My interest in Sensory Integration was sparked on my paediatric placement when observing my educator using this frame of reference in practice. I was intrigued by the coalescence between neuroscience and occupation. Following my OT degree graduation from University College Cork, I pursued my sensory integration training with Sensory Integration Education and have continued this journey throughout my career to date.
I previously worked for almost two years in the Child Development Centre with the Central and North West London Trust with children with disabilities and complex needs, neurodevelopmental concerns, learning difficulties, developmental delay, motor co-ordination difficulties and high-risk pre-term infants at risk of neurodevelopmental disorders. Prior to this, I worked in a special needs children’s school, college and children’s home with children with various moderate to severe learning difficulties and challenging behaviours.
Having recently completed Sensory Integration Module 4: Advanced Treatment, I feel that my knowledge base of neurology and its applications in sensory integration intervention have improved. My confidence in my ability to deliver ASI intervention has developed through my learnings on the course, my reading and analysis of the literature and my journey with my clients.
A new paper* on the link between deficits in visual-somatosensory (VS) integration and poor mobility is pertinent for therapists working with older adults.
The authors hypothesized that cognitive impairment, as found in people with dementia, is associated with reduced VS integration which will, in turn, impact on balance and the somatosensory system.
After a study of 345 older adults, the authors concluded that cognitive impairment influences multisensory integration, which adversely impacts balance and gait performance in aging. They recommend that future studies should aim to uncover the precise neural circuitry involved in multisensory, cognitive, and mobility processes.
*Jeannette R Mahoney, Joe Verghese, Does Cognitive Impairment Influence Visual-Somatosensory Integration and Mobility in Older Adults?, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, , glz117, https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/glz117
Sensory Integration Education, Old Breedon School, 8 Reading Road, Pangbourne, RG8 7LY, UK
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