Review – Sensory Stimulation

Sensory Stimulation: Sensory Focused Activities for People with Physical and Multiple Disabilities – Susan Fowler

Sensory Stimulation

A book that describes and discusses what sensory stimulation is, why it is important and gives loads of ideas and indepth step-by-step guides for different sensory activities. This book is written in a style that suggests it is primarily aimed at those who work with individuals with disabilities, but there is not reason why the ideas in this book couldn’t or shouldn’t be used by disabled individuals or by parents of disabled children.

The first section of the book focuses on descriptions and discussion of sensory stimulations and then moves onto how to identify the best means of sensory stimulation for each individual, along with referencing to the appendices where there are loads of forms and printables to help make notes and keep logs of the sessions involving sensory stimulation. Keeping notes and logs, whilst time consuming, is very important and can become especially important in working with people who are non-verbal.

People with profound and multiple disabilities are often perceived as not being capable of making choices. However, most people are able to make choices even if they are unable to verbalise them. Time needs to be spent with them, working out how they make choices, by observing their behaviours; these will indicate whether or not they like or dislike certain food, clothing or activities.

It is very important to take time to learn and understand what a person likes and doesn’t like, what they find sensory stimulating and what causes overload. I worked with a young autistic man who I was told had “tantrums” whenever he was taken to the snoezelen/sensory room and this was blamed on a desire on his behalf to dictate all activities. I tagged along with his one-to-one and him as a shadow to learn about his day before working with him, and we went to the sensory room. Once we stepped inside, his one-to-one support went over the plug sockets and turned everything on in the room; every light, the bubble tubes, the fans, the music, the light up flooring… The young man then threw himself to the floor, covered his ears, closed his eyes and screamed. These were the so called “tantrums”. The time hadn’t been taken to properly understand the use of sensory stimulation or sensory processing, never mind to find out what this young man actually liked, and each time he was taken to the sensory room he was subjected to an enormous sensory overload.

The books covers a wide array of activities which accommodate and include multiple disabilities, and make use of most of the senses. Vestibular and proprioreceptive do not have much in the way of activities, but they do tend to fall under Occupational Therapy which is not the main focus of this book. Still, a small section with their inclusion would have been a nice addition. The book also discusses how to expand sensory stimulation to the community at large, describing how to often sensory activities are restricted to sensory rooms when they should be a part of day-to-day life. It is in this same section that it discusses the important of ensuring that disabled people are given opportunities to be a part of the community:

Frequently there is no opportunity to interact with their peers. Part of the reason for this small social network may be due to the limited opportunity to meet new people. It is therefore important to think about ways of building connections within the local community.

Another reason is that people do not always know how to communicate with a person who has complex communication needs. It is important to document how a person communicates and off people a range of communication opportunities.

This struck me as an important detail as I have read and heard comments before condemning and verbally berating people who admit to not knowing how to communicate with disabled people. I don’t understand the animosity and aggression, and this quote reminded me of it. To me, if people are admitting they don’t know how to do something, it suggests they are willing to learn how, and when people use verbal communication on a day-to-day basis then they are probably not going to know instinctively how to communicate with someone non-verbally. Even if someone does know about alternative and augmented communication, or they do know sign language – it doesn’t mean that they are going to automatically know that a certain gesture someone makes means a certain thing. In addition, people do not want to act in a way that could be offensive or could upset or patrionise someone, so I wonder whether they just stay silent and avoid communication with disabled people because they’re worried about getting it wrong? Anyway, back on point to wrap up.

The only problem I have with this book is that a lot of the detailed activities in the last chapter, which are divided into Food, Drinks, Personal and Household Care, Arts and Crafts, are quite long and many have 10+ steps. A number also made use of equipment like electric knives, electric juicers and electric food processors. This meant that a lot of them are unsuitable for the working environment I am in where the children would lose interest or become overwhelmed by having so many steps to follow, and our risk assessments would not allow the use of the electrical equipment required to even do the activities.

The activites themselves are greatly varied though, and even if I couldn’t use many of them exactly as they were, I could steal ideas from them. There are loads of sensory ideas in this book and the illustrations and detailed step-by-step instructions to integrating sensory stimulation into daily life makes it a perfect book for finding and generating new ideas. With each activity Fowler details how seemingly straight-forward recipes can be used to provide sensory experiences, with suggestions that in hindsight seem obvious such as encouraging people to feel the vibration of the electric food processor through the table top and comparing their reflections with different face masks that they have made themselves.

Is it worth reading? Yes, this book is full of sensory ideas and has a lot of detailed activities at the end with ingredients and methods to use.

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