Sensory Stories for Sensory Rooms – by Joanna Grace

Rhino UK invited Joanna Grace to explain how stories can be used within a sensory room and tips on how to use a multi sensory room to its full advantage.  Joanna Grace is a special educational needs and disabilities consultant and founder of the Sensory Project.

The Sensory Project creates low cost do-it-yourself-at home Sensory Stories and provides training for settings looking to use sensory engagement. Although I focus on improvised at home resources I still love the fabulous items that can be found in multi sensory rooms. During the period of time in which I set up the project I had the opportunity to read a lot of the research that surrounds sensory engagement. Much of what I read was about sensory rooms, and, to be frank, it was rather depressing. We have these wonderful rooms, with fantastic gadgets, and they get used in a way that does not benefit the people they are intended for, and in some situations they are even used in ways that are harmful.

Whether you are creating a hydrogen cloud out of a handful of confetti (Birth of a Star) or setting off a projection of a galaxy (fantastic multi sensory room) the most important thing is you. The facilitator of a sensory experience, and how they facilitate that experience, is way more important than how expensive or complicated the experience is. To get the most out of your multi sensory room, or your simple do it yourself at home sensory story, you need to understand what you are doing and what can be achieved. It is this understanding that I hope to give people on my training days, but here are a few tips:

  • Take your time – People need time to process the information they get through their senses. We all rush around in life. When you are sharing sensory experiences with someone: slow down.
  • Try not to chat too much – Being social is really important, but when you are helping someone to access sensory stimuli if you chat at the same time you are asking them to process the language that you are producing (whether they themselves use language or not) if you keep quiet you allow them to focus fully on the experience.
  • Know the person you are sharing the experience with – Know their sensory abilities, -what is their hearing like in their left/right ear, what is their sight like – near, far, peripheral, are they better at looking at things that are moving, or static against a high contrast background? The more detailed your knowledge is of their sensory abilities and preferences the better you will be at supporting them in getting the most out of a sensory experience.
  • Don’t turn everything on at once – When we overload a person sensorially their learning brain shuts down. Some people may express this overload in their behaviour and let us know it is too much, but even for someone who does not react in this way having everything switched on at once can be too much.
  • Create a routine – This is especially important if you are supporting someone with profound disabilities or someone with autism. A routine allows your sensory experiencer to begin to anticipate what is going to happen. Knowing what is going to happen will help them to feel safe and secure. Feeling safe and secure builds confidence and means that you are likely to see more responses and reactions, and most importantly enjoyment!

I love low cost improvised at home resources and my work at The Sensory Project provides me with a pinch-myself-am-I-dreaming work environment in which I get to experiment with experiences for sensory stories, but I recognise the huge value in a well used Multi Sensory Room and for that reason I wrote the story Naali which is resourced with a typical Multi Sensory Room. The story booklet that accompanies the Naali story provides a summary of the research I read when I set up the Sensory Project and more tips for successfully using sensory stories.

I wish you all many happy sensory adventures, whether at home, out and about, or in a wonderful multi sensory room.

Written by Joanna Grace

Joanna Grace