This time last year my daughter, Amber was still without an official diagnosis, we knew that she was a huge ‘Sensory Seeker,’ and I had noticed from an early age that she struggled with ‘purposeful play,’ even to this day, (at almost 5 years old,) and even though we provide her with a variety of toys and resources, she has difficulty in using them for story enacting, for example, she prefers to line her dolls up, rather than to come up with a situation or characters for them.
In April 2016, Amber was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD,) around the same time I was introduced to a local therapy centre where hourly sessions of ‘Play Therapy’ were offered on a 1:1 basis with a SEN teacher, these sessions also welcomed parents to get involved with the activities on offer. The staff at the centre collected information about Amber’s current interests and ask for any problem area that we were experiencing at home, after each session the staff asked Amber what activities she would like to do in the next session and I really liked how child-centred this was. Amber also had her own visual choice board, where she could see the activities on offer and chose which activity she’d like to do 1st, 2nd and so forth. I explained that one of the areas that we were working on at home was eating, as Amber was only eating the same foods every day, such as breadsticks and toast, she tended to stick to the beige and dry foods. I also explained about what I had observed in terms of purposeful play at home and I shared Amber’s love of any messy/sensory activities as she was a huge sensory seeker and thrived on these type of activities.
I read that:
“Play therapy is generally employed with children aged 3 through 11 and provides a way for them to express their experiences and feelings through a natural, self-guided, self-healing process. As children’s experiences and knowledge are often communicated through play, it becomes an important vehicle for them to know and accept themselves and others. This approach is common to young children.”
Over the 15 sessions that Amber had we, as parents, saw a great deal of progress in Amber’s confidence to select new resources, at first she wanted to try out every single activity in the sensory room, and would often flit between activities and rooms. The therapy centre has 2 main cabins that house a sensory room and music therapy room, there is also a sensory garden that houses a chicken coup and their very own named pet chickens! The staff also have access to rooms for occupational therapy and a purpose-built room for cooking. We also noticed an improvement in Amber’s concentration and purposeful play, especially with small-world play and she developed an interest in playing ‘shops,’ which she has carried on to the present day.
Amber experienced a wealth of activities during her time at the centre, these included:
- Messy Play – shaving foam in the water tray and hand and feet painting.
- Moveable and mouldable sand.
- Sensory room exploration – bubbles tubes, light changing wall, fibre optics and the ‘snug’ enclosed area.
- ‘Magic Carpet,’ where images such as an interactive fish pond are projected onto the mat on the floor and moves when the children touch it.
- ‘Small World’ play – with a large dolls house, farm buildings.
- Use of the music room – exploring multicultural instruments such as African Drums.
- Physical outdoor activities – such as balls and hoops, to help support perseverance.
- Feeding chickens and interacting with them in their enclosure.
- Creative story telling – using story sacks, e.g. retelling the story ‘Room on the Broom.’
- Cooking sessions – making cookies, and staff even found a specific dairy free recipe in light of Amber’s dairy allergy.
- Making sensory playdough.
We hope to continue to take Amber to the ‘Play Centre,’ (as she has named it,) as they also provide clubs in the school holidays, such as messy play club, dance club and gardening club.
I previously wrote a post dedicated to the specific centre that Amber attends, please find this in the link below:
Amber started an intervention at school in September 2016, when an outside agency comes to deliver relaxation sessions.
These “strategies mimic clinically-proven anger management and mitigation treatments such as therapeutic exercise and yoga, breathing exercises, and mindfulness exercises. These can be used as anger management tools, ways to help at moments of meltdown, or methods to make time-outs constructive rather than punitive.”
Amber’s sensory processing difficulties and anxiety can manifest themselves though her displaying frustration, at home especially, (where she feels most comfortable to release the tensions and frustrations,) we experience a great deal of aggression in the form of hitting, throwing objects, shouting, climbing on furniture and rough-housing behaviours with her younger sister. If it gets to the point where Amber experiences a meltdown or sensory overload, (as I like to call them,) we use the techniques that Amber has been taught in her relation sessions at school.
This may be to ask Amber to lie flat onto the floor with a teddy on her tummy and count to 10, whilst breathing slowly in an out. We have also taught Amber to “smell the flower, and blow out the candle,” for a technique to help calm her. The most recent one she has learnt is to “Breathe in and imagine smelling the sweet hot chocolate. Breathe out to cool it down.” Which I quite like and will practice this at home.
Thanks for reading 🙂