By Elena Lewis, Occupational Therapist at Bellavista School
There are five familiar sensory systems – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. The three we’re not so familiar with are – vestibular (balance), proprioceptive (movement) and interoceptive (internal). The human body receives information about the world from the full sensory system and the brain organises sensory input by filtering out irrelevant information to allow for learning and participation in day-to-day tasks. But what happens when our brain is not able to filter out irrelevant stimuli?
Imagine being in an environment where your sensory systems are unregulated and out of your control. You might hear the constant buzzing sound of fluorescent light and be unable to block it out. Somebody standing too close to you, touching you may be intolerable. The texture of your clothes may feel like a cactus scratching your skin. This ‘sensory overload’ would result in the disruption of your normal functioning.
Often children who present with sensory processing disorders, ADHD, anxiety, and other challenges, find themselves in environments that dysregulate them and impair their ability to participate. Most environments are multi-sensory environments e.g., classrooms, shopping centres, social gatherings etc… and it is difficult for them to filter out irrelevant stimuli and to self-regulate. It is therefore important to provide structured multi-sensory environments that provide a safe space to regroup, regulate, unwind, and even practice mindfulness. It may be helpful to create this in the comfort and ‘safety’ of your own home.
This can be done with relative ease. The idea is to create an environment where there is you can control the amount of light, array of colours, sound levels, type of movement and textures experienced. When we can control our environment, it brings a sense of calm, regulation, and mindfulness. This applies to both adults and children alike.
Create your own multi-sensory space at home
Let’s look at a few ideas within each sensory system that are accessible in many homes or can be easily sourced. This can be done in a corner of a child’s room or a specific space in the home. Remember to make sure that this does not become a punitive approach e.g., “You are being naughty, go to your calm down space.” but rather “I see you are feeling a bit upset / angry / frustrated, should we go and explore your sensory space and see what will make you feel better?”
|Sight||Coloured light bulbs e.g., blue, red, or green |
LED strips that change colour
Reduced pictures or posters on the wall
Simple light projector/night light
A closed-off tent or fort made with chairs and linen
DIY Glitter jars
|Touch||A fiddler box – poppets, bubble wrap, pipe cleaners, stress balls, sponges, putty or playdough |
Weighted blankets, happy huggers, weighted toys
Hot water bottle
|Sound||Music – Bluetooth speaker or earphones |
Noise cancelling headphones, or headphones which cover the ears and will dull external sound
|Taste||Crunchy snacks – popcorn, nuts, biltong |
Silicone chewers/chewable jewellery
|Smell||Most people associate smell with experiences, and these are very individualised. |
If you choose to use essential oils or diffuses in your sensory space it would be specific to the needs of the person.
|Movement||Gym ball (to bounce on, roll over, sit on etc) |
Sign up for the Bellavista SHARE 2022 Online Conference. Teaching our children to be critical, independent thinkers is an essential component of educating for the future. Cognitive education is key to securing a better future for our youth. Join the Bellavista SHARE team as they explore the power of cognitive education with international and local experts from May to June 2022. The conference will run for five consecutive weeks, beginning on Wednesday 11 May 2022, and ending on Wednesday 8 June 2022. Each week a 1-hour live webinar will be held with a specific expert exploring their topic of interest.
Attendees can book for the full line-up, or individual webinars. Visit: https://bellavista.org.za/product-category/conference/