Monday 15 April 2019

Meeting a wonderful new sensory challenge

By Joanna Grace

In recent years the number of children with profound and multiple learning disabilities in education in the UK has risen by over 40%[1] which means that all over the country new teachers and teaching assistants are getting to work with these extraordinary people.

Often times these children are the recipients of pity, and whilst it is true that they lead very challenged lives and often face extraordinary medical challenges it is not true to think that rounding all of that off with the insult of pity is the right response.

Those who work with these children will tell you that they inspire anything but pity, these children teach us to meet life head on, the child whose body fails them but who still laughs reminds us all that our own lives are not so tough. The child who, in spite of significant neurological challenges still pushes their limbs to move and to do as they command them doesn’t ask for pity, they teach us that our own mountains are surmountable.

The most common thing I hear from people who support the education of children with complex learning and developmental disabilities or profound and multiple learning disabilities is that they have been taught by those children more than they have taught those children. We learn an enormous amount from those who are different to ourselves. And those differences need recognising, celebrating and providing for.

To work with these children is to be inspired every day. But how do we go about teaching a child whose body and brain present them with so many barriers to learning? How do we even begin to attempt to repay that debt of education we owe to them?

The answer is we start with the sensory. Sensory engagement simply means engaging someone’s sensory systems. Our sensory systems are the start point for learning. And whilst for most of us engaging the senses is quite simple, it requires a sound, or a sight, or a smell, for these children it can be a far more nuanced art form.

When I hold a toy car out to you, you recognise it as a toy car and you know the types of games you might be able to play with it. Your brain uses an extraordinarily large amount of information to identify it as a toy car. Scientists working on the development of artificial intelligence will tell you how hard it is to do the programming that enables a machine to identify ‘car’ when shown a car in real life, a car in a picture and a toy car. Yet our brains do it with little hesitation. If you are the owner of a brain that is not neurologically typical identifying an object, let alone naming it, becomes rapidly much harder. When I hold a red toy car out to you one day you respond to the shape and colour and explore it. Tomorrow when I hold a blue toy car out to you, perhaps you recognise it as the same and begin to apply your learning from yesterday but more likely you see something different and begin your learning again, placing the information you learn from this exchange into a new repository in your mind.

Understanding how to present sensory experience in an accessible way and sequence it into more complex learning is key to engaging learners accessing the curriculum at a sensory level. My course Sensory Engagement for Sensory Beings: A Beginners Guide is aimed at people who are in their first few years of supporting the education of learners with profound and multiple learning disabilities or complex learning and developmental disabilities. On it delegates explore a variety of sensory teaching tools they can use as soon as they get back to the classroom and get to ask all the question they might have without fear of sounding silly in front of more experienced practitioners. Parents are very welcome on the course as we know learning goes on around the clock, homework can be just as important to a child with complex needs as it is to a child who is typically developing.

[1] Pinney (2017)

Sunday 21 January 2018

Finding Fiona- a sensory story

Happy New year everyone! In this post I thought I’d share with you the sensory story I’ve made this term which has turned out to be a greater success than I originally thought it might be...

During a twilight meeting last term we were given time to consider what topics we may like to cover next and to begin planning within our class teams before sharing our ideas with our colleagues and seeking out any assistance we may need with resources. I don’t know if anyone else finds this, but planning alone can often leave me stumped for inspiration so it’s lovely to have this time for discussion and to come up with ideas as a team before I begin planning. Having said that, sometimes you can find that everyone has very different ideas and it can be difficult to bring them together. We had a lot of suggestions and narrowed it down to books or Disney finally settling on stories to cover both. Everyone has their favourite stories/films so I thought we could have a week exploring each of the different stories or films these included: Shrek, Finding Nemo, Harry Potter, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and The BFG. Quite an eclectic selection! My team were fab at coming up with super sensory ideas for our afternoon sessions; we put together a TACPAC session and had a think about possible ideas for a class trip. The only part I had left to do solo was to write a sensory story.

As you know, Lucy and I are always talking about the importance of repetition, so having a new sensory story each week didn’t seem like the best plan to me. However, writing a sensory story that somehow encompassed Shrek, Finding Nemo, Harry Potter, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and The BFG seemed like a bit of a challenge! I gave it my best shot at writing a story and came up with ‘Finding Fiona’. Dismayed at his swamp being too full of fairy tale creatures, Shrek goes to complain to Lord Farquaad who then orders him to search Princess Fiona. Shrek searches everywhere for Fiona: in the sea, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry,  Wonka’s factory and meets the BFG before escaping a fire breathing dragon and finally finding Fiona! Yes, it is quite far-fetched and I wasn’t too sure how well it would be received by my class.

It may surprise you (it certainly surprised me!) to learn that this appears to be my class’ favourite sensory story so far!  I have had really clear and strong reactions from the majority of my pupils. I use a piece of stretchy Lycra and wrap and pull it tightly around each child for the part of the story where Shrek’s swamp becomes too full of fairy tale creatures. This has been met with smiles and giggles. One of my pupil’s now will now vocalise ‘oo,oo’ upon hearing the train whistle of the Hogwarts express and when smelling the chocolate of a Wonka bar, will open his mouth and stick out his tongue. My more able pupils are remembering what comes next and signing along with me to the repeated rhyming verse. However, the absolute favourite part of the story for the majority of the class seems to be the fire breathing dragon. For this part I made a ‘fire’ sensory umbrella which I have to confess took me only a matter of minutes to make using fabric from my materials box, a little red tinsel and fairy lights. It is clear to see the excitement and anticipation through the shrieks and giggles as I stomp closer towards each child and say ‘oh no it’s a…’ I then open up the umbrella and give it a spin so the fabric spins outwards, blurring and creating a fiery glow as I say ‘fire breathing dragon!’. I have one pupil in my class who shows little visual awareness (except towards faces) but during our story he has visually tracked this sensory umbrella all the way across the classroom, his face lights up on his turn and he is clearly watching it. We’ve never seen such a strong new response from this pupil. Recent reading of Joanna Grace’s latest book has led to me thinking that this may be linked to the fact that the umbrella is largely red in colour which is the first colour tone we respond to. I’ll be testing out this theory by offering more red visual stimuli over the next few weeks to see if this pupil’s responds in a similar way.

You can download this sensory story here. Please check out our other sensory stories and resources on TES by searching for sensory_dispensary.

Sunday 14 January 2018


Hi everyone, we're back! Happy New Year! Sorry for the length of time away it's just been incredibly busy. After Christmas a whole new management team started at school which is great but lots of changes for the better mean lots of work!

I've also got a uni deadline creeping up, Tuesday actually. This is more of an informal style piece outlining two contrasting opinions on inclusion. It's about a disabled swimmer who wants to join the swimming competition team but has been advised he should join the team for disabled swimmers. It has started me thinking about inclusion as a broad topic and has also reminded me that Hannah and I have Colley and Imray's book Inclusion is Dead: Long Live Inclusion still waiting to be read!

Our school was recently split up into needs based classes. Hannah and I had up until that point taught mixed ability classes and in all honesty found it really difficult to effectively teach the broad needs in the class. Some needed highly sensory and stimulating environments, others needed low arousal and very structured style of teaching, some had behavioural needs which often took your attention away from the children with PMLD and many more issues. It was a challenge. Hannah now has a class of mixed age children with PMLD all of whom have physical disabilities and many have complex medical needs. I teach the secondary complex needs class. Many of my pupils have autism as well as severe learning difficulties, ADHD and some with physical disabilities. They are a complicated but fabulous bunch. Our new head of school has previously led in our sister school with children of similar needs and abilities but in mixed classes. His vision is to ensure that pupils in the school are more integrated. It was received with a look of fear but in fact I think he has a point. Due to some incidents from a couple of the children with behavioural needs which questioned the safety element of mixing a couple of years ago, both groups of children have been kept apart. We haven't even had a sports day for a number of years.

The first introduction in the first week back was a whole school tuck shop. The senior pupils cook items for the tuck shop and develop their preparation for work skills by running it which is great and the rest of the school comes along and mixes with each other. I really think this is a good way forward, not mixing the classes to still ensure pupils get their learning, health, physical, communication needs met in the best possible environment but we need to plan for opportunities for our pupils to mix.

It got me thinking about the mainstream vs special school debate. I can go back through history to the closure of many special schools, the Warnock report etc but I won't bore you too much, worth a read if you're interested. For my university course I have to conduct an interview with someone who has contrasting opinions and experiences to me in regard to inclusion. In my opinion and through my experiences a special school is a fantastic environment for pupils with SLD and PMLD to thrive so I wanted to speak to a parent of a child with SLD or PMLD who is educated in a mainstream school. I sent out a search on twitter and have spoken to various other professionals but haven't managed to find any. Are children with PMLD simply not educated in mainstream schools? Does this mean they never see pupils from mainstream schools? In all honesty, our pupils don't. They meet members of the community out and about but not young people their own age.

By the way...if you do have a child with SLD/ PMLD who is educated in mainstream PLEASE get in touch with me!

Inclusion is a tricky one, participation is another. For inclusion to be effective you want the children to be active participants. If they are just being 'wheeled around' or 'parked' in an environment with other mainstream peers is that being inclusive?

We struggle with inclusive attitudes sometimes within our community. I take a group of my young people into the community every day to develop road awareness, to increase their tolerance of sensory stimulating environments, to develop basic life skills and much more. But importantly for the community to see them, I will not hide my children away, I want them to leave school and be able to positively integrate with the rest of society without prejudice. However, sadly I have had some issues as recently as last week. We used to take our pupils to church for Harvest Festival, Easter and Christmas (sadly this stopped but will hopefully start up again), the church community tried their best to provide a sensory and stimulating church service (sometimes didn't quite manage it but they tried really hard) then they provided food and drinks for us in their church hall which was lovely. We took a small group of our children to their coffee morning last week. One of my older pupils with complex ASD and ADHD was very excited, loudly vocalising his pleasure, bouncing up and down, making his physical gestures to demonstrate happiness. He was supported by two adults. The church phoned and made a complaint that this child was scaring their other customers. I was so saddened by this. They welcome children from school with open arms during a service especially for them but they're not so welcome during normal hours. How sad that a community group that knows our children still can't accept them for who they are. We have had other issues with the soft play centre. I know our children are older than their age limit but developmentally they are much much younger. I explained the benefits and they allowed us to go along. In the end they suggested we had a separate session. They open especially for us every week which is great and my class get so much from going it's just sad they haven't managed to integrate us with others.

We need more acceptance of our children for who they are, I won't stop taking them out into the community and I will try to make links with other mainstream children. As my children are secondary ages I can perceive having more difficulty with this but I will try. I look to Parallel London, an event designed to accept and celebrate everyone standing side by side whether able bodied or not everyone was an equal. Let's all try our best to proudly encourage our children to become active members of society alongside everyone else and encourage more events, initiatives, groups, facilities that celebrate everyone as an equal as much as Parallel do. You can find our blog post on Parallel London here. 

Lincolnshire is slow on the uptake but I know around the country there are many wonderful facilities and events for people with disabilities and learning difficulties. Another local soft play centre and the swimming pool have disability and special needs sessions. This is definitely step 1, they are recognising that our children may perceive the world differently and need different things to support them such as low level music or lighting or physical things such as hoists and changing facilities (again Lincolnshire slow on the uptake) but isn't that still segregation in a way? How many years into the future do you think it will be when people with additional needs and disabilities are considered and planned for by everyone so there doesn't have to be special events or last minute considerations, parents and teachers don't have to spend time worrying and extensively planning ways to get around problems. When will our special young people be automatically viewed as equal members of society with equal opportunities and all barriers to their inclusion and access to society removed. I'm not sure it's been fully thought through. Any film or TV show you watch that's set in the future with robots and aliens...where are our special young people and adults? Our children are getting more complex, there is an increase in young people with PMLD. I hope the future generations and our future universe are planning for this!

And to everyone who is out there fighting for inclusion and campaigning for changing spaces and much more...keep up the amazing work! To everyone who is standing up for the rights of their children to be included...keep us the amazing work! To everyone who has joined the Raising the Bar Facebook group and is backing the movement for improved care standards for our children, young people and adults with PMLD...keep up the amazing work! There is so much good out there already and I'm sure 2018 will be a year of progress.

Anyway, I've done enough distracting myself from my assignment, I'd better get back to it. Any thoughts on what I've written do message us on twitter or Facebook.

I will leave you with my resolutions for the year

  • To become a better teacher, I think this will be a resolution for the rest of my life as special needs practices continue to evolve
  • To develop my knowledge of sensory rooms and support staff in my school to effectively use our new room
  • To speak to and meet more fantastic parents and practitioners to share with and learn from. 
  • To develop more links with the community and provide my children with more opportunities
  • To be present in the moment when I'm with my children. Put work deadlines and other stresses to the back of my mind and be solely with the children. 
  • To be more organised! Although my TAs do a good job of organising me
  • It should probably be to have more of a work life balance but I'm not sure that's an achievable one! 

Monday 11 December 2017

An Autumn/ Winter sensory story

2 posts in 2 days we are doing fairness this is one I've been meaning to post for a while now! It's just a quick one.

I just thought I'd share with you all this term's sensory story in my class of secondary pupils with CLDD. They are absolutely loving it, even more than my previous sensory stories, an example of which can be found here or on TES: sensory_dispensary.

I have typed it up with all the senses and what I am looking for which really helps my team make good observations and understand the 'why imperative' which underpins everything we do in class and highlights the real benefits of sensory stories.

This term's topic has been 'Seasons'. I started writing this story beginning with the sensory experiences and then adding the language. The structure isn't amazing and it doesn't flow quite how I wanted it to but my children absolutely love the sensory experiences and have responded really well which is the main thing! I have seen great progress in signing, one child is generalising the signing of more from just food to sensory experiences too, increased visual awareness which many of my pupils with complex ASD struggle with. Overall I'm just so pleased with this story and wanted to share it with you all. If anyone is doing seasons in the future and uses it, please let me know how you get on! You can find the story on TES here.

We have been busy the last couple of weeks designing, resourcing and making our Christmas Sensory stories. We are really proud of how they have turned out. They feature 9 different sensory items across 6 of the senses. The packs come ready to go with the items, a laminated story for future use, a recipe card and an information card about the 'why and how imperative' behind sensory stories. We have sold quite a few packs to teachers and parents across the county and we hope many special and wonderful children are enjoying them. We are taking two packs into school for our classes tomorrow! One lady sent us a lovely and excited message this morning after receiving hers and another photo this evening and even her cat was enjoying exploring the sensory items!. We still have a few available if you would like to purchase one, just drop us a message. They are £25 plus £2.90 postage and packaging.

Have a great week everyone and thank you for the lovely feedback regarding Hannah's post on happiness. I join you all, it is so beautifully written and really highlights the importance of mental health and well being and how it should be a more widely discussed topic. You can read her blog post here.

Sunday 10 December 2017

Happiness is the key!

This is the first blog of many that we will be writing inspired by Flo Longhorn’s ‘No Ticks, no boxes’ conference which took place last week. One of the key themes of the conference this time was promoting happiness and positive mental health and well-being for all Sensory Beings. We garnered lots of ideas and inspiration from the conference and have already set about putting some of these into action with our pupils.

Ellen Croft, PMLD Curriculum Leader and Specialist Leader of Education at Ash Field Academy, shared with us some startling figures with us regarding mental health:
“Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week. Children and adults with learning disabilities and other forms of disabilities are not exempt from this. (Source: People with Learning Disabilities in England 2011).Children with SEN are up to 6 times more likely to experience mental health problems than their peers.  Children and young people with learning disabilities are much more likely than others to live in poverty, to have few friends and to have additional long term health problems and disabilities such as epilepsy and sensory impairments.” 
With these alarming figures in mind it is more important than ever that we carefully consider the happiness and well-being of those Sensory Beings we support. In my experience this is an area that can tend to be overlooked in education as the focus is too often placed disproportionately on a drive for academic progress, data and achieving a positive grading from Ofsted! As front-line practitioners we need to be carrying the banner for these issues and ensuring we are promoting these issues within our settings. So… what can we do to achieve this? During the conference many different strategies and resources were shared many of which are quick and easy to put into practice. 

Happiness (and unhappiness!) audit 

Lucy and I first came across the Happiness Audit at a Saturday pop-up workshop in Cambridge with Flo Longhorn and Les Staves a couple of years ago (you can read more about this in a previous blog post here). The Happiness audit was created by Flo Longhorn and is a way of assessing the preferences of the Sensory Beings you support including: sensory stimuli, communication and the environment. This tool will assist you to support your learner’s emotional happiness and enable you to provide engaging and personalised learning opportunities. 

This would be a great activity to discuss together with parents and those who have worked closely with the Sensory Being(s) you are going to be supporting in your setting. Why not hold a meet and greet or ‘getting to know you’ meeting. Your own observations will then add to and enrich this working document. The Happiness Audit would also be informative for new members of staff, volunteers and anyone who will be working with the Sensory Being. Flo explained that Sensory Beings ‘may sometimes portray the opposite of what they actually feel emotionally’. This makes it all the more important to record and share not only  the preferences of our learners but what it looks like when a learner likes or dislikes a particular stimuli. For example, in a recent conversation I had with a parent they relayed to me how their child’s new taxi escort had been following her advice to play music on the journey which the child hugely enjoys. However, the taxi escort had in fact struggled to find any songs or music that the child enjoyed- every song played would result in the child pressing her fingers in her ears and vocalising. The taxi escort had interpreted this behaviour as showing dislike towards the music and would change the music at which point the child would often became upset. When the taxi escort relayed this information to the child’s mother, she explained that her daughter presses her fingers in her ears only when she is enjoying the music! As Flo explains, ‘observations need to be ongoing and open to unexpected interpretations of happiness’.

At the conference Ellen Croft explained how she used the Happiness Audit tool and also created an additional ‘unhappiness audit’ to highlight those areas which individuals may dislike so that stimuli the individual finds unpleasant can be avoided. Regularly update these audits and, as mentioned in a previous post, don’t be afraid to offer certain experiences a learner may have shown dislike to in the past where appropriate as preferences may change over time. You can find a copy of the Happiness Audit here along with a completed example and further information.  

Mindfulness-  Take five!

In last week’s post Lucy discussed how Ellen Croft had stuck to her guns with her usual practice of 5 minutes of silence at the end of an (Ofsted observed) TACPAC session with great success! I immediately implemented this strategy at the end of my story massage session on Monday morning. The impact was immediately visible… and audible! The children soon noticed the silence and began vocalising and moving about, they began interacting with each other’s vocalisations, there were frequent giggles from one pupil and two children took it in turns blowing raspberries. It really was a joy to observe. This can then lead into a great opportunity to engage in intensive interaction.
The benefits of this session were not only limited to the pupils in my class either. Members of my staff team commented on how they themselves found it to be calming to be able take just 5 minutes of quiet time in what is typically a very busy and active day. Positive mental health and well-being is important for us too! Joanna Grace comments on this very issue in her book ‘Sensory-being for Sensory Beings’ (2017) explaining how those we support are affected by our own anxiety levels. By taking time in this way, we put ourselves in a better position to support our pupils. I highly recommend you give this simple activity a go in your own setting whether it is at home, in a school or care setting. Be sure to let us know how you get on! 

Empower your pupils to access and be part of the world around them. Many of our pupils have a multiplicity of impairments: visual, auditory, limited mobility... each of these have the potential to isolate and alienate our pupils from the world around them. Provide resources that can bring the world to them in a way that is meaningful and motivating. These resources need not cost the earth. You can find a variety of different ideas in previous posts and in our recommended books including Sensory umbrellas, whisks and shoe boxes (ideas from Flo Longhorn), Smell noodles and scent shakers (ideas from Joanna Grace)*. Put your newly made Happiness Audits into action and get busy crafting!

Exciting news… Core and Essential Service Standards

We were really excited to hear from Joanna Grace about the new ‘Supporting people with profound and multiple learning disabilities Core & Essential Service Standards’ published  at the end of last month. You can download a copy hereJoanna co-authored the standards with Dr Thomas Doukas (Head of Inclusive Research & Involvement, Choice Support), Annie Fergusson (Senior Lecturer SEN and Inclusion, University Of Northampton PMLD Link Journal And Family Carer) And Michael Fullerton (Director of Quality and Clinical Care, Care Management Group). 
“The Core and Essential Service Standards are designed to create a means for Commissioners of education, health and social care to work closely in partnership with service providers to ensure the best possible outcomes for people being supported. Through Commissioners and providers having shared expectations and standards of service delivery I can ensure that wherever a person lives, they can expect similarly high standards.” 
(Supporting people with profound and multiple learning disabilities. Core & Essential Service Standards 1st Edition, November 2017)
The standards cover 7 areas of Leadership, Quality, Staff Development, Physical Environment, Communication, Health and Wellbeing, Social, Community and Family Life and are designed to be used to evaluate and evidence the practice of settings supporting people with PMLD, highlighting both areas of strength and those areas which need development. These standards will help to ensure that we strive for and more consistently achieve the best practice in all settings supporting those with PMLD. Make sure you download your copy; share it with your SLT Monday morning and pop a copy in the staff room!

And finally…

It will be of no surprise that the majority of parent responses to our survey on ‘Educational outcomes for pupils with special educational needs’  indicated that they felt the greatest need to their child's education was happiness. We must take time to nurture and develop happiness opportunities for both our pupils and ourselves ensuring that we allow moments of time for quiet mindfulness and recuperation alongside active, exciting, sensory stimulating activities.  

Monday 4 December 2017

An Autumn TACPAC

Hi everyone, sorry this blog post is so delayed, it has been an incredibly busy three weeks. I (Lucy) was performing as Lily St Regis in Annie for a two week run and last week we were at Flo Longhorn's latest conference No Ticks No boxes providing Winter Wonderland sensory play experiences as well as telling everyone all about Sensory Dispensary and the projects we have on the go. We will discuss the conference in more detail in future posts, if you want a quick overview find us on twitter @sensorydispense I tried to keep everyone as up to date as I could.

Today, I am going to share this terms TACPAC with you. My class are a group of 8 pupils with CLDD most of whom have complex autism, are non verbal and have many sensory processing difficulties. They are ages between year 7 and 9 so are at a difficult stage in their teenage lives.

I have a group of 3 pupils who get a lot from my TACPAC sessions, they are highly sensory children who often seek tactile and proprioceptive activities. They all have very delayed interaction with adults, they are introverted and we are working towards gesturing wants, needs and preferences to adults.

Our topic this term is seasons so I have put together an Autumn TACPAC. It has been going really well so far. My children are developing favourite resources and are communicating on which part of the body they would like it. I use a lot of burst pause throughout my TACPAC sessions to encourage them to initiate communication and interaction with me. There is a lot of debate and questioning at the minute about what 'lessons' and 'learning' for children and young people with PMLD/ CLDD should like like in terms of formality and objective learning. I think TACPAC is a lovely session for the children to develop communication in their own way and lead their own learning in a calming and encouraging environment. I find the repetitive and trusting environment created with a child and adult promoted communication development. There may be no symbols or pictures or instructions as to what you want the pupil to do but you are providing the child an opportunity to learn they can control something and develop their own preferences which I think is vital.

The fabulous Ellen Croft from Ash Field School in Leicester spoke about their recent Ofsted visit. Ellen was worried when the Ofsted inspector came to observe a TACPAC session but decided to go ahead with it anyway. I think as PMLD teachers we often worry about what observers think, especially if they are not familiar with what PMLD 'teaching' looks like and what our children's learning and progress looks like. Often the huge steps of progress, sometimes a child smiling consistently at their favourite part and smiling in anticipation are missed. However add a switch or a PECS symbol and it looks more like a familiar and traditional special needs lesson. Ellen did a TACPAC session for the Ofsted inspector and maybe for the first time ever the inspector said that he was moved by the session. Not only did Ellen complete her TACPAC session but she also added 5 minutes of silence. Silence is brilliant for a child's mental health and wellbeing. Classrooms can be incredibly busy and children with PMLD spend much of their time being cared for and supported. They aren't very often left to their own devices to explore and learn about themselves. She finds that during these silent periods, the children explore their own sounds and interact with each other which is great. Hannah tried this in her class today and it worked amazingly. I tried it too but it wasn't so successful, but we will definitely try again tomorrow! It is a lesson that there is no such thing as downtime (in the words of Peter Imray) but opportunity for developing self awareness. We are often told that every minute matters and that the children should be learning and busy during every minute of the day but we must not forget the value of quiet.

Anyway, this is my TACPAC this term. I didn't make the tracks this time, they are from Youtube so I will also share the links below. Sorry there are no photos, I will try and remember to take some tomorrow!

In the garden on an autumn afternoon.

Track 1: The conkers are falling to the ground  marbles in sock tied up (feet)
Do they children seek to explore using their hands? Do they anticipate the feeling of the marbles dropping on them gently? Do they have a preference to heavy/ gentle, fast/ slow? Do they communicate they want the feeling on a different part of their bodies?

Track 2: I can hear the hedgehogs rustling through the leaves – spikey ring (legs)
Do they react? Do they have a preference of where they would like the feeling? Do they prefer gentle or firm?

Track 3: Pull your woolly jumper on it’s getting cold out here – soft wool (neck)
Do they anticipate? Do they react if it tickles or feels nice? Do they communicate where they want it? Do they seek to explore the wool in different ways?

Track 4: Dad is sweeping up the leaves – massage scraper tool (arms)
Do they anticipate and hold their arm out? Do they have a favourite arm or place? Do they prefer gentle or firm?

Track 5: Quick, did you see that squirrel run up the tree – feather duster (all over)
Do they anticipate? Do they react and make communication if it tickles? Do they have a preferred place?

Track 6: I am busy collecting the pine cones that have fallen to the ground - pine cone (hands)
Do they hold their hands out ready? Do they like to explore independently?

Track 7: It’s time to go inside now it’s starting to rain – wet sponge (face and hair)
Do they anticipate? Do they explore in alternative ways? Do they communicate if they don’t like it?

The tracks are not in order as I renamed them on my computer! Match them up to the items you think fit. 

For more information about the theory behind TACPAC or to purchase any of the official packs/ the assessment tools visit their website. TACPAC also deliver training courses and in house training. 

Today we have uploaded our new sensory story sack 'One Christmas' to our Facebook shop. We have written this story and have made 40 story sacks complete with all of the resources including the laminated story, information about the how and whys of sensory stories and a recipe card. We are really proud of these and will be using them in class with our children. They are £25 plus postage and packaging. All handmade with love, we feel they would make lovely Christmas activities/ gifts for any sensory being. For more details message us on Facebook or Twitter

We have also made a new dispense the sense card pack featuring activities for holidays throughout the year. This pack is £4.50 including postage and packaging. Again handmade with love. 

Sunday 12 November 2017

Book review: Sensory-Being for Sensory Beings: Creating Entrancing Sensory Experiences by Joanna Grace

In this post I’ll be reviewing a book I bought over the summer by Joanna Grace. If you read the blog regularly you’ll know it’s not the first time we have referenced Joanna Grace. I promise we are not paid to advertise or say nice things about Jo or her work! The fact that we do, is simply a testament to her exceptional knowledge and understanding of this area and the tremendous support she offers.


 I first came by the author of this book, Joanna Grace, in the special needs section of the TES forum a few years ago. I was at the very start of my career in special needs teaching and looking for support and guidance. Lucy and I began working at our current school at the same time in the same class. Lucy had already been working in SEN in a school for children with Autism and within her role in a mainstream school and I had limited experience having worked in a mainstream school for two years. Faced with a new challenge of teaching a class of children with SLD and PMLD in year 3 and 4, I had been busy planning over the summer following the advice of one of my new colleagues to plan for low ability. Well, after day one it was immediately clear that I had pitched my planning entirely wrong and was in need of help! Particularly stumped on how best to meet the need of my pupils with PMLD, I logged on to TES and looked in the SEN forum seeking some advice on planning and teaching my new class. The user ‘Jo3Grace’ regularly popped up offering a great deal of insight as well as materials and resources available from Jo herself and others. The advice gained enabled Lucy and me a starting point and some direction of where to find out more. The more we researched and discovered the deeper our interest grew and more passionate we became.

Joanna Grace is the founder of the Sensory Projects, International Inclusion & Sensory Engagement Specialist, Trainer and author. You can find out more and find lots of useful information and resources on her website many of which are free. You can also reach her directly on Facebook and Twitter which I have always found helpful when searching for more specific advice. I would also highly recommend attending one of Joanna’s courses. 

Sensory-being for Sensory Beings is the second of Joanna’s books and is a real hands-on guide for anyone who supports a ‘Sensory Being’. Joanna’s term of ‘Sensory Beings’ includes not only those individuals with PMLD, but also infants, those with later stage dementia as Jo explains anyone who ‘understands the world in a primarily sensory way’. Informed by a team of Sensory Being Consultants, the book explores the sensory world and the natural mastery that these individuals have of being truly present in the moment a type of mindfulness or, the term used by Joanna: ‘sensory-being’. This is a skill that many of us struggle with in our busy lives. Throughout the book there are comments from parents and practitioners which are useful and provide extra insight to the material being explored. 

Early on in the book Joanna explores the concept of ‘parked time’. This happens all too often with individuals with PMLD. There are a whole host of reasons for this: limited staffing with individuals who often need 1:1 support to be able to access experiences, mixed ability classes where the learning and behaviour needs of their more able peers are often given priority, waiting in corridors etc. This is something that is always of concern to me, as I’m sure it is to everyone who supports Sensory Beings, but sometimes it can be bewildering as to how to go about eradicating this parked time which Joanna explains is potentially damaging to the mental health and well-being of these individuals. The solution? Careful planning and resourcing which meets the unique needs of the individuals you support. This raised the second issue that resonated with me in the book- the great expense of any resources designed for Sensory Beings. While many of these resources are engaging and offer great sensory delight to the Sensory Beings I support, the high price tag simply makes them unaffordable.

 Joanna Grace sheds some light on this predicament. She explores each the 7 senses in a detailed yet easy to understand manner and touches on other senses too (it turns out there are a lot more than the 7 senses I previously thought there were!). Together with each sense explored are practical ideas for stimuli that can be used to engage the particular sense. There is a practitioner tip at the opening of this section of the book to have a pen and paper to hand and a particular Sensory Being in mind to create your sensory shopping list! I would highly recommend doing this- it helps to keep you focused and, if you’re anything like Lucy and I, prevents you from breaking the bank buying every sensory goody you come across when out and about! All the resources suggested are tried and tested, backed by theory and yes… low-cost! While some of the resources require a little time to put together something special, Joanna explains that the process of crafting these items can in itself be a great opportunity for sensory-being/mindfulness. I know that we always enjoy the process of making our sensory resources- the creating process is quite satisfying! 

I found this book to be a really effective guide to supporting individuals with PMLD, providing both the practical and the underpinning theory necessary to truly understand the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of what we offer these individuals. This closely relates to our own values at Sensory Dispensary- we often discuss why we do activities such as sensory play. It is important to have this understanding in order to best select the experiences, activities and resources suited to each unique individual. Having ready to use and affordable ideas for resources and activities is always going to be a winner. My copy of this book has been on holiday with me, car journeys and out and about and I often find myself referring back to it! If you support a Sensory Being I would highly recommend you give ‘Sensory-being for Sensory Beings’ a read. 

You can purchase the book here (add it to your Christmas wishlist!)