Sensory Stories for People With Multiple Disabilities Stimulating all the senses helps engage clients and enhances their social and language development. Make It Work
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Make It Work  |   August 01, 2016
Sensory Stories for People With Multiple Disabilities
Author Notes
  • Kim Patterson, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician in elementary and high schools in the Springfield, Missouri, public schools, where she has worked since 2003. kspatterson@spsmail.org
    Kim Patterson, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician in elementary and high schools in the Springfield, Missouri, public schools, where she has worked since 2003. kspatterson@spsmail.org×
Article Information
Development / Make It Work
Make It Work   |   August 01, 2016
Sensory Stories for People With Multiple Disabilities
The ASHA Leader, August 2016, Vol. 21, 34-36. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.21082016.34
The ASHA Leader, August 2016, Vol. 21, 34-36. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.21082016.34
Fear and a sense of inadequacy washed over me as I looked into the eyes of my new students. I wondered if I was up to the challenge facing me.
After more than 10 years in elementary schools, I found myself floundering in a large high school of medically fragile students with extremely complex needs. Most could not walk and had visual and/or hearing impairments. They relied on smiles, eye-gaze, vocalizations, pictures, and sign or gestures to express their needs and ideas.
I was lost as to where to even begin. Most of the techniques I had used successfully in previous positions were ineffective. I felt as if I were starting at square one.
I pored over research but found very little information to help me meet my objective: Find an engaging therapeutic approach that effectively targets individual goals in a group setting while building a clinician-teacher team approach to treatment.
Discovering multisensory storytelling has changed the way I provide treatment.
What is it?
A sensory story is a narrative composed of simple lines of text. Each line has an accompanying sensory experience that supports the story. An effective story includes unique elements that target a student’s sense of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. For example, touching a pencil is not strongly stimulating—but touching something gooey will likely elicit more emotion or communication.
Each line (or couple of lines)—and a photo depicting the text—go on a laminated card. As you read each card with the student or client, the student experiences the sensory stimulus (see “Sensory Fun on the Farm” below).
Who benefits?
Originally created to help reach students with profound and multiple learning disabilities, sensory stories can be effective in individual or group treatment and with clients of all ages (from preschoolers to adults) with a wide range of disabilities.
Educators also benefit from sensory stories, which provide a systematic approach for team teaching. Optimally, a clinician initially provides the story and models it effectively. Classroom teachers then follow up with the lesson and provide repetitions throughout the week. Presenting the story consistently and repeatedly may help to establish neural pathways and aid in the overall development of communication.
How they work
Creating sensory stories takes time and imagination, and I was skeptical at first if they would be worth the effort. In my first experience, I used a free story about going to the beach that I located online. I had to gather shells, music, sunglasses, sunscreen, a heating pad, a backpack, sand, lemonade, a dark cloth and a spray bottle.
I used the story with three boys—all nonambulatory and nonverbal—who had exhibited very low joint attention during previous sessions. The dynamic quickly shifted as my students experienced the beach story. All smiled as they felt the splash of the “ocean” (spray bottle). Some students requested “more” via gestures or through smiles.
One student gasped at the cold water and shared a rare, audible laugh. When I asked if he wanted to experience the water again, he gave an infrequent vocalization that indicated “yes.”
The students’ attention never waned throughout the story, and at the end they displayed immediate signs they wanted to hear it again. I was instantly hooked on this treatment approach and started building my own sensory story library that day.
Building a library
I write my own stories or find them online for free or for a small fee. I keep them in sturdy boxes in my therapy room. I have borrowed, bought and made the stimulus items, but mostly I find them at home or in nature. I found my son’s playroom to be a treasure trove of sensory experiences!
Because sensory story research is conducted mainly in the United Kingdom, most of the stories available online are written in that vernacular. You may have to alter the wording a bit as the language varies slightly from what we use in the United States.
The story kits travel from room to room, allowing classroom teachers to follow up and repeat the experience throughout the week after they observe it. Other SLPs have also borrowed the kits to use in other buildings or with students who are homebound with medical complications. Over the last two years my library has grown to include around 25 story boxes.
These resources either provide free stories or can help you generate ideas to create your own stories:
Goals
Some of the goals SLPs can address through multisensory storytelling include:
  • Expressing preference.

  • Requesting.

  • Rejecting items in a socially acceptable and effective manner.

  • Increased tolerance of non-preferred stimuli.

  • Sign and spoken vocabulary.

  • Initiations and responsiveness.

  • Participation and joint attention.

  • Retelling a story and stating the main idea for students with some verbal or sign language.

  • Sequencing.

  • Life skills.

  • Participating in a literacy event using augmentative and alternative communication devices by programming switches with sounds or key recurring words in the story.

If you are willing to invest in a sensory story library, the rewards are endless. These sessions have generated extremely high student engagement and increased my students’ social and language development.
Sensory Fun on the Farm

Kim Patterson wrote this sensory story using Tarheel Reader, a free resource with many photos and an easy-to-use format. You will need:

Bungee cord

Bag of hay

Bell

Spray water bottle

Variety of wood

Programmable switch

Feathers

Bag of dried leaves

Variety of pumpkins/gourds

Apple cider

Kim Patterson wrote this sensory story using Tarheel Reader, a free resource with many photos and an easy-to-use format. You will need:  Bungee cord Bag of hay Bell Spray water bottle Variety of wood Programmable switch Feathers Bag of dried leaves Variety of pumpkins/gourds Apple cider
Sensory Fun on the Farm

Kim Patterson wrote this sensory story using Tarheel Reader, a free resource with many photos and an easy-to-use format. You will need:

Bungee cord

Bag of hay

Bell

Spray water bottle

Variety of wood

Programmable switch

Feathers

Bag of dried leaves

Variety of pumpkins/gourds

Apple cider

×
Sensory Fun on the Farm

Kim Patterson wrote this sensory story using Tarheel Reader, a free resource with many photos and an easy-to-use format. You will need:

Bungee cord

Bag of hay

Bell

Spray water bottle

Variety of wood

Programmable switch

Feathers

Bag of dried leaves

Variety of pumpkins/gourds

Apple cider

Kim Patterson wrote this sensory story using Tarheel Reader, a free resource with many photos and an easy-to-use format. You will need:  Bungee cord Bag of hay Bell Spray water bottle Variety of wood Programmable switch Feathers Bag of dried leaves Variety of pumpkins/gourds Apple cider
Sensory Fun on the Farm

Kim Patterson wrote this sensory story using Tarheel Reader, a free resource with many photos and an easy-to-use format. You will need:

Bungee cord

Bag of hay

Bell

Spray water bottle

Variety of wood

Programmable switch

Feathers

Bag of dried leaves

Variety of pumpkins/gourds

Apple cider

×
4 Comments
August 19, 2016
Kara Kelly
Tarheel Reader
Love Tarheel reader! Did you save the story to the site? If so, can you share the name of the story? I am trying to find it but I can't find the exact text above. Thank you!
August 8, 2016
Leah Huang
Great Resources!
Really appreciate Kim's thoughtfulness and practical resources for the SLP! Thank you.
August 30, 2016
Kim Patterson
Title of story on Tarheel Reader
Thank you for the feedback! You can find the story if you search Tarheel Reader for "Sensory Fun on the Farm". You may have to have to request an initial password from the administrator of Tarheel Reader to create a user name. However, the site is free and user friendly. Email me with any questions ever! kspatterson@spsmail.org
September 21, 2016
Ella Huang
Thank you!
This is really helpful. Thank you for sharing the resources. I am gonna use them with my kiddos this week.
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FROM THIS ISSUE
August 2016
Volume 21, Issue 8