When the coronavirus thwarted the Glenholme School’s plan to create a sensory room, the school’s clinicians had to think fast and pivot. The space reserved for this purpose was needed for social distancing.
In effect, they turned the entire campus into a sensory gym.
The Glenholme School is a 52-year-old co-ed therapeutic boarding school for students 10 to 21 years old with learning disabilities, high functioning autism, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other learning challenges and mood disorders.
Children who are gifted and those with ADHD and autism have a prevalence of sensory processing difficulty that is much higher than in the general population. They may be unable to modulate their activity level and their level of excitement. Noises may hurt their ears and bright lights may really disturb them.
Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into responses. For those with difficulty processing sensory information, sensory information goes into the nervous system but does not get interpreted accurately for appropriate responses.
The first things a baby experiences, senses form the foundation for interpreting the world. The brain processes sensory information before any other input, like language. Deep touch and pressure, such as swaddling a baby, are calming to the infant. Watching a mobile offers stimulating sensory input. Other kinds of sensory input provide a centering or focusing result.
Occupational therapists work with children on sensory issues. They teach them how to soothe themselves and how to manage responses to sensory input.
The clinical director, movement/dance therapist, OT and one of the social workers at the Glenholme School have been working to infuse the school with methods to help students calm their bodies when excited, center themselves and energize themselves, using ordinary supplies that might be outdoors on campus or inside the cottages in the kitchens.
They are putting together a syllabus and training manual to teach the boarding staff how to lead the youngsters through different somatic and sensory exercises.
Many of these activities are ones that the residential staff already do with students, but may not have had the conceptual framework in which to place these activities.
Bike riding, playing on swings, balance activities on logs or curbs, hiking with a purpose, climbing trees, tumbling, making slime or baking bread and cookies are all examples of everyday activities that provide sensory input.
Staff have conducted these activities routinely, and may be aware that students become engaged in these activities.
They are now being taught on a conceptual level which activities should be used when, and how these activities evoke which type of response: calming, energizing or centering.