Tag: sensory integration

What are your qualifications?

It’s a question that I get asked.  A LOT.
In my job I have the good fortune to do a lot of outreach with teachers, therapists, counselors (of the camp variety), program directors (also of the camp variety), parents, and many more people.

I talk with them about meeting a variety of sensory needs.

We strategize.

We spend a long time talking through very specific needs and finding solutions.

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Image is of a drawing of an incandescent light bulb, with straight lines coming out from the bulb as if to indicate a light has been turned on.

I love this aspect of what I do- both parts of my job are incredible, however the library outreach that I do often involves solutions that look rather like this:

[Images as follows- top left: a small room with white walls, colorful beanbags on the floor.  top right: a small space with a purple light and a beanbag on the floor.  bottom left: a clear plastic box containing toys, with the words “break box”.  bottom middle: a hand holding a pair of headphones with a cartoon-like panda face on the side.  bottom right: a young boy with short blonde hair leaning into a blue beanbag.  He is wearing a blue shirt with stripes and his eyes are closed.]

 

I typically share with parents that I have sensory needs myself, in addition to raising kids with a wide variety of needs.  This often leads to me sharing that I am on the spectrum along with my kids.  And I will discuss what some of my sensory needs are.

Occasionally I will be talking with someone (usually a teacher or Occupational Therapist) who asks the question: “Are you an OT? What are your qualifications?”

It’s an understandable question.  One the one hand, you wouldn’t ask your mechanic to do your dental work- you want someone qualified for that task.  On the other hand, I think that we live in a society utterly fixated on this question.  I suspect this is the result of generations of people who have been taught that the only road to success is a college degree.  Don’t get me wrong- that is one road to success, depending upon your personal definition of success.  I do think, however, that we have a long way to come in terms of recognizing that in order for someone to be qualified, they may have arrived there in a less-than-typical way.

It also brings up a very important point: Who better to ask than someone who lives it?

All too often in the world of disability-based conversation, much of the “talk” is happening without including those who live it.

To what end?

I think the mindset all along has been that the Experts are the ones who are qualified.  They’ve studied us from a clinical perspective and can certainly provide some of the really necessary information.  But unless they live with a particular thing themselves, can they truly know and understand what it feels like?  If you don’t wake up daily with anxiety, can you truly know how deep the impact can be?

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Image shows a seven-sided shape of multiple colors.  There are the silhouettes of six people in the middle, and the words “Nothing about us without us” in black print.

You may know this one: “Nothing about us without us”.  It’s an old phrase, and basically it means that conversations about (and decisions affecting) a specific group of people MUST ALWAYS INCLUDE that group and requires complete inclusion and participation in said conversation or decision.

We have a long way to go.

Fortunately for me today, I was speaking with a small group of people, one of whom knows me.  She very gracefully interjected when I stumbled over the question of whether I’m an OT, and she said “she is qualified by a lifetime of personal experience”.  And she’s right.  I’ve been living as me for a glorious (and often really awkward) 44 years.  I’m an expert on my sensory needs, and have become an expert on my kids’ sensory needs.  And after a lifetime of trial and error with a fairly small sample size, we’ve figured out quite a few things. We’ve learned things worth sharing. And sometimes it’s even the same stuff recommended by the experts.

I don’t have a degree.  I don’t know if I’ll ever finish, and that’s just fine by me.  I am doing the best I can with the information that I have, and I don’t let myself sell me short just because I’m lacking a piece of paper stating that I’ve Learned All The Things.

The art of inclusive play

Yesterday I was very fortunate to be able to attend a conference held at SUNY Cortland about inclusive play.  My colleague and I heard from speakers about building accessible playgrounds which meet the needs of people with disabilities as well as those without, and the importance of having two groups of people with really very different needs be able to play- not just side-by-side, but actually together.

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Seriously, why is my head so gigantic?

The first speakers were from an organization called Shane’s Inspiration, and I think I’m in love with their mission and their vision:
“Our vision is to foster a bias-free world for children with disabilities.  Our mission is to create inclusive playgrounds and programs that unite children of all abilities.” (taken from their website)

They don’t just create the playgrounds, they offer programs with schools so that kids without disabilities can be paired up with kids who are different from them, kids who may play very differently than they play. There is a whole curriculum around inclusive play that can be used by schools, daycare programs, even summer camps.  Why?  Because every facility out there should have a way for inclusive play to happen.  Because sometimes we need help with the “how” of it all.

In speaking with one of the presenters later, she said “I hope that one day I’ll be out of a job”.  One day, kids may not need special programs to help them buddy up with kids with disabilities in order that they may learn that there are more similarities than differences, and to not be afraid of those differences.

Okay, so I also maybe geeked out a little (a LOT) when I met the Yogibo lady (a.k.a. my new BFF Amber).

If we’ve met, I’ve probably told you about Yogibo I My children have two of the stuffed animals at our house, and the Autism Lending Library that I run has a couple.  I’d love to fill the room with their products, and yesterday I met the manager for one of their local-ish stores.  I gave her the library’s flyer (which shows our sensory room) and my card, and invited her and her team to visit the library and learn more about what we do.

 

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Yogibo Hug (I didn’t hug Amber, but I wanted to)

We then were invited to tour the SIMS Lab (Sensory Integration/Motor Sensory).  I immediately began concocting ways that we can have something like this in our community, and thought of the Occupational Therapy Department at one of our universities.  As the boys are attending a group there once a week, you can bet your bippy I’ll be asking if they’ve considered setting up a similar facility.

One of the first things that struck me was that when kids come to the Lab, they get to select their preferred lighting.  Lighting makes a big difference for many of us with extra sensory needs, and that impressed me.  The place was full of gym mats and Yogibo beanbags, a zip line that leads to a suspended ball pit (!!) and all manner of things to climb, things to toss, things to land onto.  I mean, come ON.  How cool is that? Being able to access a place like this and get all the sensory input one needs in order to be able to better self-regulate is so important, and this Lab is providing that for kids.

I also met a woman who is working on the changes to a local (and very NOT inclusive, currently) playground.  There is this presumption sometimes that the way to make things inclusive is to simply stick a ramp on things.  Um, no.  There is so much more than that.  You must consider the gamut of disabilities, and which types of equipment might provide something that may be needed by someone with those disabilities.  We talked at length about what they might provide to assist kids for whom the wide open space and the very large concept of PLAY might be disregulating.  They hadn’t thought of that, and I hope we’ll be talking more as they continue to develop their designs.

So here’s my homework for you: go to a local park with a playground.  Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone with a disability- that can be anything from being blind to being in a wheelchair, being hypersensitive to being hyposensitive, having trouble navigating even the seemingly smallest hurdle to having trouble navigating a social situation such as the playground.  Look at it through these lenses, and see what could be different.  And then work with the community to create change.

I would like to thank SUNY Cortland for offering families and professionals an opportunity to come together to learn about inclusive play, adaptive physical education, the use of technology, and music therapy programming.