GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Sensory Integration

Investigation into the impact of sensory issues prompted Anne Healy, a teacher at Ashton Secondary School, to create a Sensory Passport

Research purpose

My venture into sensory integration began with professional dialogue. Discussion with colleagues and teacher friends highlighted possible sensory issues, but we could neither diagnose nor recognise sensory problems sufficiently. 

There is an established referral system within Scottish schools for occupational therapists who will advise educators on sensory integration issues and create sensory profiles when necessary. Unfortunately, this referral system is time consuming and often leaves educators with insufficient support.

I wanted to bridge the gap between possible sensory issues, and the referral system; giving educators an accessible toolkit that is simple, efficient, and may highlight sensory processing disorders, or urge them to consider alternative causes or concerns.

I decided to create an Ashton Sensory Passport by merging and adapting conventional Occupational Therapy systems to suit our needs in education. I created sections for only five senses; visual, auditory, tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive.

The sensory passport I devised was a classroom tool that would give educators an insight into behaviour that may be based in sensory integration. It also provides a platform for professional dialogue among staff to help them begin to recognise sensory traits or conduct further study

My colleagues and I understand that sensory integration forms the underlying foundation for academic learning and social behaviour (1) .Literature and research related to Ayers’ Sensory Integration Theory  led me to consider sensory integration as a baseline assessment that should be established before the creation and implementation of a personalised support plan or a curriculum. Sensory issues that may be identified by a formative assessment should then be measured and where appropriate, a combination of support and challenge should be implemented. My practice evolved into a system of sensory identification, assessment, personalised programmes, and ultimately sensory regulation; the most desired outcome being self-regulation. I believe that the acquisition of self-understanding and self-regulation will have the greatest impact on my pupils’ quality of life.

The changes in my practice are reflected in the environment and the structure of my curriculum. I have created an environment that supports a range of sensory requirements. Lights can be dimmed or focussed when required, noise levels are adjusted where possible, and sensory diets are implemented via everyday tasks, routines, and responsibilities which involve a sensory focus and fulfil a sensory need. I acknowledge hypo and hypersensitivity and differentiate tasks and experiences to suit individual needs. I also incorporate ‘bubble time’ into the school day; this is time and space given to young people to relax and recharge in a chosen activity before returning to the class timetable. From a sensory perspective, transitions can be a source of challenge so changes between activities, rooms, workstations, and even people are planned, measured, and implemented at the young person’s pace.

The findings

Communication and behaviour are both affected greatly by sensory processing disorders. As my understanding of sensory integration evolved, I observed a dramatic decrease in disruptive and challenging behaviour from our young people. I also recorded improvements in communication skills, particularly those built upon interpersonal interactions.

Relationships between teachers, pupils, and support staff have benefited greatly from the renewed sensory focus. Support staff are involved in the observations, assessment, and implementation of programmes, activities, and behaviour plans. This has given them a deeper understanding of sensory integration and all that it entails. It has also given them a sense of autonomy and an understanding that they are an integral part of the school system. Since we have established links with behaviour and sensory processing, this enabled staff to support the young people more effectively as they have a growing understanding of underlying causes.

I have also observed an improvement in academic achievement. Our young people show progress through levels of support given, and levels of engagement. These measurements are crucial to the assessment of progress. As communication, self-regulation, relationships, and familiarity all increase, so too does the pupil’s comfort, happiness, and consequently their independence.

All of this is due to increased self-regulation and tolerance of each other, as a direct consequence of a comprehensive sensory curriculum.

Ashton Secondary school is a co-educational, multi-denominational school which supports pupils with a wide range of Additional Support Needs in North Glasgow. 

References

(1) Ayres, A. Jean. Robbins J. (2005). Sensory Integration and the Child: Understanding Hidden Sensory Challenges. Los Angeles. Western Psychological Services.