This time last year my daughter, Amber was still without an official diagnosis, we knew that she was a huge sensory seeker, and I had noticed from an early age that she struggled with purposeful play, even to this day (at almost 5 years old). Even though we provide her with a variety of toys and resources, she has difficulty in using them for story enacting for example, she prefers to line her dolls up, rather than to come up with a situation or characters for them.

In April 2016, Amber was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD,) around the same time I was introduced to a local therapy centre where hourly sessions of play therapy were offered on a 1:1 basis with a SEN teacher, these sessions also welcomed parents to get involved with the activities on offer. The staff at the centre collected information about Amber’s current interests and ask for any problem area that we were experiencing at home, after each session the staff asked Amber what activities she would like to do in the next session and I really liked how child-centred this was. Amber also had her own visual choice board, where she could see the activities on offer and chose which activity she’d like to do first, second and so forth. I explained that one of the areas we were working on at home was eating, as Amber was only eating the same foods every day, such as breadsticks and toast, she tended to stick to the beige and dry foods. I also explained what I had observed in terms of purposeful play at home and I shared Amber’s love of any messy/sensory activities as she was a huge sensory seeker and thrived on these type of activities.

I read that:

Play therapy is generally employed with children aged 3 through 11 and provides a way for them to express their experiences and feelings through a natural, self-guided, self-healing process. As children’s experiences and knowledge are often communicated through play, it becomes an important vehicle for them to know and accept themselves and others. This approach is common to young children.”

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Play_therapy

Over the 15 sessions Amber had we saw a great deal of progress in Amber’s confidence to select new resources, at first she wanted to try out every single activity in the sensory room, and would often flit between activities and rooms. The therapy centre has two main cabins that house a sensory room and music therapy room, there is also a sensory garden that houses a chicken coup and their very own named pet chickens! The staff also has access to rooms for occupational therapy and a purpose-built room for cooking. We also noticed an improvement in Amber’s concentration and purposeful play, especially with small-world play and she developed an interest in playing ‘shops,’ which she has carried on to the present day.

Amber experienced a wealth of activities during her time at the centre, these included:

  • Messy Play – shaving foam in the water tray and hand and feet painting.
  • Moveable and mouldable sand.
  • Sensory room exploration – bubbles tubes, light changing wall, fibre optics and the ‘snug’ enclosed area.
  • ‘Magic Carpet,’ where images such as an interactive fish pond are projected onto the mat on the floor and moves when the children touch it.
  • ‘Small World’ play – with a large dolls house, farm buildings.
  • Use of the music room – exploring multicultural instruments such as African Drums.
  • Physical outdoor activities – such as balls and hoops, to help support perseverance.
  • Feeding chickens and interacting with them in their enclosure.
  • Creative story telling – using story sacks, e.g. retelling the story ‘Room on the Broom.’
  • Cooking sessions – making cookies, and staff even found a specific dairy free recipe in light of Amber’s dairy allergy.
  • Making sensory playdough.

We hope to continue to take Amber to the ‘Play Centre’ (as she has named it) as they also provide clubs in the school holidays, such as messy play club, dance club and gardening club.

I have previously written a post dedicated to the specific centre that Amber attends

Read more of Nicki's blogs at Sensory Sensitive Mummy