To think it was only a year ago when my sensory world was turned upside down. Up until then I had only a very basic understanding of Sensory Integration and the difficulties it can cause in everyday life. Now you can’t shut me up about it.
I trained to be an Occupational Therapist, a long time ago (nearly 20 years ago! Scary stuff!) I knew that I wanted to work in paediatrics and was lucky enough to find an amazing job within a specialist clinical services/education setting. Eventually I moved on to work in a community setting working with children in mainstream schools. But then life intervened… and I got married…. had my first child….moved house….moved again and couldn’t find a paediatric Occupational Therapy service willing to take me on part time, which was also within a reasonable commute. Fast forward 11 years, 2 more children and another 2 house moves later and, I found myself, one dull Autumn morning in London at the Royal College to Occupational Therapy listening to a day of lectures about returning to practice. My youngest child had just started at school and I was beginning to think about working as an Occupational Therapist again. The study day was all very interesting but it raised too many questions for me. Mainly….. how on earth can I do this and remain sane?
(Just the announcement at school of the imminence of World Book Day and the thought of coming up with 3 costumes can floor me!) It was the 420 updating hours that worried me the most. How could I manage that? Where could I do my supervised practice? As I had been out of practice for so long I was also keen to undertake some formal study. And, as I was sitting, listening to the various speakers reminding us how great Occupational Therapy is, a memory of a post graduate course I was always very interested in, popped into my head…… Sensory Integration. (But then, more questions…..how would I fund a post grad course? How would I manage childcare when I was away studying? Essays? Exams?)
I had pretty much decided that it was all beyond me when I received an advert for an introduction to Sensory Integration study day to be held at Jigsaw OT. I signed up. I nearly cancelled as my youngest son came down with chicken pox the day before but luckily my mum came to my rescue.
Thank goodness she did as that day at Jigsaw changed everything. I absolutely loved the day, finding it so interesting to be thinking about sensory processing dysfunction and its challenges. I also loved hearing the success stories and listening to the passionate Occupational Therapists guiding the others on the course to find solutions to some of the difficulties they were experiencing. It inspired me and gave me the clarity I needed. I now knew I wanted to get my Sensory Integration Practitioner qualification and I wanted to practice as an Occupational Therapist again. I could do this. I didn’t sleep much that night!
I met some lovely people that day and within a month, Jigsaw had kindly agreed to supervise my updating hours, I had registered with University of Ulster and the Sensory Integration Network to complete a post- graduate certificate in Sensory Integration over 3 modules. I had started counting my hours and suddenly 420 did not seem so out of reach.
I can’t say being away from the family for the 3 modules was easy. There were often tears at the train station each time I left on a Sunday afternoon. (Birmingham’s amazing shops certainly helped ease the pain though, nothing wrong with a bit of retail therapy to keep you smiling). The first module focused on neuroscience. It was complicated and at times I was completely overwhelmed but when it fell in to place it was fascinating. During the course I was able to experience some important sensory equipment such as a platform swing, a cuddle swing, weighted blankets, body sox and resistance tunnels to name a few. Our new found neuroscience knowledge helped us appreciate what was happening to our sensory systems as we used this equipment.
During module 3, I was lucky enough to have 4 days of lectures with Zoe Mailloux, who is internationally recognised for her expertise in Sensory Integration and who was a research assistant to Jean Ayres, the originator of Sensory Integration. We were able to watch footage of Zoe working with children in her therapy rooms in America, using equipment such as swing harnesses, flexion and extension pulley systems and scooter boards and ramps. It was an example of best practice and it was very inspiring.
I have been lucky enough to work alongside SI practitioners in Jigsaw OT’s therapy room too. In one of my first sessions I was with a non verbal 12 year old girl. It was amazing to see her mood transform from initially agitated, pacing and anxious, to calm and peaceful whilst on the platform swing with a weighted blanket on top of her, holding a vibrating snake. It was a very powerful illustration of the positive effect of this equipment for children with sensory processing problems. She eventually gave the therapist eye contact, made soothing noises and smiled. I have also seen first hand the positive change in posture and alertness in class for particular children, when given the right seat cushion. and the positive effect on the speed and formation of handwriting by providing something as simple as an alternative pencil grip such as the jumbo pencil grip. I have seen a very distressed young man with Autistic Spectrum Disorder become much calmer and more coherent when given some firm therapy putty to manipulate which meant he could then express what was upsetting him. I have learnt, and am learning, that simple solutions like this can make a massive difference.
I know I am only at the very start of my sensory journey but I can’t wait to learn more. Now almost 12 months down the line and all my updating hours are done. I am re registered, working as an Occupational Therapist again in an area of work I am finding so interesting, so important and so fun. And I am just about to submit my final essay as the completion of module 3 of my Sensory Integration training……. And I still get to pick my children up everyday from school! Not bad!