Have you made the Sensory "Rainbow Connection"?

Have you made the Sensory “Rainbow Connection”?

© 2007 Shirley Sutton
Permission is granted to AAC single issue use

During my 30 years as a pediatric occupational therapist, I have constantly searched for new ways to help make complex concepts such as sensory integration, more “user friendly”.  Out of desperation a few years ago, after yet again another road trip of consultations and workshops which involved constant packing and unpacking of sensory toys and equipment, I began listening to expert advice.

I began using visual tools (colour coding) to improve my organizational challenges! Attaching a specific colour to the specific sensory systems in my workshop Sensory Fun – Make and Take, has made my life simpler. Using this ‘sensory rainbow’ has helped me remember a variety of strategies and activities, resulting in successfully connecting with many children.

Common sensory processing differences in children on the spectrum include avoiding, seeking or mixed responding to everyday sensation. Sensory Integration theory historically describes the seven senses to include touch, motion (vestibular), muscle sense (proprioception), oral sensations (taste and smell), sound and sight.  Although sensory integration treatment remains controversial, most experts now agree that as part of a child’s overall assessment and intervention planning, an evaluation of the impact of sensory experiences on the child’s ability to function within their environment is beneficial. When responses to each sense are analyzed, sensory based behaviours begin to make sense. By including sensory rich activities, or starting to “speak sensory language” (including activities rich in a variety of sensation), the child and adult start to share interests and connections begin to grow.

As discussed in detail in our book Building Bridges through Sensory Integration (Yack, Sutton,  Aquilla . 1998) Pat Wilbarger coined the term  sensory “diet” to mean activities which provide the necessary combination of sensory input to ‘feed or nourish’ a child’s nervous system. Many daily activities can provide sensory input, yet for some children with ASD, they may benefit from specific adaptations or enhancements to their sensory environment.  Just as a proper diet requires all food groups, the child’s sensory diet should be rich, with many colors of sensation.

When you analyze your child’s day or difficult moments, think about the most common colours of sensation your child’s experiences.   If required to sit still and listen (light blue), try adding a few fidget toys and pictures to this activity and now you are starting a rainbow (blue, pink and pale blue)!  With the addition of a wiggle cushion or action song, you’ve added two more colours (red and green), for a bigger ‘sensory rainbow’. Are you seeing the opportunities to connect expand, as your sensory understanding expands?

I organize my Sensory Rainbow Bag of the Seven Senses to look like this:

1.      Touch – blue
2.      Motion (vestibular) – red
3.      Muscle sense (proprioception) – green
4.      Taste – lime green
5.      Smell – brown
6.      Sound (auditory) – light blue
7.      Sight (visual) – pink

Meryle Lehn, Alberta OT and creator of SticKids designed a software program to “support children with sensory processing and sensory motor challenges”.  SticKids has eight categories of activity cards, all colour coded. SticKids provides simple rational behind her sensory colour choices, and I’ve incorporated some of those choices into my ‘sensory rainbow’.

I am incorporating the Sensory Rainbow idea into all my workshops and clinic practice, and welcome feedback and suggestions.  Remember to make a sensory rainbow connection today!

Shirley Sutton will be appearing with the Autism Awareness Centre Inc. in Vancouver on March 1, 2008. She will present her Make N’ Take Workshop that was mentioned in this article.


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