Ever wondered what it looks like to do Sensory Enrichment Therapy and what kind of progress you can see in the first two weeks?
Follow this family from Canada as they try Sensory Enrichment Therapy for two weeks.
The boy (let’s call him Billy) is 9 years old and was diagnosed with autism. He loves music and has developed special aptitudes in this area from a very young age. His challenges are in the areas of:
- Fine motor coordination (Brushing teeth is still a struggle)
- Understanding what he reads (He learned to read very early but still struggles with retelling the story)
- Awareness of surroundings (He still darts across the street without looking)
- Sensory processing (He still experiences sensory overload quickly)
- Speech (Problems with calling himself “I”)
Over the first 14 days, you will notice emerging improvements in speech, awareness and fine motor.
Still getting started, preparing all the materials and learning how to do the different exercises. For now, we continue to successfully do Smell and Gentle Claw at least 4x/day, which he enjoys, and he loves getting a warm blanket, listening to music and a hands and feet massage at bedtime. He has a scent in his pillow as well.
It was our first time going through a full session, with great difficulty overall. Billy was very distraught with the different exercises. Billy cried after each exercise and during some of the exercises and had to be comforted until he was ready to continue. When we sat down to begin the Multisensory Core Protocol, he saw the little cup with orange juice and I think he was distressed because he wanted to drink it, but didn’t want to ask or wasn’t able to ask). He only got 1 out of the 5 scent and image combinations correct, which was the first one we did in the sequence, with his favourite smell (hazelnut) and image (piano). We did not get to the sorting beads exercise as he was already having such a difficult time, and I had anticipated that that one would probably be the most difficult one for him. We did Smell and Gentle Claw at the end but that did not get filmed.
So much better! We only did one of the exercises (match scent and image) and Billy did not get them all correct, however, his time he did not cry or get upset. Before starting, I wrote down on paper all the exercises that we had done yesterday and went through each one asking him if he remembered them, which one was his favourite, and if he wanted to try one of them again, all the while observing him. I asked him in different ways if he wanted to try one of the exercises again today, and which one, and that was the one he chose. I didn’t get to film this time. I also noted many differences in his behaviour, all very positive, which I am keeping track of separately in a journal.
Billy had a bath before bed today and I thought he would be more relaxed going to sleep, but in fact, he was more excited than usual during the listening to music with headphones while laying in bed. I couldn’t massage his hands much because he wanted to keep doing movements with his fingers, I couldn’t tell if he was stimming or if he was playing the music on an imaginary keyboard. We hadn’t experienced this before, until now.
He also took a little bit longer to fall asleep than usual and had something in his mind that he was laughing about, but still went to sleep relatively quickly and peacefully.
I can tell he has been enjoying the music he listens to with headphones because he played those pieces on the keyboard 3 times today during the day, including early in the morning, and it was lovely. He was a little distracted while playing, looking at the streetlights, which he has been focused on lately, but he finished the two pieces from beginning to end. I have asked him if he would like to listen to something different and so far he wants to listen to the same 2 pieces every night, I’m curious to ask if this is ok?
As part of the Sensory Enrichment Foundation, today I added a diffuser scent in the bathroom on the main floor and also got two sensory mats, and placed one in the living room another in the family room. Both Billy and his 2.5-year-old brother Zach took to the mats right away. Billy enjoyed feeling it with his hands and writing numbers on it. Zach liked walking barefoot on it as well as drawing with his fingers.
I had been thinking to myself early this morning that, lately, it seemed to me that it had been easier for Billy to regulate his emotions, particularly with certain known triggers. For example, when he plays with certain apps on his iPad, that randomly display numbers or images as he taps to play. If a number or image comes up, that he did not want (e.g. a zero or a six), he can get extremely upset.
This evening, he was back to his usual state of calmness during the Bedtime Routine, with no finger movements or other signs of excitement.
This morning, Billy did some beautiful, very fluid keyboard composing. In the afternoon, however, Billy seemed a bit out of sorts. There was a lot of whining and complaining, and he wasn’t even enjoying some of the things he normally likes to do with me, like simple math questions with colourful wooden numbers and toy animals. He was even having trouble with those simple calculations, which he can otherwise do easily. He kept wanting to do a lot of repeating of sounds and repetitive jokes with me. I offered to have him come upstairs with me to lie down on the hammock and listened to music, but he really did not like the idea. Maybe he was weirded out because it’s not something we typically do during the day.
I asked him if he was interested in trying to do the “activity with the orange” (Sensory Enrichment Foundation) and he said he did, and I could tell he meant it. So we went ahead and were able to do it successfully, without tears or crying! I did not want to break the flow of things by setting up the camera and starting to film, because I know that that’s something that can throw him off, so again I did not catch anything on video. One by one, however, we managed to do all the activities in the worksheet.
We did a lot of progress with Scents and Photos – he was really enjoying going through all the scents, especially the one of his favourite snack (hazelnut), as well as rearranging all the images “randomly”, as he put it, before matching. He did not yet match the other scents successfully without help, but I think it won’t be long before he does. I did a modified, simplified version of Sort Beads by Feel, just to get him acclimatized to the exercise at first and to not break the good run we had just had. I did not blindfold him (and it was easier to explain the exercise to him this way as well) and just asked him to pick out 8 random beads, one at a time, and sort them into the 4 different bowls. It was good we kept it short because he wasn’t expecting an extra activity and wanted to have a snack, so I finished with Smell and Gentle Claw as we got settled for his snack.
When he was done with his snack, off he went to the keyboard to a lovely performance of the two pieces that he listens to at bedtime.
We went through all the exercises again today, just once, but we did it!
I first wrote out a list of all the exercises we were going to do and ran through the list with him, so he would know what to expect. He said he wanted to do the exercises after I asked in different ways. Aside from a minor protest here and there, Billy seemed fine throughout all his exercises, except at the end, with the last exercise (sort beads by feel). He got a little upset at first and threw one of the beads on the floor. I asked if he wanted to stop, he said only for 30 seconds and then he wanted to pick up the bead that he threw and finish the exercise.
Besides it possibly being “The Storm,” we also had left out this last exercise the first time we went through a full worksheet because Billy had gotten so upset, so he could be reacting like this to it now and hopefully will be okay with it afterwards.
He also did say that he didn’t like the Sensory Enrichment Time a few times (that’s what I’ve been naming it for him).
After we finished the session this afternoon, he was a little “off” (whiny, sensitive, crying more easily). While he was in this mood, he started playing keyboard and it seemed like his hair got a little bit on his face, and then he said something I had never heard him talk about before or express a concern over: “do you want your hair short?” which I took as him meaning to say “I would like my hair to be short.” (he reverses pronouns and states his wishes in question format sometimes).
Shortly later, Billy had a bath with his brother and his level of interactivity, eye contact and speech with his brother and me was very good. The rest of the afternoon/evening also went very well, notably in those same areas.
Billy had agreed to do our session at 4 the afternoon, but when it came the time, he was tired and really did not want to.
I will try to book our session earlier in the day going forward, so we have better chances of success, especially as he is still getting used to this being a part of his every day. He agreed to try again tomorrow at around 10 AM.
It was our best session so far! Billy was content the whole time except with Sort Beads by Feel – he is still learning how this one works. After the session, he was whiny but for much less time than previously, and afterwards had a very good afternoon. I will try to upload videos very soon, but it has been hard finding the time.
Great Mendability session this afternoon! He likes to narrate the steps and things we are doing as we progress through the exercises. He seemed really happy and into it the entire time, and only got a little upset with Sort Beads by Feel. This time there wasn’t even whining or upset when we were done, he was just happy and wanted to play “I’m gonna get you!” with me.
During and after the session, and for the whole rest of the afternoon and evening, I noticed:
- More speech fluidity
- Better pronoun usage, eg “where’s my scooter?”, more I’s and I am’s
- New expressions, e.g.: “I don’t even like that…” and “well,…”
- Asking more questions, “What colour is the circle?” (Referring to the golden bottle cap of the glass bottle that we use in the hold and squeeze exercise) and “What is a quality?” in reference to sound quality in one of his music apps
Other examples of things he said/did:
- “I’m going to go swim in the bath”
- “Give the dolphin a kiss” (as he kissed his toy dolphin in the bath)
Another very good session today. Billy is really enjoying all the exercises, except Sort Beads by Feel. I made the latter even simpler for him today by leaving only 4 different bead types and making their differences stand out more (for example different bead sizes are also a different colour). It was a little bit easier this time, but overall he still finds this one challenging. I asked him to close his eyes for the last two beads and he accepted, but protested and did not place the beads correctly. With match scents and photos he is also still unsure about 3 out of the 5 scents, which he finds similar or confusing.
I continue to observe subtle differences in behaviour and new and more frequent speech, for example, today he said, “I would like the red iPad mini as a device”.
We were not able to do a session today, unfortunately. Billy’s mood was swinging a little bit today. He got quite upset at times with things that he either doesn’t normally get upset with or that he has an easier time dealing with. At the very end of the day, he seemed more at ease.
Today Billy successfully drew a picture of a computer with his finger, using a drawing app on his iPad.
Although it was a simple, rough drawing, and one he is very familiar with because he often asks us to draw a computer for him, I had never before seen Billy draw the different parts of a picture like that, with good use of space, proportions and connections.
I am very proud of him and consider this a significant breakthrough.
This morning, I asked Billy if he wanted to do some drawing together, with markers and paper, of a computer. He did want to, and at first, as usual, he asked me to do the physical drawing part, while he sat next to me choosing the colours and what to draw.
What was unusual, however, was that, after I drew the first picture as per his requests, he took a marker and the papers and started drawing a computer by himself, using the same template we normally use to draw one – a rectangle on top to depict the screen, a keyboard underneath, where the keys are many vertical lines crossed over by a few horizontal lines, etc.
I was truly amazed by how well he did, and by his initiative and self-confidence to draw by himself.
His drawing on paper today, much like his drawing on the iPad yesterday, was remarkably better structured and better proportioned than I can remember. For example, he was able to draw a smaller rectangle inside his larger rectangle for the screen, and similarly the keyboard, with good proportions and use of space.
Our Mendability session again went very well today. He accepted being blindfolded at the end of Sort Beads by Feel, and although he lifted up the eye covering to see the beads in his hand, and started protesting a bit, we are making progress towards eventually doing the exercise just by feel.
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Today, two of our caregivers saw Billy draw a computer by himself, in different instances, and they both separately remarked on how much his drawing ability has improved.
It’s great to be able to corroborate progress like this with other people who know him well.
Another thing that happened today that I thought was worth noting down was that, when we were in the car, Billy was holding one of his gloves in his hand, and we asked where the glove for his other hand was, he actually started looking for it with a “new” type of awareness and interest. Often he will ask where something is out loud as if asking someone to help him find it, but will not actively look for it. This time, he looked well inside his coat pockets and kept actively looking for it when he couldn’t find it until he finally did find it in his pocket.
Earlier this morning, when we couldn’t find one of his brother’s toys, it was Billy who not only spotted it but told us in which room it was – I think this is a first!
As for our Mendability session today, it went really well, Billy was having fun with it and is more confident now recognizing the scents in Match Scents and Photos. He doesn’t mind being blindfolded at the end of Sort Beads by Feel, but before he puts each bead he feels in the bowl where it belongs, he insists on peeking at it, to make sure he gets it right.
Billy put on his boots all by himself today! I had never seen him do that before and he did it twice today. I think this was definitely a “Did he just do that?” moment…
Billy is making continued progress with Mendability: He is more accurate now during Match Scents and Images; He looks forward to our “Sensory Enrichment Time” and is excited to do it; He is happy throughout the entire session with minimal whining, complaining, or saying he doesn’t like it; For the first time today, on Sort Beads by Feel, he was able to feel and place the correct beads in their bowls, while blindfolded.
Another change we have noticed is that Billy is being more affectionate. He has always been quite affectionate, but now spontaneously puts his arms around mom and dad to hug, and is coming to sit on our laps while eating a snack or playing on his devices, which he didn’t do spontaneously before.
We are still doing our exercises from the last worksheet, I just wasn’t able to change the start date for this new one. We had another good Mendability session today.
Today, I tried seeing if he would be willing to do two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. However, he was not pleased with the idea and really wanted to stick to one session in the afternoon. I will continue to try to aim towards two sessions per day if that is recommended.
Billy had another “did he just do that?” moment today!
Billy has had challenges with motor planning, and 3D awareness. I was getting things ready, and when I looked over, Billy had brought up a little chair to the kitchen and stood himself up on it to be able to access the cupboard that has the little glass of orange juice that I use for Multisensory Core Protocol.
If that weren’t enough of a surprise, he then wanted to open the carton of orange juice and pour the juice all by himself into the cup. He did it, and although he spilled quite a bit, he did not get upset and we had a great session afterwards.
About an hour before bed today, Billy had a bout of above average speech, communication, expression, presence, awareness and socializing with Mom and Dad.
We are still doing the exercises from the first worksheet.
Billy is super engaged with the whole session and it has been several days in a row that we observe new and different behaviours and actions on Billy’s part, during the actual sessions:
- 2 days ago he picked up a cracker that his brother had dropped on the floor and spontaneously went to the kitchen and threw it in the garbage.
- Yesterday, I noticed that he rolled up his sleeves on his own in anticipation of feeling the orange on his arms. He didn’t do it as promptly today, but I waited without saying anything, orange in hand, and he then rolled his sleeves up without any prompting again.
- Today, he said a very spontaneous “I don’t like that smell!” during Match Scents and Photos with the mint smell.
- He is also using new expressions during the day for example “that’s disgusting!” even if the context was not 100% accurate it’s great to be hearing new expressions from him.
- He also seems to have more frequent bouts of speech and good communication.
We are still on last session’s worksheet. Another great session today. Billy really enjoys our sessions and has no problem pausing his favourite activities to do Sensory Enrichment Time.
One particular thing that struck me today was during Sort Beads by Feel. When Billy was blindfolded, until today, he had been feeling the beads with his fingers and then quickly tossing them into the bowls, in the direction where he could best estimate they were. This time, instead of tossing, he was taking more time and carefully feeling the outside of the bowls to make sure that he would place the beads inside.
I am very excited about this!