Saturday, September 19, 2009

Music and Sensory Stories: Sensory Integration 101

My experience working with children who have autism has impressed upon me that we need to explore avenues for sensory integration. It seems to me that children with autism are often overwhelmed by the environment or become too focused on details in the environment so that they are too preoccupied to interact with another person or task. I found a website with a very good description of sensory integration therapy: Healing Thresholds. I like their presentation about what sensory integration therapy looks like in a therapeutic setting. They also provide a good explanation about why sensory integration might be required: to improve the ability of the mind to process sensory input and use the knowledge to function in the regular world.

They discuss several examples of sensory integration activities including, "Sensory stories." Sensory stories are similar to social stories in that they strive to present common social situations in a simplified manner with easy to remember verbal and social protocols to follow. The sensory stories present situations where multiple sensory inputs may occur simultaneously and require a strategy to cope with the input. I have been able to use music by placing some social stories into a song. This motivates the child to participate and enhances memory of the instructions given in the story. Music can also be used as a cue to use the rules outlined in the story. A teacher or therapist only has to start singing the song and a child will often complete the song and follow through on the instructions.

Successful use of music with social stories leads me to believe that similar results may be obtained by using music with sensory stories. In addition to music facilitating motivation and memory of a story, music is itself a sensory input. Singing about coping strategies for auditory, visual and tactile sensory experiences automatically helps a child to practice synthesizing music and hearing or reading. Many musical instruments can provide additional sensory input to reflect events in a sensory story. Music can be a fun and creative way to augment sensory stories!

Here are some of my favorite instruments that could be used with sensory stories:

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