Thursday, 23 May 2019

Develop Your Sensory Lexiconary!

The second of my fabulous learning opportunities came in the form of Joanna Grace's Develop Your Sensory Lexiconary day.

It was long-anticipated and my appreciation was only increased by the external and internal barriers that threatened to get in the way right up to the last minute. (I won't digress here but thanks to nice people who are kind to me. You probably have no idea it was you who made that minute or hour or day manageable.)

As expected it was a captivating day, stuffed with knowledge, insight, inspiration and food for thought. Home time arrived and I felt like we'd only just started! I wish I could have brought everyone I know who works with sensory beings. (Sensory beings are people whose primary experience and understanding of the world is sensory, as opposed to linguistic beings who experience and interpret the world through language. Think about people with profound and multiple learning disabilities or complex autism, young babies and people with later stage dementia.) And then I'd have sent them on the Sensory Stories day and the Sensory Engagement for Mental Wellbeing day. I really must not sit and extol their wonders here. Suffice to say your understanding and practice WILL be transformed if you attend.

The day in full swing! Sensory delights galore!

I'm obviously not going to recount the whole course content, but in short, Jo takes her delegates on a journey through seven of the senses, exploring the development of each and ways to choose and use resources in an engaging and meaningful way. These sensory conversations, when facilitated effectively, support both cognition and mental wellbeing: I would assume this is a goal for anyone regularly interacting with sensory beings.

I fell asleep on the bus on the way home, but not a chance during the day: I was hooked! It's not just listening (although Jo is a particularly engaging speaker) - you are constantly exploring resources, experimenting, seeing snippets of theory in action through video, being thrown tantalising tidbits of research and rabbit trails there isn't time to explore, and learning through doing and through questions and comments from other delegates (it is also a great way to discover who else is in your area and what they are doing and to steal little bits of expertise or stash away contacts for later!).

Why, thank you for asking,
yes we did retro-nasally taste Skittles!
I've been on two of Jo Grace's training days before, but I still learnt plenty and came away inspired and full of ponderings on people I spend a lot of my time with. I didn't know that biting something really hard floods the body with calm chemicals (or why). I didn't know that detail is as exciting to the brain as high contrast black and white images in early development. I didn't know that rap might be more "beneficial" than Mozart for a baby. I hadn't thought about intentionally supporting the development of subconscious senses (eg. proprioception/vestibulation) with conscious ones: pairing a clear fixed visual experience (or very localised sound source or directional stream of air) with the vestibular activity to give the brain a double whammy of easily processed input to help make sense of the world.* And you can't afford to miss the empirically evidenced effects of swearing (including different types of swearing and why they have the effects they do).

You'll recognise this one
if you've heard
me on JABADAO!
I was reminded of what we get from early developmental experiences: they are the most easily processed - what we have had most exposure to and most practice interpreting. They are like junk TV for the mind: it can just lie back, not really engage and mindlessly (as it were) enjoy/survive the moment. It's why many of us sleep in those early snapshots of developmental movement, why pink light is calming,* why a heartbeat rhythm soothes and why heavy-based scents are relaxing (they are closest to our own natural smells which we are socially conditioned to declare repulsive).

Ever since, new thoughts keep coming to mind about the people I spend my days with. My friend who needs lots of squeezes and constant proprioceptive/touch input - would it be even more calming in a heartbeat rhythm? Another friend who needs to explore everything by mouth - I can support his development by providing resources he can hold at the same time to aid his mental mapping skills to develop through his hands as well. I could go on, but I won't!

When you are taken through all the jobs your brain is doing when looking at a red ball being moved slowly from left to right (and the difference between that and a static jiggling red ball!) it is a wonder anybody learns to understand the world visually, and really highlights the monumental effort and athleticism that people approach the world with every single day. Linguistic beings take so very much for granted.

We also miss out on so much. It's well-understood that it is beneficial to spend time with people of different demographics, and here is a case in point. Experiences created with sensory beings in mind benefit everybody (I won't ramble on about why - it may well be self-explanatory, but do ask if you're not sure and I will be happy to ramble!). Sensory conversations are fun, interesting, challenging and engaging just as any other conversation: they are time spent getting to know somebody, seeing the world from their perspective, hanging out with somebody, being present.

With all its flaws and quirks, I marvelled at the human brain today.

Just a couple of current favourite sensory experiences for me ;)

Credit for all those little gems to Joanna Grace. Find her on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn as well as her website The Sensory Projects to find out more (she can probably point you to the right research sources, which I am less likely to be able to!) 

* And as an interesting incidental link to my previous post, Jabadao already do this when they tour with the Tig: the dancers wear black, white and red and the lighting is pink. I told you their work is based in research, and it's not just the movement stuff!

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