University of Edinburgh

Sensory Play and Learning

Presented on Friday, 11 March 2011

The importance of sensory stimulation

Judy Denziloe

  • Exploring the senses:
    • Vision
    • Hearing
    • Touch
    • Smell
    • Taste
    • Kinaesthetic
    • Vestibular
    • Proprioceptive
    • Sense of wonder and magic

    We can use sensory work to help the child

    • Use each sense to its maximum potential
    • Combine information from each sense to gain more understanding of their world
    • Have new sensory experiences they may be unable to find for themselves
    • Learn to filter out sensory messages that are not important

    Sensory work is a powerful tool and must be used with care!

    • Don't bombard the child with lots of sensory stimuli at once
    • Be sensitive and observant – is the child enjoying the sensations or becoming distressed, bored or withdrawn?
    • Allow time for the child to experience the sensation, without distractions

    Seeker or Avoider?

    Sensory seeker

    • Not enough sensation (hyposensitive)
    • Need more

    Sensory defensive

    • Too much sensation (hypersensitive)
    • Need less

  • From passive to active use of the senses



  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Being touched by fabrics
  • Breathing in smells
  • Tasting


  • Looking
  • Listening
  • Feeling and exploring
  • Sniffing to get the smell
  • Actively savouring and discriminating between tastes

Early interaction skills

... the building blocks of later play, leisure and social skills

different items

Multisensory environment - Uses

  • A laboratory where we can control the environment, remove distractions and interruptions, introduce various stimuli and observe the result - what does she like,
    what can he see/hear, what combination of effects works for them?
  • A quiet, comfortable area for relaxation and 'chilling out'.
  • A stimulating environment which encourages alertness and concentration.
  • Specific aims for people with autism - calming down, increasing arousal levels or
    creating small safe places.
  • A play and leisure facility.
  • A place for clients and enablers to share enjoyment and communication as equals.
  • A safe space to put the principles of Intensive Interaction into practice.
  • A learning environment which supports and extends curriculum activities.
  • A place to learn about cause and effect, switch operation, gaining control and making choices.
  • A performance space for sensory storytelling and theme work.

Ground rules for using the multisensory environment

  • It is not a dumping ground, or a place to chat to colleagues about what you watched on television last night.
  • It is an enriched environment which supports our interactions with clients and facilitates their interactions with their world and the people in it.
  • The equipment does not do the work!
  • We - workers, parents, carers - are the most important resource in the sensory
    environment, but we are not there to be the Butlin's Redcoat or entertainer.
  • We are the enabler, facilitator, observer - assisting the person we are supporting to
    access the sensory environment.
  • We do not go into the multisensory environment and switch everything on.
  • We ensure that the multisensory environment is a clean, pleasant place to be, and that everything works appropriately and reliably.

Going portable

  • Sensory in a Suitcase (Sensory Plus)
  • Sensory Trolley (Mike Ayres Design)
  • Do it yourself storage

going portable

Structuring sensory sessions
Clear the decks!

  • Visual environment
  • Sound environment
  • Are we distracting?

Starting the session

  • Objects of reference
  • Smell reference
  • Reduce light levels gradually
  • Starting ritual

The middle bit!
There are various ways of structuring the session:

  • Sensory routines, eg; TacPac
  • Themes
  • Sensory stories

sensory story

Ending the session

  • Bringing the light back to normal levels
  • Ending ritual
  • Collection of little sensory items to take back into the 'real' world


Developing sensory stories

  • General interest in sensory work
  • True inclusion

Making sensory stories

Item Visual Sound Touch Smell

Title: Rainbow Fish
Container: Blue cloth bag with fish shapes sewn on

Item Visual Sound Touch Smell
Fish puppet
Wind chime    
DIY Feely
  DIY Feely
Starfish     Real
Fish gives
away his
Fish and
little fishes
Fish and
little fishes