Joanna Grace’s Sensory Story Project

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Sensory Communication – Sensory Stories

Hello everyone, my name is Joanna Grace and I write sensory stories for children with profound and multiple learning disabilities. I’m currently running a project on Kickstarter to create a set of these stories that families could use – please check it out, we only have a few days left!

Sensory stories have many things to offer children, one of which is the opportunity to develop communication. I’ll explain, but first I should tell you what a sensory story is!

What Are Sensory Stories?

Image representing the 5 senses - smell, sound, touch, taste and sight

Joanna’s Sensory Stories engage children’s 5 senses.

Sensory stories are constructed out of a combination of sensory experiences and text.

I aim to write stories in less than ten sentences. You might think you can’t get much of a story into so little text, but think of how much a poet can convey in a haiku, and think of the adage a ‘A picture speaks a thousand words’ and you’ve a start on imagining what could be in a sensory story.

I seek out rich sensory experiences to put into my stories, these needn’t be expensive things, it’s just a matter of viewing the world creatively and spotting things that would make a good experience. This can get you a few funny looks as you sniff things in shops, or feel them, but it’s a lot of fun. I aim to put at least one experience from each of the five famous senses into a story (did you have seven senses?)

Why sensory stimulation?

Your brain needs sensory input in order to develop and lay down neural pathways. An able bodied child can access a wide range of sensory stimuli for themselves, a child with physical disabilities will need help to access a range of stimuli. Sensory stories are a fun way of providing this support.

Communication Support for Children with Additional Needs

Sensory stories can support communication in children with profound and multiple learning disabilities in a number of ways:

Encouraging engagement

Researchers have found that some of the passivity they observe in individuals with profound and multiple learning disabilities is not down to the disability itself but to a learned helplessness that

Image of Joanna twisting a blue household duster to simulate the sound of the wind blowing through grass

Joanna uses a number of surprising yet familiar objects to illustrate her stories via the senses.

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leaves the individual disengaged with the world. When you think about it, it is easy to see how, if you couldn’t easily access the world around you, you might begin to see it as not relevant to you and turn inwards seeking stimulation from within. In some cases this can also include self harm as a means of gaining stimulation. By introducing sensory experiences to individuals with profound and multiple learning disabilities you can encourage them to become interested in objects and people. This is a great first step towards communication.

Communication skills

Story telling is a wonderful form of communication that our ancestors enjoyed and that future generations will enjoy. It’s a way we bond ourselves together and form our identities. By sharing a story in a sensory way you can include someone who accesses the world in a purely sensory way in the experience of story telling. Aspects of the process of telling the story also support individuals in learning skills involved in communication, for example the turn taking nature of sharing the story: that I say the words, and then you experience the stimuli, echoes the turn taking nature of conversation: it’s your turn to speak, my turn to listen, then my turn to speak, your time to listen.

Expressing preferences

Image of Joanna in a living room, placing her hand upon a piece of textured foam

Joanna explains that even the most simple of objects can provide important sensory experiences.

People who care for individuals with profound and multiple learning disabilities try hard to personalise that care in a way that the individual would choose for themselves were they able to express themselves. Choices are made on our best discernment of what they individual with profound and multiple learning disabilities would want. Through sharing a sensory story with someone and noting their reactions carefully over time you can learning things like: they prefer the smell of lemons to the smell of roses, they enjoy the bang of a drum more than the ringing of a bell. These small insights can be used to personalise their care in a way that will be meaningful to them, for example by purchasing citrus shower gel rather than a floral one, or by using a drum as an alarm clock rather than a buzzer. Though small these things are immensely valuable to a person’s quality of life.

Supporting Joanna’s Sensory Story Project

I want sensory stories to be available for families to share at home, that’s my motivation for the project. The project ends at 5:22am EDT on May 21st, please have a look before then. In exchange for backing the project you receive a reward of your choosing; there are many things on offer including sensory stories themselves. Come and join us.

To read more about Joanna’s Sensory Story Project and for further information on how to get involved in her Kickstarter project, click here to visit the Sensory Play Tray blog.

Sensory Stories are vital for reaching out to children with additional needs, especially those with communication issues who find it hard to express their understanding of the world around them through speech. Technology has progressed in leaps and bounds over the past decade, and now provides children with communication issues a new and immediate way to express their needs and wants through touch screen interaction, rather than relying on speech.

After you’ve checked out Joanna’s Kickstarter project, why not have a look through our informative posts that cover some fantastic apps to aid communication and our compendium of iPad apps that use augmentative and alternative communication to aid self-expression?


Amrick is a part-time writer and mother to her little girl and three cats. Her interests are technology, cats, vintage, gardening, music and film. Connect with me on Google+

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