This is me, sitting on the floor of a rented apartment in Germany, with what I had once thought of as my wildest dream ( a dream 11 years in the dreaming) having just come true, thanks to 159 Kickstarter backers.
My dream had been to write five sensory stories. My aims for these stories were that they’d be really interesting stories in and of themselves, that they’d be as cheap as regular stories, and that they’d have great sensory experiences to go with them.
Why the sensory experiences? Well these are stories that you can share with individuals who do not use words. When I first launched The Sensory Project I had individuals with profound and multiple learning disabilities in mind, but since running the project I’ve found these stories connect with a much wider audience, including people with autism, dementia, mental health challenges, the very young and the very old and everyone in between.
Why the dream? What are those stories about? These questions are too big, I could write about them for days. So I thought I’d hone in on one example, taken from my own life, and extended to yours and the lives of the people you support and connect with: Why should you create your own sensory stories?
It is through sharing stories that we create and maintain friendships and when we make those stories sensory we can create and maintain those friendships without being restricted to the world of spoken language.
Here’s a story about me.
When I was a little girl I grew up on a concrete boat which my parents designed themselves and built by hand! Here I am:
I don’t remember a lot about those days. Actually it makes me smile to realise that the memories I do have are sensory ones, they’re smells – the ocean, sounds – the rigging clinking like a discordant glockenspiel, touches – the grime inside the winch, and very particular sights – the gull on the wing pictured on my website being one.
But I have been told stories about those days and about who I was. One story is about my winch, the one with the grime inside. You see this winch was magic, I could wind it and take out any toy imaginable to play with (there is not a lot of room for real toys at sea) and if I saw something I liked in the world around I could pluck it from where it was – a container ship on the horizon, a dolphin from the bow wave – and store it away in my winch for safe keeping, to play with later on another day, a day without dolphins.
I do not remember playing the game, but I have been told the story many times. It shapes who I think of myself as being. It frames me as a creative little person, a resourceful littler person, a little person able to play on my own.
That little person grew up to be a big person who uses their ability to work alone, creatively and resourcefully to run a project that – hopefully – makes the world a little bit of a better place.
We are all told stories about who we are, and those stories help us to shape our identity….but wait, is that true? Are we ALL told these stories? Or do those of us who do not communicate through traditional means miss out? Children growing up with profound and multiple learning disabilities often do not get to hear stories about themselves. Stories to shape them and present them in their best light and celebrate them.
How different would I have been if my family told me the other story? A story I only discovered a few months ago when my mother shared her diaries of the time with me. I learned that I was the two year old who trampled on my mother’s stomach as she lay on the floor of the boat unable to stand with seasickness and nursing my baby sister. I was the toddler who kicked her in the head as I played.
How different might my life had been if those were the stories I had grown up hearing about myself?
The stories we share are powerful things. If you know someone with a profound disability you are perfectly placed to watch out for their stories. Spot them as they occur. What was it they did, what did they hear, what did they feel, what did it smell like. Capture these stories as they occur and retell them to connect them with themselves and create their best identities.
This book identifies many of the problems our children exhibit as a result of their sensory difficulties, such as delayed learning, and low moods and behaviour. It introduces sensory stories as a resource to break down barriers to learning and understanding. The examples within draw upon Joanna’s incredible insight into the world of special needs children through her experiences in the role of teacher and enabler. This is vital reading for every special needs parent and teacher alike. (James Gordon, Autism advocate and Social Media Campaigner, single parent of a boy with severe Autism)
Take a pinch of glitter, a peck of spice, a splash of water, pebbles, a torch and noise makers; add the guiding spell of this book and we are ready. Through inspirational ideas, clearly and simply explained, Jo shows how everyone, including those with the most profound needs, can share and learn through the deep magic of stories. I wish this book had been around years ago when I first began teaching students with profound learning difficulties. (Gill Warren, English Coordinator, Sir Charles Parsons School, Newcastle, UK)