Sensory Modulation in OT Practice

I’m back again with part 2 of my sensory modulation blog. Last time I delved into the technical side of sensory processing but today I hope to give examples that will help people to understand why I love sensory processing too much, and what in the world I was talking about last fortnight!

Firstly to recap on last week, I left you with a few dot points of things to remember for next time. Lucky for you I’m going to leave them here as well so that you don’t have to flick back and forth between blog entries.

  1. Everyone experiences sensory input differently
  2. Children aren’t the only ones who experience sensory processing difficulties. Adults do too.
  3. Understanding the individual’s sensory needs can help us to tailor our time with that person to make it as beneficial and meaningful as possible
  4. I am OBSESSED with all things sensory!


Why, you might ask, is someone so infatuated by the world of sensory? Well first of all I am someone who is largely influenced by sensory input. I will not buy clothes unless they feel right when I touch them. I become overwhelmed by smells (mostly “good smells” like candles and soaps). My inner cranky kicks in when someone (other than myself) is playing music too loudly, and forget about getting through to me when it’s a windy day and my ears are exposed! I do not have a diagnosis, and most people would refer to me as “normal” – whatever that means – but I am very affected by the world around me, just like most people. I’m sure if you sit for a minute and reflect right now, you too could come up with some examples of how you are affected by sensory input – feel free to try.
The other reason that I love sensory processing and the use of sensory modulation in practice is because I have seen firsthand the effects that it has on people who have lost control of their lives, or felt as though they had nothing positive to look forward to. Working on a psychiatric ward on placement, I encountered many people who had the above outlooks on life. My supervisor was trialling Tina Champagne’s sensory modulation program to see whether it might change how some people felt and to our delight, it had a huge positive impact on people. As one of two students on this placement, I was tasked with the role of customising this program and running weekly groups for people to explore their sensory preferences. The idea was that things that worked for them in the group could then be individualised for that person to assist with de-escalation or escalation in managing their affect or mood.
One of my clients was so responsive to certain aspects of this groups that she approached me to tailor her intervention around the positive response that she had. This client ended up creating a sensory toolkit for herself using the most obscure items including cigarette filters in a balloon for use as a stress ball, sticks and leaves from the garden so that she always had access to the smell and feel of outside, she even managed to find glitter and a small soft drink bottle to make a visual tool. She could be seen walking around the ward with her stress ball, and when asked about it she reported that it made her feel strong against people who were previously intimidating. Sensory modulation helped her to manage her anxiety and gave her confidence in the way she felt about herself, and her approach towards others.
On the same placement I ran a pamper day as part of the sensory program (see image below). We used items such as scented moisturisers, textured facemasks and flavoured waters to explore how we could incorporate sensory modulation into real life situations, without it feeling like a therapy session. The response to this group was so overwhelming in a sense that people who had been arguing for days were pouring drinks for each other, and conversation flowed freely from people who I had not heard speak since they had arrived at hospital. The positivity and openness of people who attended this group was so inspiring to me that I knew at that point that sensory modulation was something that I wanted to incorporate into my practice and introduce to everyone I met.

I know that sometimes I can rant about this topic for way too long, and I’m sure my loved ones are probably sick of me pointing out their sensory preferences. I am forever analysing people in shopping centres and restaurants to see if I can pick up any of their preferences and I’m always shopping in the kid’s section because there are so many fun and exciting sensory items to play with. I guess what I’m trying to get at here is that sensory modulation is my passion and something that I will always love. I encourage you to explore items and activities that appeal to your sense of smell, touch, sight, hearing or taste, whether that be eating a cuisine that you’ve never tried before or digging in the sand at the beach.

Knowing and understanding your sensory preferences will help you through stressful or down times. Exploring your senses will bring happiness to you and will entice your inner child to learn more about the workings and needs of your mind and body, and who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love with sensory modulation too?