Sensory stories

Wednesday, 21 November 2018
Joanna Grace, The Sensory Projects

Sensory stories are an amazing resource which enable children and adults for whom traditional story-telling methods are inaccessible to access and enjoy narratives alongside their peers. They are particularly helpful for people with sensory or cognitive impairments and can be used to support people with autism or anxiety difficulties. Sensory stories have also been used to help people with dementia, and to engage those for whom English is not their first language. Best of all they are beautifully simple and inexpensive to create. Used well they are a wonderful tool for inclusion.

A sensory story has concise text, typically less than ten sentences. Don’t worry, you can get a lot said in a few lines – have a look at some of my stories here and you’ll find whole adventures happening within a few lines and even stars being born in stellar nurseries.

Each sentence is partnered with a rich and relevant sensory experience. The richness of a sensory experience is judged by how well that experience draws the attention of a sense, or fills a sense. For example a photo might not be a very good visual experience as, although it draws the attention of our mind, visually it is just a few small splodges of colour, whereas something bright like a high-viz vest will draw your eye to it instantly, or looking through a tinted visor will fill the whole of your vision.

The relevance of the experience is judged in relation to the part of the story that it is about, so for example in my story about stars being born in stellar nurseries there is a line about the particles in the gas clouds getting squashed and squeezed and becoming hot. This is partnered with a small hand warmer that heats up as it is squeezed, directly mirroring the language in the story.

Think about the sensory palette of your environment, what experiences do you have to offer? Try to cover as many senses as you can over the course of the story. Get ambitious and go for more than five, I run to seven and sometimes even nine in my work. We, arguably, have 33 sensory systems so there are plenty to choose from. Using all your senses will enable you to include those usually excluded, and it enriches the experience for everyone. Have fun on your sensory adventures and if you would like to learn more you can join me for Ambitious and Inclusive Sensory Story Telling next year (discounted advanced tickets are on sale now).

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