Adventures for the Senses

Article excerpt

Fun is all around at Sensory Adventure Camp

During a meeting with some parents at a community play center, I was asked if Duquesne University (where I work) would be willing to support a parent-initiated effort to create a sensory experience camp for special children. One parent had been taking her daughter to a local gymnastics group and was upset at the difference between her child's motor performance and that of the other children. Out of this frustration grew a fun and innovative motor and sensory experience for children with developmental delays: Sensory Adventure Camp.

Sensory Adventure Camp is based upon Sensory Integration Theory and the work of Jean Ayres; however, it is not therapy. It is simply an opportunity for parents and children to experience play geared toward sensory stimulation. The activities at Sensory Adventure Camp are grounded on the idea that the central nervous system develops and is enhanced by sorting out and connecting input from the environment through the body's sensory systems.

Children with sensory processing disorders cannot sort out the sensory information; therefore, they exhibit atypical behaviors in reaction to the input they receive through their senses. They may have extreme reactions to the task of toothbrushing, for example, and may cry, resist, or dislike the sensations of the activity because they cannot integrate them.

Children naturally seem to seek out the experiences that they can process. Drawing on that natural inclination, we allowed each child at Sensory Camp to select the activities in which he or she wanted to participate. Each session has a theme with corresponding activities. Camp participants are encouraged to explore eight challenging stations that are focused on different sensory activities. Typically, sensory experiences include tactile (touch), vestibular Coalance), olfactory (smell), and gustatory (taste) as well as gross/fine motor (large and small muscle actions).

Getting started

To help the concept become a reality, a committee was formed including parents, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, and an early development specialist. These committed volunteers developed a plan of action:

* The Camp would be held for three hours, one day per week, in six-week sessions.

* Different themes were developed for each of the six consecutive weeks.

* Volunteer occupational therapy students were recruited to RUn the activities. Volunteer professionals provided supervision for the children's safety, and monitoring of physiological and behavioral responses.

* The Camp needed a place "to be." The group found that the Center for Creative Play, the community's inclusive play center, had a conference room available for use on Sunday mornings,

* Equipment needed was provided by the University and transported there for the day.

Though it is still in its formative stages, Sensory Camp now has a two-year track record of providing motor and sensory experiences for special-needs children. Children with autism, cerebral palsy, and many others have enjoyed the activities designed at the Camp. The OT students, participating as Camp staff, have an opportunity for hands-on learning.

Some "sensory adventures"

Here are examples of activities based on a circus theme. (All Campers and activities were carefully supervised and supported by the Camp staff.)

Tactile: We filled a child-size swimming pool with ball-pit balls. Children were encouraged to get into the middle of the ball pit and find circus props, such as little plastic clowns, buried within the balls.

Vestibular: Seated on a T-swing, children assembled an image of a clown by placing pieces of felt on a board in front of the swing. The children leaned down to pick up felt pieces from the floor and placed them on a felt-covered board on the wall. …