30 Jun

Thoughts From a Therapist: Magic Expectations

Originally published on Sensory Integration Education on 19 December 2023.

In this month’s Thoughts From a Therapist article, Anna Willis, Occupational Therapist and Advanced Practitioner in Sensory Integration, looks at setting expectations at this time of year.

Ah, the festive season is upon us! Everywhere looks different, sometimes smells different and there’s lots of different activities going on. At this time of year in particular, we often have high expectations of making magical memories, only to realise that perhaps all the magic may instead be creating overwhelm. 

For the families we support, often a large part of our role can be helping to reframe expectations. For example, if someone struggles with bright lights all year round, they may not quickly switch gears to enjoying all the sparkly lights at Christmas. 

Equally though, some children surprise us with how they do cope, leaving parents perplexed at why. Usually, the answer is ‘motivation’. Going into a bright supermarket is different from going into a Christmas grotto knowing you’ll get a present! 

Speaking of expectations, I visited a primary school recently who have reflected that their older students tend to regulate really well in the early years (reception, aged 4-5 years old) playground. So, we have been busy planning how to redesign their pastoral outside space with that in mind. 

The school system seems to have an expectation that, after reception, the majority of children quickly lose the need for sensory play and environments tend to reflect that. However, we know that isn’t the case! So we’re introducing a mud kitchen, a swing, loose tyres, water and sand play, and maybe even a floor-level trampoline, so that pupils can continue to access these fabulous sensory activities all the way up to year 6. Next stop will be getting secondary schools on board with a slightly more grown-up version!

I hope you all have the chance to rest and cosy up over this mid-winter break and meet your own sensory needs for comfort.

Warmest regards

Anna Willis

PS You may also be interested in one of our recent Sensory Snapshot blogs which takes a look at what schools need to be doing to become more sensory-friendly. You can read the full blog here.

Thoughts From a Therapist is a regular series written by Advanced SI Practitioner Anna Willis about something that piqued her professional interest or inspired her in some way over the last month. Anna, an occupational therapist and owner of Active Play Therapies, has over ten years of experience working with children and adults with a range of learning disabilities and autism.