Published twice a year, WLV Life is packed full of the latest University and alumni news and events, keeping you up-to-date with all the goings-on within your alumni community.
Each issue features engaging stories on different themes and we catch up with alumni old and new to find out what they have been up to since leaving the University.
Our sensory system gives us the information we need to be able to go about our daily lives. Sound, sight, touch, smell, taste – plus the lesser well-known balance and body awareness – all work together, sending messages to our brain for it to interpret. The process is called sensory integration and is responsible for how we feel emotionally, how we react in situations, and how we interact with others, based on the sensory input we receive from the world around us.
For us to function effectively, all seven senses need to be adequately balanced. For the majority of us this is something we learn to develop as we progress through childhood, yet there are some children who find it a much tougher challenge, one made harder by the fact that parents, teachers, and health professionals often don’t even realise the reason behind it is actually a medical condition – specifically, a sensory processing disorder (SPD).
Sensory processing disorders exist when sensory integration doesn’t develop as efficiently as it should during standard childhood development. The messages the brain receives become mixed up and the nervous system has difficulty organising them into appropriate responses. To the onlooker, they may simply see a “problem child”, but children with the condition have a constant struggle to process and appropriately act upon sensory information. It can affect attention and behaviour, social skills and self-esteem, play skills, motor skills and even daily living and routines such as sleeping and eating.
It was through volunteering with French Squared, who support children and young people with complex needs, that graduate Lucy Taylor realised her own son’s behaviour difficulties were similar to the characteristics of SPD. Having gained a first class honours degree in Special Needs, Inclusion Studies and Education Studies, she decided to apply what she had learned.
She says: “I started initially by including various sensory movement and play strategies into his home life, and gradually we started to see really positive changes in his behaviour as well as positive feedback from his school.”
Witnessing the benefits first-hand, Lucy became determined to raise awareness of SPD so that others who were experiencing similar concerns with their children could start to get the support they needed. With links to health, education and social care professionals through her degree, as well as families from her volunteering, Lucy approached the University’s SPEED Plus programme to help her start her own business – Sensory Wise.
She says: “I’ve always wanted to start my own business, but I lacked confidence in my ability to cope with such an enormous task. I saw SPEED Plus as a way of building my confidence and resilience so that I could turn my ideas into a reality and overcome my fears about going it alone.”
Based in Dudley, Sensory Wise raises awareness of SPD by providing expert advice, information and resources to families, schools and educators.
“There’s such little understanding out there of SPD even though it affects nearly 20% of the UK population and exists across a person’s entire lifespan,” Lucy explains. “It is often misunderstood as a behavioural problem, and because it’s only recognised as a condition within a condition and not a stand-alone one, without assessment and correct diagnosis it is very hard to access appropriate support. I’m eager to get schools and healthcare organisations to start acknowledging the needs of people who live with SPD.”
This is particularly important given the long term impact the condition can have. Not only can it hinder learning in the classroom, and in turn affect educational achievements and career choices, but it also has wider social impact in how people with SPD interact with other people and their perception of self-worth.
Lucy’s business includes an online shop which sells a wide range of sensory toys, play items and equipment.
She says: “I want Sensory Wise to be affordable and inclusive to enable families to have access to resources normally only found in schools and therapy sessions.”
Customers already include parents, teachers, occupational therapists and day nurseries and they have also expressed a desire to use the Sensory Wise website as a learning resource for parents and educators to help teach them about sensory integration, sensory processing disorder, and ultimately how to be sensory wise.
Lucy says: “It’s important that SPD is identified early, and teachers as well as parents are in the best position to observe children over extended periods of time. One of my ambitions is to get Sensory Wise involved in national Teacher Training Programmes; that way I can better equip teachers to spot children who are struggling and they can get the support they need more quickly.”
The success of Lucy’s business has been so significant that in July last year, less than a year after launching, she won the Graduate Start-up of the Year award at the University of Wolverhampton Business Achievement Awards 2015.
She says: “I was up against strong competition so it felt fantastic to win. I used the money to get branded Sensory Wise items like our uniform, and the next step is to redevelop the website.”
Looking to the future, Lucy will be exhibiting at more community and fundraising events. She will also continue to build the Sensory Wise range of products to include more sports and fitness and larger sensory room equipment. Plans to grow the education side of the business are also underway through organised events, workshops and training sessions.
Lucy concludes: “I now have the confidence in my abilities and the worth of my business to make the most of this opportunity. I want to use Sensory Wise to help children and families who often ‘fall through the net’ to be supported. Sensory processing difficulties must be taken seriously, and then hopefully I can start to make a change to the lives of many children and help improve the wellbeing of them and their families.”
Find out more about sensory integration, sensory processing disorder and how to be sensory wise at: sensorywise.co.uk