Connor's Sensory Room
When eighteen month old Connor, from the village of Rhiwderin near Newport in South Wales, was finally diagnosed as severely autistic he was highly active but demonstrated a complete lack of communication, leading to inevitable frustrations.
Now approaching four years old Connor still has little speech and makes limited eye contact. Until recently his communication difficulties, both verbal and non-verbal, made daily life difficult, as his mother Sabrina explained: ‘Connor is a very active boy and this can lead to frustration and some aggression. He has no interest in ordinary toys, he gets aggravated just lining up his cars. Bedtime could also be difficult as he doesn’t need much sleep.
When Connor was a year old Sabrina saw early signs of his condition but, in her words, it took six months of ‘kicking up a fuss’ to get a formal diagnosis. She continued to seek help and advice wherever she could and eventually discovered a website for Cerebra, the unique national charity founded in 2001 that works to improve the lives of children up to sixteen years of age with brain-related neurological conditions. As part of their support they run a free postal library scheme and the Cerebra Innovation Centre, which helps parents and carers access specialist equipment that is not readily available elsewhere. ‘They were the most helpful of anyone’, remembered Sabrina. ‘I first contacted their library and borrowed some books, then I borrowed a Sensory-in-a-Suitcase kit and it was amazing.’
The Sensory-in-a-Suitcase contains a wealth of sensory equipment ideal for therapy, education and play activities, but how did Connor take to it? ‘At first I took the case into a dark room and let him look for himself,’ explained Sabrina. ‘He’s very sensory-led, so he just loves the sensory toys in the suitcase; they calm him down a treat.’ The range of toys meant there were stimulating play activities and also the opportunity for more calm, relaxing play. In fact the calming toys have had a positive effect on Connor’s bedtime routine. ‘He plays in the dark room and it really calms him down. He often just falls asleep,’ said Sabrina.
Connor’s brother Ethan also enjoys sharing the Sensory-in-a-Suitcase. ‘Ethan can now play with his brother,’ said Sabrina. ‘It’s great. They go in the quiet, dark room together and he holds up the mirror chime mobile, which is Connor’s favourite, and really shares with him.’
Sabrina also appreciates the range of equipment in the suitcase. ‘There’s so much stuff in it, it’s brilliant’, she said. ‘Once he starts getting used to something, that’s the time to change to another toy. It keeps him interested. His current favourite is the Mirror Chime Mobile. He often brings that downstairs with him during the day.'
With a continuing need for more funding there is a long waiting list for specialist equipment from Cerebra. ‘We tried a box of musical toys,’ said Sabrina, ‘but he just wasn’t interested. We had to wait for the Sensory-in-a-Suitcase and we’ve had it for a month, but it was worth it. We’re now trying to get a grant from Cerebra to get our own. When Connor is playing in a calm, dark room it’s wonderful for him, and for all of us. It’s absolutely fantastic without a doubt.’