Introducing Spargoland: A brief insight into sensory integration for children with cerebral palsy
I explore an innovative concept and the benefits underpinning sensory integration theories, with brain injured children in mind.
Spargoland – the ‘sensory salon’
Based in Brentwood, Essex, Ian Marshall (Director of ‘Spargo’) has created a salon exclusively for children and adults with disabilities that would otherwise make it very difficult for them to experience a normal salon environment. The space has been created to allow them to have a comfortable and enjoyable experience. The salon was inspired by Ian’s now five year old nephew, Oscar, who unfortunately suffered a brain injury at birth and subsequently developed cerebral palsy.
Spargoland includes ‘a range of facilities including low sensory lighting, a padded play area and relaxing music’ to ensure everyone receives the ‘Spargoland experience they deserve’. As well as this there are a range of treatments offered, from a standard haircut to highlights and hair-dying.
The remarkable work of the salon has not gone unnoticed, winning ‘Innovation of the Year’ at HJ’s British Hairdressing Business Awards in September 2018. As Ian puts it himself:
“This is the first salon of its kind and I hope the success continues to grow so that as many people can experience the environment they have created. This has not deterred visitors, who often travel great distances so their children can experience the salon and treatments offered.”
‘Spargoland’ operates as a charity and donations can be sent, either as a one off or monthly pledge. All money raised goes towards the running costs of the salon and ensuring as many children and adults can benefit from this venture as possible.
My experience with CP
My work with children with brain injuries relates a great deal to children with cerebral palsy, ranging in different severities of the disorder. Since doing this work, I have been made aware of the effects on not only the child’s life, but the families’ too. With that being said, this has also introduced me to the various treatments and therapies available to children.
As mentioned above, Spargoland has focused on creating a ‘sensory’ environment as a way of stimulating its clients and creating a comfortable space for them to enjoy. Whilst I previously had a basic knowledge of sensory equipment, I have been introduced to its uses and benefits especially during the developmental years of a child’s life. Engaging a child’s senses can be so important to their wellbeing.
I have taken inspiration from the amazing work done at the salon to try and provide an insight into sensory integration therapy, to help shed some light on its importance and benefits to a child suffering from cerebral palsy.
For those who may be unfamiliar with cerebral palsy, you can find further information in Bolt Burdon Kemp’s ‘CP Hub’ which includes contributions from case managers and charities, to provide a comprehensive portal to support parents with children affected by it.
A lot of today’s methods for incorporating sensory equipment into therapeutic treatment can be attributed to the theories of A. Jean Ayres during the 60’s and 70’s, who defined that the sensations we receive through our sensory developments allow us to produce purposeful, adaptive behaviours in response to the environment around us. For a child, this simply means that as they grow they will develop their motor skills, social skills and emotional responsiveness to situations through their senses.
This model was based on a hypothesis that in order for a child to develop normal behavioral responses to situations, they must be able to receive, modulate, integrate and process the sensory information that they are subjected too. However, children who suffer with cerebral palsy are often not able to do this to the same ability as their peers, therefore putting them at a disadvantage as they grow up. This coupled with the fact that the restrictions imposed on the senses is so far incurable, so therefore it is critical that developing them senses is given a lot of focus. The ‘sensory integration’ approach aims to assist with the normal development and improve a child’s ability to process sensory information from the affected senses.
Whilst this post focuses on cerebral palsy, sensory processing disorders also co-exist with other mental disorders such as autism and Down’s syndrome. Sensory integration therapy is also often provided in these scenarios:
Forms of sensory integration
Sensory treatment is more often than not curated and provided by an occupational therapist. There is no one way of providing it and it will be tailored to the individual child’s needs based upon their level of development and restrictions on senses. Below are a few examples I have become familiar with through the clients I have worked with:
- 1 to 1 therapy using specialised equipment
- This can either take place at the home or in a suitable environment, depending on the level of equipment needed
- More often than not these will be weekly or monthly sessions with regular reviews
- Environmental Adaptations
- This will involve adapting a room or small space in the client’s home that can be utilised for developing senses. It will often be adapted to the specific needs and contain various equipment that can be used whenever necessary
- Often this will be combined with a programme or advice from an occupational therapist on how to use the area most effectively for a child’s development.
- School Care
- Similar to the above 1 to 1 therapy, a child may benefit from having sensory development whilst at school. This may assist with their concentration levels and allow them to benefit as much as possible whilst learning.
It will often start with an assessment and observation of the child to determine where the deficits in the child’s sensory perception exist and tailor the treatment to tackle these specifically. Therapists will often take cues from the reactions of the child to the particular sensory therapy they are receiving and adapt it as necessary. This is often reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that progress is being made.
Benefits of sensory integration
I have touched on why sensory development is important to children with learning difficulties, but how specifically can this type of treatment benefit a child in these circumstances?
The list is non-exhaustive and each individual child will have different treatments depending on their needs. Each type of cerebral palsy presents different symptoms therefore the therapy will be aimed at improving these areas, providing a different benefit for each individual child.
It must be noted that parents and carergivers will also benefit from a child receiving this type of treatment, as it will teach how to productively interact with your child and enhance the relationship you have with them. This type of therapy aims to improve a child’s quality of life by getting them to engage with their surroundings, which is reassuring for a parent.
Given the common symptoms of cerebral palsy being related to the muscles (variations in tone, spasticity or rigidity) this type of integration may be particularly helpful. Therapies can be tailored to enhance behaviours such as:
- Sleep cycles
Psychological symptoms of cerebral palsy are often overlooked, but sensory therapies can aim to assist the child with dealing with:
- Restlessness (linked with the sleep cycles above)
Sensory development aimed at helping with psychological symptoms could be particularly effective as a child gets older, given their transitions through schools and into their teenage years.
This is a small introduction into the possibilities surrounding sensory integration therapy and its benefits to children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities alike. With Spargoland in mind, there is hope that more initiatives will be taken in the future to ensure other challenging activities can be adapted to suit the needs of these children and adults.