Touching Stories - multi-sensory stories for people with intellectual disabilities

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Finding sensory stories

The Hardware Store will never be the same to me... nor will the fabric store, the craft store or the music store.
Everywhere I go these days, I find myself touching, feeling for sharp edges, thumping for sound effect, squeezing things, turning them upside down -- I have become a sensory-seeking machine!
People often ask where the ideas come from for our stories.  Occasionally, someone will have an idea for a story that's based on a folktale, a memory, or a story they've heard from one of our clients that is the basis for a story.
Often, though, the story comes together in the hardware store.  Walking through our favorite hardware place (The Big Toolbox in Centennial, CO is the best -- a real, old fashioned neighborhood hardware store filled with people who know hardware and are willing to go to great lengths to help us find the linoleum tile that feels most like elephant skin., we find things that are shiny, or that make a cool noise, or feel really good when squeezed or shaken, and we NEED to make a story using that item -- and that's the starting place.
The other day, at the music store with my recently guitar-obsessed son, I found a Remo Thunder Tube.  It's a little cardboard tube, about 6 inches long and two inches in diameter with a drum skin stretched across one end and a long, flexible spring hanging out of it like a tail.  Shake it, and BINGO -- thunder!  I knew we needed to use it.
I brought the tube to our next meeting.  My 5-year-old niece offered up her rainstick to go with it, someone else mentioned the idea of opening and closing an umbrella.  Toss in flashing lights for lightning, a squirt bottle for rain, and we had the beginnning of a really exciting new story!
Sometimes it all comes together and works -- like with Renee's Ride, one of our most recent stories that started with a wheelchair brake and a bottle of lilac scent and became a story with fable contruction about a crazy ride down a long hill in a wheel chair.
Other times, the idea is there, the items are there, but, for some reason, we can't get the story right. And we have to scrap it and begin again.
A great deal goes in to creating a good sensory story.  Is it short, simple, and sensory-based?  Are there sensory elements that will coincide with every sentence of the story?  Are the sensory elements durable, portable, affordable and safe?  Can it be replicated?  Can it be used by people with limited fine motor skills or range of motion? 
After we have a product for which we can answer yes to all the following question, we begin to pilot the story, presenting it to real audiences of people with developmental disabilities (a BIG shout-out here to Laradon Hall in Denver for being our go-to place for piloting our stories).  Sometimes it works, and sometimes, even after we have done everything "right," the story just falls flat -- it doesn't engage the audience.  And then it's back to the drawing board.
All in all, it takes months of work and hundreds of dollars to create new stories, but once we have a story that works -- well, that's priceless.

30 Comments to Finding sensory stories:

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Loelle on Thursday, March 08, 2012 9:11 AM
You are like the women at the store, "squeezing the charmin"!
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Yes I am! But I'm also sqeezing the plunger and the slinky and the...

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