In consideration of children with sensory processing disorders (SPD), I began my creative practice with research. I found sensory processing disorders can affect the behavioral, emotional, and social functioning of 5% to 17% of children (Goodman-Scott, Burgess, Bobzien, Melton, Lambert, 2016). SPD can be difficult to recognize, and has been associated with the development of eating disorders and other health-related problems.
Ballet, as a codified genre of dance, provides a ritualistic approach to art. The class always begins at the barre, moves across the floor, and then finishes with Centre exercises. Youth with SPD are sensitive to unfamiliar changes in their environment, and establishing a regular schedule, particularly one with an accompanying visual timetable, will help them feel more prepared to engage in their environment.
However, dance can be overwhelming because of auditory stimuli. An instructor’s voice paired with live or recorded accompaniment can become overwhelming. The mirror can also pose visual stress, as it modifies the depth perception of the room. In consideration of these factors, I prepared for my creative practice as follows:
- Clear the space of any superfluous clutter or distracting objects
- Draw a curtain over any large mirrors
- Soundproof the room to reduce echo
- Create and display a visual time table of the class content (example shown below using pages)
- If possible, talk to the student’s caregiver. Discover which stimuli are most difficult to cope with and begin to establish a more personal understanding of who you’ll be working with.
For the class itself, I planned the following:
- Introduce myself and explain the classroom rituals
- Allow students to explore the tactile sensation of using/holding the barre
- Have a conversation about music and establish whether silence is most beneficial
- Slowly introduce the movements within the class progression and take time to reinforce memorization of terminology
- Follow the class timetable from start to finish and allow opportunities for the student to lead as they become familiar with the material. This can be done with follow-the-leader exercises, mirroring, or, if applicable, improvisation after a combination
Below I've uploaded a video of my creative practice in action. The volunteer in the video is portraying a participant with auditory sensitivity. She is wearing black, noise-cancelling headphones, and I am mirroring the movement for her. The intention is to limit stressful stimuli so the participant can focus on visually interpreting basic dance vocabulary.
Goodman-Scott, E., Burgess, M., Bobzien, J., Melton, R., & Lambert, S. (2016). Counseling Children and Adolescents with Sensory Processing Disorder: Results of an Exploratory National Study. Journal of Child and Adolescent Counseling,2(2), 77-94. doi:10.1080/23727810.2016.1172300