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Take Care of Sensory Needs First

Posted Mar 29, 2021 - 11:15am

By Lance McLemore, PRC-Saltillo Blogger

I’m assuming that many people who read this blog are familiar with the LAMP method. In case you are not familiar with it, it is a therapeutic approach for teaching language. LAMP Words for Life is a language system designed to follow this approach. The LAMP method has 5 components, and the one I want to focus on here is “readiness to learn.”  Basically, this means that your sensory systems have to be at a certain optimal arousal level to be able to learn and communicate. You cannot learn very well if you’re falling asleep or if you’re too hyped up to pay attention. I’ve attended several LAMP trainings over the last few years, and I’ve heard it many times. I recently had a conversation that caused me to give it more thought.

I’ve been thinking about how this component of LAMP applies to me personally. I think it’s commonly known that autistic people have problems with sensory integration, and I am no exception. All of my senses are hyped up to some degree, but my vision bothers me the most with my hearing being a close second.

I remember my dysfunctional visual processing causing me ample misery when I was in university. The first couple of years that I was in university I wore Irlen lenses which helped tremendously. After transferring to my second university, I couldn’t get them anymore. Every day I would sit in my classes, and my eyes would sting, burn, throb, and occasionally one would feel like it might burst. I could feel the pain traveling along my optic nerve to the back of my head, and then my head would start throbbing as well. I had to sit there and try to pay attention when all I wanted to do was run to a dark room. Knowing that I couldn’t leave somehow made the experience seem worse.

I have no doubt that this sensory storm going on in my brain had a deleterious effect on my learning and communication. A calm brain functions the best, but stress tends to diminish its optimal functioning. I was always either hyped up or exhausted from being hyped up. As an autistic person, social interaction is challenging under the best of circumstances. Add in a sensory disturbance, and it becomes more difficult.  How could I communicate my best when all I wanted to do was crawl out of my skin? How could I communicate when I was so exhausted from trying not to look like I was crazy?

I see “readiness to learn” as the foundation. If you’re sensory system is unsettled, then learning and communication will not happen. You’re just wasting your time. Asking someone with a dysfunctional sensory system to learn something or communicate is like asking someone who just broke their arm to sit down and calmly write an essay about The Scarlet Letter. I have seen children running around agitated, covering their ears, moving their hands in front of their eyes, screaming, biting, pinching, kicking, etc. And I have seen others disinterested and nearly falling asleep. I suspect that some of those behaviors are caused by overstimulation or lack thereof.  They’re not going to learn much if anything in such a state. Parents, teachers, and other staff will need to do some detective work to try to figure out the problem and correct it.

Remember to lay a good foundation for communication. Take care of the sensory needs first. If you don’t, it will just cause frustration for everyone.

Communicators In Action  -    autism, aac, sensory,