8–9 October 2002, Heritage Hotel, Portlaoise
The conference was attended by 70 participants from all over the country. It was opened on the evening of 8 October by Winifred O’Hanrahan, Chairperson of the Federation of Voluntary Bodies. The guest speaker on the following day was Eadaoin Bhreathnach, Consultant Occupational Therapist, who specialises in sensory integration as an approach to working with people who have severe profound intellectual disabilities. She runs the Magheralone Therapy Centre in Northern Ireland. Eadaoin gave an informative and thought-provoking overview of her work. She highlighted the key principles of a sensory enriched programme as follows:
- Let the individual be your guide, i.e. their likes/dislikes
- If the individual is calmer afterwards, the programme is meeting his/her needs
- If the individual enjoys an activity but becomes over-aroused, impulsive and disorganised, the programme is not appropriate to the person’s needs.
Eadaoin challenged us to think about over-stimulating clients in activation, how activities are presented, the importance of observing the environments in which we carry out activities, and the nature of necessary and unnecessary intrusions.
Sensory integration is about giving the person with intellectual disability back control as an individual, respecting person at his/her own level and not fitting them into the boxes we create. Eadaoin suggested we should look at the person, take cues from them when to start an activity and when to stop. Find out what is reality for each person—what he/she wants—after all, the best teachers are our clients.
The conference included workshops on arts and crafts, glass painting, stress management in the work place, and activities for the elderly.
Structured networking groups occurred on the following topics:
- Building bridges between day and residential services
- Practical suggestions for keeping staff motivated
- Social opportunities, holidays and leisure activities
- How can we implement sensory integration into our daily practice?
In evaluating the conference—Eadaoinn Bhreathnach’s presentation was very positively received by the conference participants and a number of people wished to have a longer session with her. On the negative side, time was a factor and for others the overnight stay posed a difficulty. Some of the suggestions made for future conference topics were:
- Music/movement to music
- Adapted games
- Person-centred planning
- Multisensory room (Richard Hirstwood)
- Intensive interaction
- Colour therapy
- More on sensory integration
- Art therapy
(The Activity Networking Group Newsletter will include all the suggestions made.) Overall, the conference was very successful and the committee will take on board participants’ suggestions for future presentations and improvements.