Therapy Centre NI, Dungannon
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Sensory Attachment Intervention (SAI)

Sensory Attachment Intervention or SAI brings together the principles of Sensory Integration, with the theory of attachment, that is the relationship and connection you have with your child.

The key focus of Sensory Attachment Intervention is REGULATION.

Regulation means feeling calm, balanced, and ready for your day. Eadaoin Breathnach the founder and creator of SAI calls it ‘The Just Right State’.

Sensory Attachment Intervention Dungannon County Tyrone

Negative experiences in the womb and in early childhood impact on the developing brain and on a child’s capacity to cope with stress throughout life. There is a tendency to either: fight, flight, freeze, or feign helplessness. Often children react impulsively and present with very big emotions and behaviours when they are triggered by a reminder of traumatic events.

Traumatised children and adults are hyper-vigilant, which means their sensory system is very highly attuned to their environment scanning for anything which may seem dangerous or threatening. Their early experiences have taught them to maintain this state to keep safe and to survive.

However, being in this state of constant fear means the growing child does not develop physically, emotionally, relationally, socially or cognitively in the way they could.

As adults we have all experienced DYSREGULATION. Days when too much stress leads to our own emotional and behavioural (over) reactions. We’ve all flipped our lid at some point or another. We are all human. Do not judge yourself! It’s important to be compassionate towards yourself first, so that we have the emotional capacity to be compassionate and caring to others.

When we feel stressed and dysregulated, our children feel it too.

SAI reminds us that being regulated, supports our children to feel regulated too.

When we spend time with our children in a regulated state, we are not only developing and nurturing a beautiful relationship, we are treating our children’s nervous and sensory system to a healthy dose of regulation.

Being in a calm cared for regulated state means the growing child has all the right ingredients to develop physically, emotionally, relationally, socially and cognitively in the way they should.

Stuart Shanker Quote

Regulating with your child doing fun activities together, or just spending quality time watching TV is a superb Sensory Attachment experience. It’s therapeutic both for your child, and for you.

Regulating together is called co-regulation and is the foundational and felt experience children need to be able to develop the ability to self-regulate.

A child can not learn to regulate or feel calm on their own, or by attending an emotional regulation course.

This ability comes from feeling this experience alongside, and with you, and with the important adults in their lives.  The child’s sensory system, (the survival brain) is the source of regulation, not the ‘thinking and learning’ brain.

When is this approach used?

This therapeutic approach is most commonly used with children who have experienced developmental and relational trauma, which infers they have not had the best start in life. Their parents or caregivers may not have been emotionally or physically able to give them the care, love and attention they need. Often through having experience of trauma themselves.

Dr Bruce Perry, who formulated the Neuro Sequential Model of Therapeutics, said that "Therapeutic approaches must appreciate the persistent fear state that traumatised children experience and must be directed at the areas of the brain which mediate this alarm fear continuum".

Sensory Attachment Intervention does just this; and aims to repair the traumatised brain from the bottom up.

What does an SAI session look like?

Sensory Attachment Intervention sessions are aimed at helping a child to co-regulate with their parents or carers.

Sessions may use principles from the Sensory Integration approach, and they will always involve the parents or carers in sessions. The child and parent are active participants.

Sessions are video recorded to enable the parents or carer’s to recognise how and when the child becomes dysregulated.

Video feedback sessions are part of the therapy and the therapist will help parents look at the triggers to dysregulation and find strategies to help with calming and achieving a "Just Right State“ together.

SAI helps the child and parent or caregiver experience shared joy and pleasure which plays a large part in strengthening their relationship. Increasing time spent in a regulated state ensures the child has excellent conditions for neuro-developmental growth, healing and recovery.

What to expect from the Assessment?

There are a few stages within the Assessment phase.

It is important to gather as much relevant information about the child and family as possible to inform a therapeutic rationale.

Following this, I will meet with the parent’s or carers and any other health professionals involved in the child’s life, if relevant, to complete a Sensory Arousal and Attachment Profile.

This involves completing a questionnaire about a child's sensory and behavioural responses to various situations such as his or her survival strategies in anxious situations, their sleeping habits, and food preferences, and what the children and carer’s already do to regulate together. What is working well, and what is challenging.

I will also observe the child in relation to their ability to respond to sensory input in all the 8 sensory areas, looking for triggers to dysregulation, as well as any sensorimotor processing SAI involves observation of the child with their parent or care-giver, often as stated with the use of video so that further analysis can be carried out later, and feedback given in a separate session with the parents or caregiver.

What to expect following assessment?

After the full assessment, a plan of intervention is formed, tailored to the child’s individual profile, and to the family’s / caregivers needs.

There will be high importance given to nurturing activities such as deep pressure (proprioceptive) to promote calming, as well as time spent engaging in meaningful fun activities experiencing shared joy and pleasure TOGETHER.

 Many children who have experienced trauma are functioning throughout their day in a ‘high arousal state’. The priority in treatment is, "to facilitate a controlled and regulated response to sensory stimuli and engagement with others" (Bhreathnach 2013).

Intervention will always consider the child’s sensory and motor skills together with the parent child relationship.

We will consider the use of different therapeutic approaches to support improvements in these areas. We may use any of the following approaches, or indeed a combination. These will be discussed with you when it is identified which might be most appropriate.

  • Sensory Attachment Intervention Sessions
  • Just-Right State Children and Parents Programme
  • Group Sessions
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