May 13, 2019
Mercy High School’s first ever sophomore personal project assignment provided a unique insight into the interests and ideas of the class of 2021. One sophomore’s project that really stood out was Natalie Vancura’s analysis on Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Natalie spent time working at White Oak Elementary School to help better understand the challenges a child with SPD must face daily. She provided a detailed account of her experiences and discoveries that shaped the way she views people with the disorder.
Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition where “the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses.” People with SPD are more likely to have a lack of coordination, a difficulty determining where their limbs are, or a hard time engaging in play. SPD is linked to autism and is not seen as a “stand-alone disorder”. Many experts believe it should change because many people who are found with the disorder are not on the autism spectrum. Just like autism, SPD exists on a spectrum. Some people may be sensitive to all five senses but others might be affected by only one or two. It is possible to live a functional and productive life with SPD with the help of therapists and schools.
Natalie’s project began with one essential question: “What resources are available to aid children with sensory processing disorder?” As a disorder that is not widely recognized by experts, it can be difficult for patients to find the help they need. Natalie is personally impacted by this as her brother lives with SPD, and realized that this project can greatly aid other people looking for resources. Natalie then began visiting White Oak School, “a special needs elementary school in Baltimore County.” While working with the school, she “was able to take a tour of their sensory room and meet the sensory teacher, Ms. Gail Madison.” In the sensory room, there were a variety of stations that the students were encouraged to explore. Natalie learned that the stations must have at least two items per station, must be appropriate for children between ages two to four, and must be colorful and creative. The objects help the students remain engaged and calm during class.
Natalie was very intrigued by the sensory stations that she decided to create some of her own for other people to use. She was mainly inspired by the “sensory trays and boxes filled with items such as water beads, rice, cotton balls, and corn.” She designed two picture books using felt, stickers, and other crafting materials called “It’s Potty Time!” and “Let’s Celebrate Your Birthday!” The idea behind these books is to encourage kids to read and understand language and to provide kids with a sensory tool to calm them down in times of stress. Natalie also made her own play doh that looks and smells like cake batter and a box that looks like a birthday cake.
Natalie said she thoroughly enjoyed the personal project because it opened her eyes to the struggles people with SPD face, the tools that are used to decrease sensitivity toward certain senses, and the lack of research around SPD and why research is necessary.
Source: Natalie Vancura ’21