According to a new report by Sensory Integration Education (SIE), professionals working with people with sensory difficulties said the toughest challenge presented by the pandemic restrictions was being unable to deliver face-to-face therapy or support. Individuals with sensory difficulties and their families and carers reported that nearly a quarter had put their therapy or support on hold during the pandemic this summer. However, with schools closed and social events cancelled, nearly half of responding individuals and families said they appreciated the opportunity to stick to their home routines.
The report, Sensory Challenges During a Pandemic: Providing and Accessing Therapy, explores how professionals working with people with sensory difficulties; individuals with sensory difficulties; and the parents or carers of people with sensory difficulties have coped during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in regard to the ability to deliver or access therapy for sensory difficulties.
Between 5 October and 15 November 2020, SIE hosted two surveys - respondents comprised: 231 health and education professionals working with people with sensory challenges; 31 people with sensory challenges or their parents or carers. The majority of respondents were UK and Ireland based.
What do we mean by sensory challenges?
Sensory integration or processing difficulties are problems with organising and responding to information that comes in through the senses. People may be over sensitive to sensory input (they overreact to sensory input and can become overwhelmed and hyperactive); under sensitive (they underreact to sensory input or need more of it to function); or both depending on the kind of sensory input. Sensory integration difficulties often co-occur with other conditions including ADHD and autism.
Based on the results of these surveys, the new report, Sensory Challenges During a Pandemic: Providing and Accessing Therapy, found the following:
Of the professionals providing therapy and support during the pandemic:
- 38% said the toughest challenge presented by the pandemic in relation to work was being unable to deliver face-to-face therapy or support.
- 26% reported that the new ways of working or the inability to work under the pandemic restrictions had had a negative impact on their mental health.
- 18% reported witnessing negative effects of the pandemic environment on their clients or pupils.
- 31% reported increased waiting times for therapy or support.
- Over 60% had delivered therapy via a video call; 76% had used video calls to keep in touch with clients/pupils.
- 17% said that they had been furloughed, redeployed, working reduced hours or had lost their job during the pandemic.
- 26% said that they had worked more hours than normal during the pandemic; 27% indicated they had worked fewer hours; and 48% said that their working hours had not changed.
- 85% believed that the way they worked was permanently changed now.
The respondents provided a wide range of advice and recommendations for professionals working in similar circumstances. See the full report for these.
Of the people, families and carers accessing therapy and support during the pandemic:
- 22% had accessed therapy/support by online or by phone; 9% had accessed therapy/support in person; a further 9% by a blend of virtual and in-person; 24% had their therapy put on hold; and 38% were not receiving therapy before the pandemic.
- Reported negative effects of the pandemic restrictions included:
- Missing usual therapeutic support; missing support from school; a frustration at being stuck in the house; anxiety about risk and hygiene measures; feelings of isolation; reduced opportunity for exercise and too much screen time; difficulty self-regulating and feeling overloaded and overwhelmed; as well as changes to routine.
- Reported positive effects of the pandemic restrictions included:
- 46% gave replies relating to be able to stick to home routines. Although 11% said that there were no positive aspects, other respondents found that their daily experience improved because they were not required to travel or attend sensory overwhelming situations such as school and social interactions. Several responses referred to feeling calmer and less stressed.
Where do we go from here?
It is clear that there is a big task ahead in resuming therapy and support for individuals and families but also in establishing better-planned working practices and conditions for the health and education professionals that are safe, effective and sustainable in the longer term. The impact on training and continuing professional development, particularly where access to clinical experience is reduced and the ability to work directly alongside colleagues is limited, will require innovative, flexible solutions. There is still so much we need to better understand: suggested research areas are listed at the end of the full report.
SIE is very grateful to the survey participants who have contributed to a greater understanding of how the lockdown and subsequent ongoing pandemic restrictions to work and daily life have affected them.
Access the full report here: Sensory Challenges During a Pandemic: Providing and Accessing Therapy
Sensory Integration Education is a not-for-profit organisation providing world-class, transformational learning and a community of practice in the area of sensory integration since 1994.