A few days ago, I mentioned that Learn 2 Focus is now offering Mendability, a program that uses sensory enrichment therapy for children who may have developmental disorders. Here’s my promised Q&A with Robert Hillyer, business development officer of Mendability. He was kind enough to share how the therapy works, what the exercises are like, and how the program is different from other kinds of therapy.
How did you get involved with Mendability?
Claudie Pomares developed Sensory Enrichment Therapy. I was introduced to her through her son Kim. Kim was running a small private clinic with Claudie delivering the therapy to families, and I was running a small business after leaving an automation engineering career to pursue inventing full-time. We met together each week to help each other with our businesses to brainstorm and share ideas.
One week, Kim mentioned how Claudie was only one person and that limited how many clients could benefit from this therapy. He had some ideas about how to expand the reach, but there were still many challenges. With my automation background, I was able to tell him how this could be automated, and how we could make a computer able to follow Claudie’s therapy decision process.
I worked with Kim and Claudie to first understand the therapy and how decisions were made, and then began modelling Claudie’s decision-making and her approach. After the first version was complete, Claudie would run the software to generate therapy worksheets and compare them to the ones she was creating. If she saw anything that needed improvement, the software would be updated and ‘trained’ to adjust its approach. Over a few years this ‘training’ continued for the software until it was not only consistently making correct worksheets.
This was about the time that Mendability was organized to offer this therapy as an online service to expand its reach. I started full-time to build the online delivery of it, help organize the videos and instructions of all of the exercises, and help build a company based on delivering therapy through the internet instead of a clinic.
How does Sensory Enrichment Therapy work for kids? Is it similar to sensory integration/primary reflex integration/neurodevelopmental therapy?
There are some points of similarities and some key differences. Sensory Enrichment Therapy is similar to many other sensory approaches in that the senses and movement are used. The differences come from how the senses are used and how the approach impacts brain function.
People are seeing things, hearing things, smelling things, and touching things all day long. Our brain process sensory inputs all the time. Sometimes these inputs are pleasant, sometimes they are unpleasant, and often they are simply ignored by the brain.
We can see that everyday sensory stimulation doesn’t do much to help repair a brain, because children with developmental delays don’t see improvements just by being around naturally occurring sensory stimulation. So effective therapeutic approaches attempt to use sensory stimulation in a positive way to do the most good.
But what is that? What works? How can you tell that a particular stimulation being offered to a child is going to help that child to recover from their symptoms?
I think one reason why Sensory Enrichment Therapy has become so effective at improving symptoms comes from the fact that every single therapy worksheet has specific scientific research backing it up. Not only do the worksheets select exercises that are appropriate for that particular individual, but the protocols themselves are based on hundreds of research articles that explain different brain responses to different kinds of sensory inputs; the importance of sensory pairings; and how Environmental Enrichment can help in the growth of new neurons, the development of new pathways, and the improvement to brain chemistry. This means that Sensory Enrichment Therapy really stands out and is very effective. It constantly draws on the research available to date to give powerful targeted and evidence-based sensory exercises that are best for an individual child at that particular time.
What are the exercises like? I read that it's like games?
The exercises are often formatted as sensory games. Each exercise targets a particular brain function and will usually pair senses together. The exercise is intended to activate a part of the brain that the software has determined is ready for growth or repair, based on the client’s feedback. Then comes the challenge of making that exercise fun. Often the exercise is actually a game that is played, but not every exercise is fun in a way that you might think of as fun. Other times it may be more enjoyable than ‘fun’ because of what it is doing to capture the individual’s attention.
Each exercise is only a couple of minutes long. There are about 10 minutes of exercises on a single worksheet. Besides that, there are few protocols that are done a few times throughout the day for maybe 20-30 seconds each time.
Each exercise has video instructions and written instructions. The exercises are all quite simple and involve items you would normally find in a home. If a parent has any questions at all, they can contact their therapist who may adjust the exercise a little to help the child’s interest or co-operation.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Q&A! Mahalo to Bob for taking the time to chat with us. You can learn more about Mendability at www.mendability.com.