Occupational Therapy for Trauma and Attachment

The Beacon House Occupational Therapy team specializes in assessments, intervention and advice to foster carers, adopters, birth parents and also to agencies and organisations who work with children who have experienced disrupted attachment and early trauma.

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Our therapeutic approach to working with traumatised children considers their primary sensory needs as well as their emotional, behavioural and cognitive needs. This often results in a phased, sequential treatment where a Sensory Attachment Intervention approach with an Occupational Therapist is offered first in order to help the child to become better regulated; before psychological therapy is offered focussing on their emotional and cognitive abilities.

All adopted children referred to Beacon House are able to access OT assessment and intervention funded through the Adoption Support Fund, which is a government initiative. Beacon House is one of the largest providers of adoption intervention funded via the ASF, and to access this families are encouraged to approach their Post-Adoption Team for an initial assessment.

We provide Training for schools, adoption and fostering agencies, and fostering and adoption support groups on issues relating to the link between sensory processing and attachment which can affect a child’s ability to regulate and focus. Difficulties with sensory processing in turn will affect academic learning.

  • We offer individual assessments with child and parent/carers looking at:
  1. The child’s engagement style
  2. The child’s sensory arousal levels
  3. The child’s strategies to modulate sensory systems
  4. The child’s engagement style with his or her carer
  5. The child’s sensory motor co-ordination.
  • We offer ongoing therapy to children, young people and families mostly using the Sensory Attachment Intervention model. After an assessment the most appropriate therapy approach will be chosen for your child. The goal of therapy is to help form good attachment and promote calm, regulated families who can enjoy each other.
  • We offer advice to parents/carers/schools on modulating their child’s arousal levels.

Sensory modulation enables a child to maintain arousal states which in turn increases their:

  • Capacity to engage with their primary caregivers
  • Capacity to learn
  • Ability to develop motor skills
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Sensory Attachment Intervention (SAI):

A method of treatment pioneered by Occupational Therapist Eadaoin Bhreathnach which aims to “enable parents and children to learn the art of self-regulation through the use of sensory and engagement strategies”. (Bhreathnach 2013).

Sensory Attachment Therapy is based on the principle that our attachment patterns are linked to our early sensory experiences. It combines the theory of attachment with Sensory Integration theory (Pioneered by Dr Jean Ayres), because strong links have been shown between sensory processing difficulties and attachment. Many children who have attachment difficulties also experience sensory processing difficulties, which affect their ability to self regulate and in turn move in a coordinated way and carry out skills of daily life. These children also have difficulties with staying calm and alert, finding engagement in the classroom difficult.

Having the correct sensory input can enable a child to self regulate. Therapy sessions value parents as key to co-regulation with their child and therapy sessions may provide sensory experiences which help your child to replace unhelpful sensory experiences from his or her early traumas with new, kinder, sensory memories. Often sessions are video taped to enhance effectiveness. The therapist will go over the video footage with parents to facilitate optimum co-regulation. There will be high importance given to nurturing activities such as deep pressure (proprioceptive) to promote calming. Many children are functioning at a high arousal state due to past trauma and the priority in treatment is to “facilitate a controlled and regulated response to sensory stimuli and engagement with others”. (Bhreathnach 2013)

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When parents also have an understanding of the child’s (and their own) regulating patterns they can be an effective tool in facilitating regulation and helping the child maintain a calm alert state. A sensory diet (strategies for healthy sensory input) may be worked out with you to help your child regulate his or her arousal levels. This may need to include the therapist going into the child’s school to help key staff who work with your child to know how they can help with sensory modulation/regulation.

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Copyright © Shoshanah Lyons 2015. All rights reserved.

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