Spotlight on SEND Practitioners

This blog features six practitioners who show commitment, creativity, and passion for sharing the benefits of the Story Massage Programme. We showcase the outstanding work of individuals sharing the Story Massage Programme with children and adults with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Our featured SEND practitioners are:

Naya Alexiou, Lead of Complex Needs in a Special School

Janet Wilson – Class Teacher in a Special School

Eileen Pace – Pre-Formal Lead in a SEN secondary school

Carol Brookes – Practitioner for Deafblind/MSI (Multi-Sensory Impairment) children

Elaine Burgess – Senior Teaching Assistant and Rebound Therapist in a Special School

Fiona Pattison – Managing Director of Rainbows Sensory Space Ltd

Janet Wilson

Janet is a Class Teacher at Fox Wood School, in Warrington, Cheshire, for pupils with severe learning disabilities and complex medical needs. She works with pupils aged 6 – 10. Janet incorporates topic related massage stories into reading lessons and across the whole curriculum including PHSE lessons, wellbeing, and collective worship. She is responsible for music and RE in school and has combined massage stories into activities across the whole school for pupils to access under her lead.

Janet has noticed that the Story Massage Programme has helped the class develop the skills of relaxing and enjoying massage and positive touch.  One pupil has made great progress with accepting touch activities. She was often resistant to touch, but she now enjoys Story Massage sessions and is calm and engaged. She gives smiles and eye contact with the staff member she has chosen to work with. She has also initiated interaction with other peers in her class and asks for help to do strokes for her friends.

“We are a small close class group, and the Story Massage Programme has helped us to interact in a special way. We all love the contact and shared intimacy that it offers, and it is a great boost for everyone’s wellbeing.” Janet Wilson, Class Teacher at a Special School.

Fiona Pattison

Fiona is Managing Director of Rainbows Sensory Space Ltd in Seaham, County Durham, a multi-sensory soft play area that has been purpose built to provide sensory opportunities for children and adults with special needs and disabilities, their parents/carers, and families.

Fiona runs regular ‘Bumps, Babies and Beyond’ sessions giving parents the chance to connect and relax with their child and build on their existing bond. She explores a different theme each week and shares the massage story using the hashtag #Storymassage so others can enjoy it too. Fiona creates wonderful sensory backgrounds for each session with themed props and massage stories for parents to use at home with their children. Just look at the setting for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee session. Look carefully and you can see the massage stories on the mats.

During the sessions, Fiona explores the benefits of positive and respectful touch, deep pressure, and big hugs. She teaches parents about how touch is one of the vital needs of infants of all abilities and how to share nurturing touch in a safe atmosphere. She talks about oxytocin, the hormone triggered by positive touch and why this helps parents to form an emotional bond. Parents experience for themselves how touch can slow down heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress and build resilience.

“Sharing a massage story gives parents the chance to focus fully on their children. The combination of touch and words says: ‘Right now there is nothing more important than to be with you.” Fiona Pattison, Managing Director of Rainbows Sensory Space Ltd.

Eileen Pace

Pre-Formal Lead in a SEN secondary school catering for the needs of students with complex, profound and multiple learning difficulties, associated communication and language difficulties and challenging behaviour, Eileen is also a complementary therapist and runs her own business All of Me Holistic. 

Eileen finds the Story Massage Programme offers a wonderful medium helping students to achieve targets in a non-invasive and fun way. Sharing a massage story can help with cognition, anticipation, communication and making choices. Eileen works with teenagers and says the programme can also de-escalate behaviours and support over-anxious students.

Eileen worked as a private tutor with a 12-year-old student who was unable to attend school due to severe and complex health issues. The student was very tactile defensive, so bath time and personal care became a ‘nightmare’ as she cried so much. Eileen gradually introduced the Story Massage Programme with great sensitivity, starting with hands and feet and involving parents and carers in the sessions. She now seeks massage and enjoys touch. She is much happier and so is her family.

“My advice would be to always take your lead from the student. Observe their reactions and/or listen to what they say, or sometimes don’t say. Students give us so many clues as to how they are feeling and then we wonder why they become so frustrated with us. Observe, observe, observe.” Eileen Pace, Pre-Formal Lead in a SEN secondary school.

Elaine Burgess

Elaine is a Senior Teaching Assistant and Rebound Therapist at St. Giles School, in South Croydon, for students with Moderate (MLD) Severe (SLD) and Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD) and Complex Medical Needs. She uses the Story Massage Programme in different classes and on the trampoline during Rebound Therapy sessions for students.

Elaine has also carried out Story massage during 1 to 1 sessions with students during home schooling and individualised learning. A favourite massage story is called ‘Let’s Go to Africa’ which Elaine uses with the addition of other sensory stimuli such as sound and visual resources. Elaine has kindly agreed to share her massage story so you can download it here – Let’s Go to Africa.

Elaine says the programme is especially beneficial for students who find it difficult to be and/or become still, calm and focussed. One student would always turn away, self-stimulate, and not engage with the session. He now sits still on the trampoline for the entire Rebound Therapy session and during the massage story.

“We deliver Story Massage sessions as part of the Physical and Sensory curriculum in our school. We create massage stories for the different topics and link these in with the targets that we set for our students.” Elaine Burgess, Senior Teaching Assistant and Rebound Therapist.

Naya Alexiou

Naya is Lead of Complex Needs (Teaching and Learning Area) at Side by Side School in Hackney, London. Naya supports and leads LSAs (Learning Support Assistants) sharing the Story Massage Programme in four different classes for pupils with complex needs and SLD (Severe Learning Difficulties) needs.  She says that among the many educational benefits, LSAs have noticed that it helps them to form better relationships with the children especially as everyone has such fun in the sessions.

Naya has been particularly imaginative in creating a wide range of resources and assessment sheets to help develop the Story Massage Programme within the school. Children use visual supports to give permission and choose the area of their body to be massaged. Then the massage story is presented as a PowerPoint with visuals and images of the Story Massage strokes for staff to follow. Naya also incorporates Pupil’s Voice visuals at the end of the sessions so children can indicate whether they enjoyed the massage story.  Naya shares these resources on her Instagram and Facebook pages @Special Education Classroom.

“We choose the most comfortable and appropriate position for each child. This might be beanbags for those that are able to walk, or beds/mattresses or physio equipment for wheelchair users. It is a great opportunity for children to have a change of position during the day.” Naya Alexiou, Lead of Complex Needs at a Special School.

Carol Brookes

Carol is a practitioner for Deafblind/MSI (Multi-Sensory Impairment) children working in the ReHabilitation Office for Visually Impaired Children (ROVIC) Service, Disabled Children’s Services Devon. She uses the Story Massage Programme in a variety of settings including an under 5’s SENSEory playgroup for children who are visually impaired, some with additional needs and others who are dual-sensory impaired (hearing and vision impairment) and their parents.

Carol also makes visits to older children in their own homes and has shared the programme as part of a roadshow for visually impaired children to try different activities with their families. Carol has even created a massage story called ‘Crossing the Road’ to support road crossing training given by their service to visually impaired children in the community .

Carol now creates individual massage stories for families to use with their children at home. This is proving especially useful at bedtime, helping children to make sense of the day and support the bedtime routine. She includes the parents’ own words, so it feels safe and familiar. Parents said this was so helpful that Carol has been asked to create more personalised massage stories including starting at a new school.

“I always reiterate the need for permission from the child as I feel ownership of what happens to their body is an essential life skill for visually impaired or deafblind children. It is so important for them to have the confidence to say ‘no’ and be listened to.” Carol Brookes, Practitioner for Deafblind/MSI (Multi-Sensory Impairment) children.

More Feedback from our SEND practitioners

“The online training is the best thing that I have done for a long time. I have been able to incorporate the programme into so many different areas of my work. It has become a valuable tool to support bonding between child and parent or caregiver.” Carol Brookes, Practitioner for Deafblind/MSI (Multi-Sensory Impairment) children.

“When a child feels loves and taken care of, then they feel safe. When a child is feeling nervous or scared, simple words combined with a massage story can help calm their nerves and help them feel safe.” Fiona Pattison, Managing Director of Rainbows Sensory Space Ltd.

“During the last two years we have been running the Story Massage Programme, children have learnt to sign ‘Thank you” in Makaton as the end of the session. We are all so proud of them.” Naya Alexiou, Lead of Complex Needs at a Special School.

“More able students don’t always want to take part in Story Massage sessions, so I give them the responsibility of turning on the music, or pointing to the Story Massage symbols/words, or helping me to tell/sing the story. Usually after the first one, they can’t wait to join in with the others again!”Eileen Pace, Pre-Formal Lead in a SEN secondary school.

“We use a whole range of stories, songs, poems, and drama scripts and adapt these with the Story Massage Strokes. Some are also written by me or the class team. The TAs in my class were given a Performance Management Target to write topic related massage stories to help develop a library of stories.” Janet Wilson, Class Teacher at a Special School.

“The Story Massage Programme helps bring together word association and movement. For visually impaired children it is so important to experience the words and actions together such as ‘the rain came down’ with the downwards Sprinkle movement. They gain a real experience of the storyline.” Carol Brookes, Practitioner for Deafblind/MSI (Multi-Sensory Impairment) children.

“The Story Massage Programme provides a way for students to communicate their feelings and choices. Many students often find this difficult in other situations and activities.”  Elaine Burgess, Senior Teaching Assistant and Rebound Therapist.

Would you like to train in the Story Massage Programme?

Are you inspired by the work of our amazing Best Practice Award Winners? Find out all about the Story Massage Programme online course here: Story Massage Training Online.