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Here at Total Communication Services CIC, we have been having a lovely summer! We received some funding from the Bury Council Lets Live Well project to run Multisensory Story sessions for children and adults around Bury. We were also commissioned by Bolton Library to run some sessions in the beautiful venue Smithills Hall. As well as running sessions, we have been training staff and supporting centres with their own home-made story planning sessions. It’s safe to say, we have thoroughly enjoyed running this project, just as much as the participants attending our sessions. For more information about our project, please see our other blogs linked below.

I first heard about Multisensory Storytelling when I was at university in 2014. I was trained as a storyteller by Bag Books and I enjoyed the approach so much I went to complete my undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations all about Multisensory Storytelling. I’m now back at university once more, training to become a (BAPT registered) Play Therapist. Through this training, I have been learning about attachment, relationships and emotional development. With these new ideas in mind, it has been interesting to experience Multisensory Storytelling from a different perspective during this project.

What is Multisensory Storytelling?

Multisensory Storytelling (MSST) is an interactive approach combining sensory experience and storytelling. The approach is typically used with children or adults who have additional support needs and is most often facilitated in a small group. The approach uses different objects (stimuli) which stimulate the five senses, touch, smell, hearing, taste, and vision. Each stimulus is linked to one sentence of a short story. The stories are designed to be interactive, playful, and fun. Repetition is an important part of multisensory storytelling and sessions are often run over a number of weeks.

Why is Multisensory Storytelling beneficial?

MSST is beneficial for people for many reasons. Firstly, opportunities for sensory exploration and experience are offered. Sensory experience and stimulation are important for brain development, and during MSST participants might experience new or interesting textures, sounds, smells, or visuals. Repetition of experience builds new neural pathways, important as brain development is use-dependant (Hong and Mason, 2016). Participants are able to explore the stimuli at their own pace and often gain the confidence to try something new.

Furthermore, opportunities for developing early communication skills also occur through MSST. Research has found that MSST supports engagement and responsiveness in people with complex support needs, and they can help people to develop skills in social communication, such as turn taking, eye contact, and choice making (Halfens, 2012). A key feature of MSST is the repetition of the story and the anticipation which occurs when in a group setting. We have found that some people really enjoy being last in the group. This is because going last builds excitement, participants are able to watch other group members take their turn and thus, anticipate their own.

This also allows children who are nervous about being in a new environment the chance to see what happens before it is their turn.

This picture shows one participant watching his cousin explore the object. He particularly enjoyed watching the other members of the group go before him and was able to anticipate his turn in the group.

Shared Interaction

As well as the communicative benefits, MSST offers opportunities for building positive relationships, through the pleasurable, shared interaction with a communication partner. As MSST is designed to be playful, there are many opportunities for joy, pleasure, interest, delight, humour, laughter, and fun. It is a shared experience between the storyteller and participant, and also, between the participant and their caregiver. At Total Communication Services CIC

we feel it is beneficial to involve caregivers who have come to support participants within the session. This is because opportunities for pleasurable, shared interaction are then extended. Research into attachment shows us that a common feature of securely attached relationships is mutual pleasure in each other’s company (Beebe et al., 2012); we often find that participants and their caregivers experience mutual delight in the other person’s participation during MSST. An example of this might be a child finding it humorous or enjoyable to see a caregiver wear a silly hat or pretending to run away from a pirate. Parents have reported enjoying the sessions, as they might see the child engage in ways that are unusual. For example, speaking out loud or touching something they usually would refuse to. The interaction elicited through MSST supports positive relationship building; participants share mutual pleasure in each other’s company through joyful, playful, meaningful experiences.

Further opportunities to support positive experiences in relationships occur in the relationship between the storyteller and participant. As a storyteller, it is important to build rapport with participants and notice subtle changes in their presentation and communication when delivering MSST sessions. This might look like a short smile when engaging with a certain stimulus or it could be that someone is looking worried before having their turn. It is also important for the storyteller to respect boundaries, know when a participant has finished or had enough, or is overwhelmed by a stimulus. As the trust in the relationship builds week upon week, the storyteller becomes more able to assess the participants needs and can make judgements about when to gently encourage exploration and when to take a step back. The storytelling session becomes a dynamic process, adapting to the needs of each participant. This might look like giving a participant longer to explore something if they seem to be enjoying it. It could also look like skipping a certain stimulus or modelling how it used on yourself first if someone seems unsure. Noticing how another person feels and acting accordingly is called attunement. Attunement is an important part of building relationships and helps another person feel heard, valued and understood.


It has been interesting and valuable to consider the ways in which relationships are positively impacted by MSST from a new perspective as a trainee Play Therapist. Running the sessions as a storyteller have been rewarding and we would love to run more sessions in the future. This blog explores MSST from a relationship building perspective but our other blog explores the other part of our project, where the self-advocates from Bury People First became the ones to tell the stories.

More information

Beebe, B., Lachmann, F. M., Markese, S., Buck, K. A., Bahrick, L. E., Chen, H., & Jaffe, J. (2012). On the origins of disorganized attachment and internal working models: Paper II. An empirical microanalysis of 4-month mother–infant interaction. Psychoanalytic dialogues, 22(3), 352-374. Bretherton, I. (1992). The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental psychology, 28(5), 759

Grace, J (2015). Sensory Stories for Children and Teens with Special Educational Needs. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers Halfens, J. L. (2012). Multisensory Storytelling: the effect on positive social responsiveness in children with profound multiple disabilities. Utrecht University.1-62. Hong, R., & Mason, C. M. (2016). Becoming a neurobiologically-informed play therapist. International Journal of Play Therapy, 25(1), 35. Perry, B. D. (2001). Attachment: The first core strength. Early Childhood Today, 16(2), 28-29.

Our wonderful volunteers from the key stage 4 dance and drama pathway in New Bridge Academy, (Lumenus) supported us to teach our one day Talking Mats training course recently. We had been invited to provide the Talking Mats Foundation training course, for a group of Speech & Language Therapists and their Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy colleagues in Sheffield. We talked to the Communication Advocate volunteers about them attending the training and providing some co-training. This was arranged as a school trip. We explored any concerns the advocates had about the day and learned that one of the things they were really looking forward to was driving over snake pass. Which we agreed has an apt title given its winding route.

The Lumenus students (Communication Advocates) have been working on talking mats and they are becoming very experienced at explaining the process and teaching others how to do a mat. We decided that they were ready to co-train, and we also wanted to showcase a movement piece they have created called ‘hear my voice’. The piece is about good listeners and bad listeners and during the performance there were quite a few tears from the audience as it really is a powerful message.

The Communication Advocates attended two courses in March. On the day, once their movement piece was complete the students worked with the therapists and taught them how to complete a talking mat. Feedback from the course participants was great-

“I particularly enjoyed the children’s dance/drama performance.”

“Meeting the students was an unexpected bonus.”

“Loved being trained by the students too.”

“Was great to have a go on the receiving end of a Talking Mat and see how it feels as a recipient and what’s important as a listener.”

“Presentation was super – never had an experience with co-delivery/training by students – they performed such a moving drama; it was such a brilliant experience of learning by interacting with the students.”

“Thank you for a really informative and inspiring day. Working with the young people was a very special bonus.”

“Young people coming to teach us was so valuable. Their performance was really poignant and beautifully explained

– good vs bad listeners and the impact this can have.”

“It was great to see the children and to have a chance to work with them.”

Following the training the students visited a park in Sheffield and luckily they had sunshine too, before returning to Oldham via snake pass of course.

I asked the Communication Advocates for their thoughts on the trip.

Their comments were as follows:

What we thought of performing

· Fabulous

· Inspiring – inspired me to be confident

· I thought it was really really, really good. I felt sad because the bad listeners wrapped people up, but then I felt happy

because the good listeners unwrapped them

· Very, very fabulous, I want work on showing even more facial expression

· It was very important for people to listen

· It was good

What we thought of training the staff

· I felt proud because I’d never done teaching before

· I think working with the people on the course was good for me

· I felt uncomfortable teaching adults

· It was good to help the staff

The trip

· It was tiring

· I fell asleep

· I felt really happy

· I think going to Sheffield on snake pass was fun

· I loved the park!

· I love snake pass

Class Teacher Sophia Pilgrim said of her key stage 4 group

‘I’m immensely proud of Lumenus, how confident they have become. They have learned how to teach talking mats in such a short space of time’

Alison Matthews

With thanks to OL1-Oldham for funding towards the project.

Updated: May 11

Hey everyone! My name is Khadija. I am a 1st year student from the University of Manchester, and I just finished my first clinical placement with Total Communication Services CIC, based at New Bridge School and College. One of the projects that we worked on at New Bridge School, is Communication Passports. On the first day, I attended a meeting with Danielle Cotton and Valerie Bayley, both New Bridge School staff working on the student's EHCPS. Val explained that an EHCP is an educational and healthcare plan given to all the students at the school, that displays a set of personalised education and healthcare as well as social needs that are needed to be met for that student. We discussed a document called "all about me", which essentially provides meaningful information all about the student. This led to us coming up with ways to try and convert these into communication passports for the students.

The introduction of communication passports came about as part of the Pupil Voice Project. Many of the students have all about me profiles, which are digital documents held by staff. Total Communication Services CIC staff thought that these could be converted into communication passports. Communication passports are more widely used by adult services and are owned by the person. The benefit of a passport is that it stays with the person and can move between locations. It is owned by them and is a more accessible version of the all about me profile. The emphasis is also on how to communicate more effectively with the pupil. School leavers were identified as being a priority for this work.

Communication passports are a way of supporting people when they transition. They are a good way for students to provide information about themselves to others, especially if they have difficulty communicating in the first place. The students that we worked with specifically, are going to be transferred to a new environment, so having a communication passport to take with them will benefit them positively. Passports are also a way to start an interaction. The information included, can help the student and the conversational partner to start a conversation based on a certain topic in the passport.

We discussed ideas that allowed the students to get as involved as possible in the making of these passports. Even if they weren’t necessarily able to voice their opinion themselves, they were still able to provide input by telling us what colours to use, or certain pictures they would like to include and we involved parents as we realised that they knew the child best and their input needed to be central to the process. These were some of the ideas discussed to make sure the student was as involved as possible and their voice was heard in some shape or form. This helped a lot as it gave me a slight insight into how I would approach the students that I worked with, to make their communication passports.

I’ve completed 4 weeks on placement and worked with two students on their passports in this time. I had the opportunity to work with them once every week and learnt to make sure that they were engaged during our meetings and that they enjoyed this experience of making their passports and it is something to be celebrated. Some students had digital passports, and some had tactile passports, depending on their specific needs. We asked the teachers at the beginning of the project, which passport they think would be appropriate for the students. The students that I worked with specifically, were from the autism and interaction-based parts of the school, therefore, one required a digital passport and the other required a tactile passport. I really enjoyed working with the students and the staff members and parents to create these passports, as well as observing how the pupils communicated with the staff and vice versa. I gained lots of transferable skills by the end of my placement, which will benefit me in the future. A specific skill that I worked on was trying to build a rapport with people and make them feel comfortable enough to want to communicate with me freely, especially while I worked with the students and the staff to make the communication passports. I feel that I have gotten better at this and it is my biggest takeaway from this placement.

Khadija Hussain

First year Speech & Language Therapy Student

University of Manchester

Useful Reference:

Personal Communication Passports: Guidelines for Good Practice

See website:

For templates see:

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