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Student saves feathers for sensory tools

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Tatiana King with her sensory tool designed for those with learning disabilities. (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)

A summer student at the Mid- Atlantic Wellness Institute has created sensory tools for people with learning difficulties using colourful feathers salvaged from this year’s carnival outfits.

Tatiana King has been interning at the institute for six weeks and one project was to design and help build the tools — feathered bird and butterfly figures, both with moveable wings.

According to occupational therapist Shari Scott, many people with mental illnesses or learning difficulties are “sensory seeking”.

When Ms King was accepted into the internship, Ms Scott immediately told her of the plan to provide sensory stimulation tools to numerous clients in residential homes across the island.

Ms Scott had already made a public request for leftover feathers and decorations from the National Heroes Weekend carnival in June.

Ms King, who is in her senior year studying Health Sciences and Pre-Occupational Therapy at the Southern Adventist University, Tennessee, quickly came up with the idea of constructing the bird and butterfly herself.

She told The Royal Gazette: “Shari said we needed to try to cover as many aspects as possible so I was researching online, looking at different examples, when I saw the picture of this bird. I said that is it right there – it had the well-rounded picture of sensory stimulation. The best part for me was seeing it come to life – it was exactly what I was envisioning in my head. It is going to work, it is going to help somebody.”

Ms King enlisted the help of Bermuda Hospitals Board employee Gordon Bowen who helped her with the construction of the bird which included strings that can be pulled to control the wings.

Ms Scott said she was impressed with the initiative shown by Ms King so early on in her internship. She said: “I had a new summer student and I told her what I was trying to do. I asked her to share any ideas and she came up with this that afternoon.

“It’s nice to have a summer student that is eager and willing to come up with ideas. I just had to provide the materials and she went for it.”

Asked what benefits sensory tools had for those with learning disabilities, Ms Scott added: “It depends on what their challenge is. If someone is wheelchair bound, that is where they are for the day. With us we get up, get in the shower, put on the scent of lotion we like, we go for a run – they don’t necessarily have those outlets so we are trying to give them different means by which they can get the input that they are seeking. The benefit of Tatiana’s creation is that it provides visual stimulation and it can encourage a range of motions including in the upper extremities – they can reach for it, pull it and get a reaction - you get that cause and effect.”

Ms King wants to become an occupational therapist and is keen to bring her skills back to Bermuda once she is qualified. She said: “I have worked in a nursing home and with children with autism. This is the first time I have been in a clinical setting and it has been absolutely amazing. It has been life changing.”

From left, occupational therapist Raymeisha Butterfield, OT Shari Scott, intern Tatiana King, and Bermuda Hospitals Board employee Gordon Bowen with the sensory tools designed for those with learning disabilities. (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)