Sensory Stories Introduction

Sensory Stories Introduction

Sensory Stories

By: Deborah Marr, ScD, OTR/L and

Victoria L. Nackley, MS, OTR/L

What are Sensory Stories?

Sensory Stories teach children with over-responsive sensory modulation to successfully engage in activities within the home, school, and community. Sensory Stories comprise 30 individual stories about daily activities. These Sensory Stories instruct the child to use calming sensory strategies in order to deal with the unpleasant sensory aspects of that particular situation. When read on a regular basis, Sensory Stories assist the child in developing effective routines to manage the sensory experiences surrounding typical daily activities.

Consider a child who is over-responsive to sights, sounds, touch, smell, and movement. Going to the cafeteria in school can be an overwhelming and unpleasant experience. The many sights, the movement of the children, the smells of the food, the loud noises, and the texture of the food in the child’s mouth can all add up to an inner feeling of chaos. The child may be unable to cope with the enormity of the sensations and thus respond with a variety of negative behaviors. The Cafeteria Sensory Story would teach the child to use a number of strategies during the routine of going to the cafeteria. By using calming sensory strategies such as doing self-imposed hugs, wearing a heavy fanny pack, and wiping the mouth firmly with a napkin, the child learn ways to successfully manage the situation and participate fully in the experience.
The authors have included key sensory strategies within each story for the child to employ. The sensory strategies have been specifically selected due to the calming sensory input that the child can receive as a result of using the strategy. The sensory strategies are designed to be used by the child; thereby he or she is equipped with the necessary tools to manage an unpleasant situation. Through reading the story on a regular basis, the child learns an effective routine that provides calming sensory input and allows the child to successfully participate in the experience.

What sets of Sensory Stories are available?



Bathing Assemblies Getting a Haircut
Combing Hair Being in Lines Going to a Restaurant
Ear Cleaning The Cafeteria Going to a Store
Eating Circle Time/Floor Time Going to a Party
Getting Dressed 
 in the Morning
Desk Time Going to the Dentist
Nail Care Eating Time Going to the Doctor
Showering Moving in the School Riding in an Elevator
Sleeping Outdoor Recess Riding in the Car
Tooth Brushing Physical Education Class Riding on an Escalator
Washing Hair The School Bus Ride Going to Places of Worship

How are Sensory Stories used?

Sensory Stories are designed to be read to the child on a regular basis to teach the child to successfully engage in the experience. The authors’ research has revealed that reading the story 3 or more times a week over a two to three month period has achieved the best results. Anyone can read the story to the child: a parent, a sibling, a teacher, an aide, a therapist. If the child is able to read, the child may read the story alone with assistance provided to employ the strategies.

The Sensory Story can be read prior to the activity or during the course of the activity. For activities that occur regularly such as The School Bus Ride or Tooth Brushing, the authors recommend reading the story daily over the course of 2-3 months until the child acquires a successful routine associated with the experience. For activities that occur less frequently such as Going to the Dentist or Nail Care, the authors recommend that the story be read 2-3 times daily over the course of a week prior to the event. During the event, adults have reported with using reminders to the child to use the sensory strategies.
Sensory Stories may be read off the computer screen or they can be printed from the computer and read in hard copy. If read in hard copy format, the child may choose to personalize the story by decorating with crayons or markers.

What is Over-Responsive Sensory Modulation?

Over-responsive sensory modulation is a sensory processing disorder in which typical everyday sensations are perceived as very unpleasant for the child. Sensory experiences that are acceptable to most individuals may be perceived as extremely uncomfortable, painful, or overwhelming for the individual with over-responsive sensory modulation. Children with over-responsive sensory modulation thus often have difficulty participating fully in daily activities. The child may participate minimally, exhibit negative behaviors during the activity, or shun participation altogether. Unpleasant sensations may involve touch, movement, smells, sounds, sights, and tastes.

What are some of the key features of Sensory Stories?

  • Sensory strategies
    – Sensory Stories use specifically designed sensory strategies to assist the child in managing the unpleasant sensations that are associated with certain activities. The sensory strategies provide the child with calming sensory input through deep touch pressure, active resistance to movement, and slow linear movement. The strategies are based on sensory integrative theory. Sensory strategies are infused throughout the entire sequence of the activity so that the child can receive calming sensory input at the start of the activity, during the course of the activity, and at the conclusion of the activity.
  • Self-implementation of strategies
    – The child employs the sensory strategy him or herself, thereby allowing the child to take control of the situation. The child can apply the sensory input with the necessary magnitude that is beneficial for his or her unique sensory system.
  • Self choice
    – The child is given an option to employ the strategy in the context of the activity. The wording of the story with statements such as “I can” or “I might” or “I like to” provides the child with a sense of control over the situation. 
  • Environmental modification
    –The unpleasant aspects of the activity in the context of the environment have been analyzed. In many situations, the child is provided with suggestions to modify the environment to improve success during the activity. 
  • Customization
    – A unique feature of Sensory Stories is the customization process that allows the user to format each Sensory Story for the individual needs of the child. Through an exchange list of sensory strategies, the user may select alternative sensory strategies to insert into the story. The user is also given the option of modifying the text, inserting digital photos, or decorating the story once it is printed.
  • Socially acceptable strategies
    – The strategies in Sensory Stories have been specifically selected due to their socially acceptable nature. The sensory strategies can be readily employed in public places without drawing undo attention to the child.
  • Line drawings
    – Simple line drawing depict the activity sequence. The child is given a simple visual image to enhance comprehension in addition to the story’s wording. Since children have many different learning styles, Sensory Stories allow the child to not only hear the story but also to see the visual images, see the words, and experience the sensory strategies.
  • Tapping the innate desire of children
    – The authors believe that children have an innate desire to participate in daily activities. Due to their unique sensory processing difficulties, the child is unable to successfully participate in these daily activities. By giving the child sensory strategies, the child is equipped with key activities to make the experience much better.
  • Improving awareness
    – Sensory Stories have been instrumental in increasing the understanding of both adults and children on issues of sensory processing. Adults have reported greater understanding as to how specific activities might be unpleasant for the child. Children have had an ‘aha’ experience through the realization that other children might feel similarly about a daily activity. Sensory Stories have also opened the dialogue between families and other individuals, i.e. the dentist, the hair stylist, the bus driver, the cafeteria worker, the teacher.
  • Technology
    – Technology opens the door for many exciting possibilities that are otherwise unavailable. Sensory Stories can be customized on the computer screen, allowing for the customization process. Additionally, Sensory Stories can be read to the child on the computer screen, thereby capitalizing on children’s interest in technology. Lastly, for the computer savvy child, he or she can assist in the customization process on the computer screen.

Who can benefit from Sensory Stories?

Sensory Stories are designed for children with Sensory Processing Disorder, specifically, over-responsive sensory modulation. Sensory stories are beneficial for children who have difficulty participating in daily life events due to the sensory nature of the events. The authors’ research indicated that children between the ages of 5 and 7 benefited the most from the Sensory Stories. Through the customization process, the stories can be simplified for younger children or made more sophisticated for the older child.

How can a parent or caregiver use Sensory Stories?

The adult and the child should choose 1-2 activities that are most problematic. The adult and the child can read the story once a day for 2-3 months until the child develops a successful routine around the activity. The story may be read immediately prior to the activity or during the course of the activity. If the child is already reading, the child may read the story him or herself with the adult observing the process. The adult may assist the child by using verbal reminders or physical cues to use the sensory strategies during the activity.

How can Sensory Stories be used at school?

Teachers, assistants, aides, therapists, and various other school personnel may read the Sensory Story with the child. School personnel along with the family should choose 1-2 situations that are most troublesome for the child. The child may also assist in making the choice. The story can be read immediately prior to the event such as Outdoor Recess or during the course of the event such as Assemblies. Adults may assist the child by providing verbal reminders or physical cues to use the strategies. The authors’ research revealed that children achieved the most benefit when the stories were read over a course of 2-3 months and at least 3 times a week.

How can I obtain Sensory Stories?

Sensory Stories will be published through Therapro. It is anticipated that the publication date will be in April of 2006. In order to contact Therapro about the product availability, please call 1-800-257-5376 or e-mail the company at Their web address is

Author information:

Deborah Marr, ScD, OTR/L
, is an associate professor of Occupational Therapy at Shenandoah University in Winchester Virginia. She specializes in sensory processing, handwriting, and fine motor skills.

Victoria Nackley, MS, OTR/L
, is an assistant professor of Occupational Therapy at Utica College in Utica, New York. She specializes in sensory processing, motor learning, and early intervention.

The authors may be contacted as follows:

Deborah Marr
Victoria Nackley

Comments and Suggestions:

The authors are interested in assembling additional Sensory Stories for children with sensory processing disorders. They would welcome your suggestions for new Sensory Stories.

The authors are also interested in receiving additional sensory strategies that have worked for you to possibly include in subsequent editions of Sensory Stories. They would appreciate your ideas. You may contact the authors at the above addresses.


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