Using Sensory Activities in Disability Ministry

Using Sensory Activities in Disability Ministry

Rev Bec Baines
Resource By Rev Bec Baines Edited and summarised from Jesus Club Coordinators' Conference 2019
Like all of us, many adults with intellectual disabilities (ID) enjoy arts and crafts. Therapeutic benefits aside, sensory activities can be very helpful in disability ministry by encouraging reflection and creating opportunity for expression and conversations.

Engaging all the senses

Arts and crafts are multi-sensory activities that can help engagement by appealing to a person’s sights, sound, touch, or even taste. People with ID often learn and process information at a slower pace and may find it difficult to understand abstract concepts. By using a variety of sensory materials and techniques, we can reinforce teaching ideas beyond just words or pictures.

An example is the use of real sand in a craft about the story of Jesus on the Beach ( John 21) . The act of manipulating and handling the sand may help bring the story to life for a person with an ID.

A tool for reinforcing

Craft is also useful in cementing teaching ideas by repetition. Used creatively, it can clarify messages by repeating them in various ways. It can also help recap key points and reinforce learning at the end of the lesson.

Selecting the right activities

Doing arts and crafts with people who have ID can require additional thought and care. People with ID may experience more challenges in activities involving hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills such as cutting out intricate shapes. What might look like a good idea on a page might not actually suit people's skill levels. But as you get to know people individually, you'll become more accustomed to their preferences and abilities and be able to cater the activities accordingly.

To cater for various skill levels, consider running multiple craft activities around the room. One table can offer a simple colouring-in activity, another painting, and others with more hands-on activities. You could also have the one craft, but offer various stages of completion – such as some people may be able to do the full craft, some might work better with elements already cut up and ready to just put together.

As always, be thoughtful about the needs of the people you are working with and remember that ONE SIZE DOESN'T FIT ALL!

Popular artistic and sensory activities for adults with disabilities:

● Beading activities
● Crafting with clay
● Creating using paper mâché 
● Collaging with different materials and textures 
● Reusing and crafting using recycled materials
● Decorating with paint and coloured crayons, pencils 
● Creating with fabric 
● Cooking and baking 
● Planting and potting

Rev Bec Baines serves on the Jesus Club committee and is the assistant minister for children and youth at St Clement's Anglican Church Mosman. She is passionate about training up the next generation to know and love God, as well as making ministries accessible for all people.