The Clutter Free Colour Tent Environment for Children and Young People with Complex Needs.

"Some children with multiple disabilities and cerebral visual impairment can engage when enclosed by a 'tent': Is this due to Balint Syndrome ? This is the title of a published paper co-authored by Professor Gordon Dutton and myself in 2015.

Two children's case studies were discussed within this paper that demonstrated that colour tents have the potential to enable children with severe cerebral visual impairments to engage with visual awareness often for the first time. These two children had complex cerebral palsy and were considered to have little use of vision, other than light and dark awareness.

The question you may well be asking is "Why should a child who appears to have no vision, start to look around for the first time when surrounded by a tent?". This means that the child must have had some vision all along, but couldn't use it when surrounded by clutter. It has been known since the early 1900s that injury to the part of the brain just above the ears, the posterior parietal lobes, causes inability to see and give attention to more than one or two things at once, with inability to reach accurately for things using vision. In children with severe cerebral palsy these posterior parietal lobes that map our visual surroundings (without our knowing), are commonly damaged. So it's not too difficult to come up with the answer. This condition is called Balint's syndrome.

Sensory overload is a common problem for children with complex needs and Balint's Syndrome. This can come from visual, tactile and auditory clutter in the child's environment. Learning through engagement with others and the close environment cannot take place if a child is unhappy. Cluttered environments can lead to a child 'switching off' due to sensory overload, or cause distress.

The colour tent offers a simple clutter free environment, a space which can give a meaningful sensory experience for a child who could benefit from calmness. The tent of one colour can be a stimulus for visual awareness and attention; it can be a place to begin to learn to lift the head and to find a side preference for visual awareness, it can be a place to reach out to touch. It is an opportunity to develop the potential of each child within their particular capabilities.

The simplicity of the colour tent creates a clutter free environment even in a busy classroom or home. It can be a space from which to observe a child's responses and build an individual plan, using and allowing time for the child to engage at their own speed. Any child with complex needs due to brain injury can benefit from having a quiet space that allows them time and clarity to engage in their own unique way.

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