Multisensory Storytelling


Victoria Navin’s passion for connecting people with SEND to literature and culture inspired her to develop stories that can be fun and motivating.

There are reasons why people with PMLD may not be able to access stories in the conventional way, be it through sensory impairment, lack of concentration, impaired understanding and the complexity of language, communication barriers or behaviours others may find challenging. Presenting a story as a multisensory story removes these barriers, opening a world of exploration through positive interactions and the opportunity to share the special bond created between the storyteller and the story explorer as they share their adventures.

A multisensory story is told using sensory stimuli (story props) to engage the senses and back up the spoken word, nurturing well-being, building trust and enhancing and enriching the experiences of individuals with PMLD.

Exposure to sensory stimuli allows the story explorer to engage with new experiences to calm and alert the sensory system, in a safe, therapeutic, and motivating environment and to use their senses to understand and make sense of the world around them in a way that is meaningful to the individual.

Nurturing the story explorer’s communication 

The sensory stimuli (story props) are a tool for a person to explore and express their likes, dislikes and sensory preferences, giving them a choice, a voice and building self-awareness as they develop skills in communicating requests for ‘help’, ‘more’, ‘again’, or make a rejection if they do not like an item. 

Observing reactions to a range of sensory stimuli enables you to build a picture of sensory preferences that can be used to identify motivators,items that calm an individual when anxious, tired or stressed and/or to identify triggers. You may seek to avoid some triggers and to work on building tolerance on others that may be necessary (eg brushing teeth) through sensory exploration in a safe and therapeutic environment (a multisensory story.)

This sensory record can help parents, carers and teaching staff make informed choices to enhance daily life; diet, sensory needs, and leisure activities. When used in a safe setting, multisensory stories can be used to facilitate change, reduce anxiety and prepare the story explorer for visits out of their daily routine, such as getting a haircut or a dentist/medical appointment and are an invaluable tool to inform behaviour strategies and the writing of care plans. 

We use sequences in our daily life; brushing our teeth or getting dressed are examples of this. Story sequencing is recognising the order of events with a beginning, a middle and an end. Teaching these skills of organising information and ideas develops the person’s ability to comprehend a story and helps with problem solving skills and transitions.

Rhythm, rhyme and repetition: the three R’s of storytelling

Multisensory storytelling is often used in special educational needs settings as a way of providing students with PMLD, the opportunity to access the curriculum, connect with literature, culture, poetry, history, and to participate in storytelling experiences. 

The combination of sensory stimuli, listening to the rhyme and rhythm and the repetitive structure of a multisensory story, supports memory and aids learning, playing a crucial role in the development of early communication skills, eye contact, and shared attention. It promotes language development through alternative communication systems, Makaton, sign language and to facilitate PECS exchanges.

The interactions with the story props form an excellent base on which to scaffold learning, providing opportunities for the individuals to work towards personal learning goals and targets and areas of learning that can be built into the stories including:

  • Increased engagement.
  • Self-confidence and well-being: Trying out new ideas and skills, building tolerance, practicing self-care, independence and enjoying achievement.
  • Self-awareness: asking for ‘help’, ‘again’, ‘more’, making choices and rejections.
  • Opportunities to explore cause and effect and to build anticipation skills.
  • Physical development (fine & gross motor skills) through the manipulation of objects.
  • Understanding of the environment and the world around us. 
  • Engagement in scientific experimentation and mathematical concepts.
  • Development of social and emotional skills: If working in a group setting, turn-taking, sharing and teamwork.

Adapting existing stories

  1. Choose a story.
  2. Condense it into short sentences.
  3. Select a keyword from each sentence. This can be a noun, verb or a sound.
  4. Choose your props. These do not have to be expensive. Use everyday items found around the home, classroom and outdoors. Select items that will stimulate the basic senses, items with a range of interesting textures, smells and tastes and interesting sounds to explore. 
  5. Sound effects provide the opportunity to elicit a response. Use single communication devices, sound effect apps or similar. Record the story explorer’s vocalisation and play it back.
  6. Consider how the individual interacts with the items and make adaptations. A headtorch, for example, or a glove with Velcro to hold on to items.

Getting the most out of it

  • You do not have to complete the whole story in one sitting. You can explore one or two sentences at a time.
  • Allow processing time. 
  • Use a variety of tones, pitches of voices and facial expressions. 
  • Be allergy aware.
  • The interactions should be led by the story explorer, who participates without expectation.
  • Stop the activity if the story explorer shows signs that they are not enjoying the session. 
  • Focus on having fun and it will become a true learning experience!
Victoria Navin
Author: Victoria Navin

Victoria Navin
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Victoria Navin works in special education and has devised a set of downloadable stories to help children and young people connect to literature and culture.


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