Learning Disabilities & Autism Real Lives

Rosa inspires circus sensory story

“We are good at thinking about physical access, like toilets and ramps, but we need to think more about sensory access. Rosa has been making people think!” – Joanna Grace, The Sensory Projects.
Introducing Rosa Mae Hancock: Sports, arts and entertainment Leader and winner of the Young Person’s Award in Dimensions Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List 2019.

Before we start Rosa’s story, take a moment to think about the circus. Think about the sights, the smells, the sounds and how the atmosphere changes from outside the Big Top to inside the trademark tent.

Try to imagine the smell and feel of the grass, the sudden wafts of popcorn, the sound of people laughing and children crying, the music, the flashing lights…It can be an overwhelming experience for many, but more so if you have sensory sensitives and have never been before.
Now it’s time to meet Rosa. Rosa has profound and multiple learning disabilities and doesn’t use words to communicate. Her family and friends fondly describe her as a brave and dignified young girl who loves to see other people enjoying themselves. Perhaps this is why she communicated ‘yes’ when asked if she’d like to create a sensory social story for going to the circus.

A sensory social story is a tool people can use to prepare for a new experience. It provides more than a description of what to expect; there’s a video that gives visual and audio guidance about the atmosphere and materials that can give a taster experience of how things will smell, feel or look.
The pack contains, for example, a piece of pink cellophane. Circus lighting makes people appear pink. Cognitively able people can interpret this, but for someone who experiences the world through their senses alone, abruptly turning pink is potentially frightening. The tinted cellophane helps anticipate and overcome this fear.

Now, Rosa didn’t have all of the tools available to prepare for her trip to the circus. After all, she was creating it for other people! But she dealt with the challenges, enjoyed her time there and helped identify things other people should be aware of before visiting.

Rosa’s experience at the circus was recorded and she co-produced the final video with The Sensory Projects. The video talks about the smell of the grass and the popcorn, shows how the sights and sounds change and shows Rosa relaxed and enjoying herself.

Circus Starr, who commissioned the piece, have reported that many families are requesting the pack and that Rosa’s work will help many more people to enjoy the circus. Rosa played a central role in removing some of the stress of new sensory experiences both for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities and autistic people who may struggle with the sensory challenges of the circus.

“We still talk about Circus Starr and sing the song now and it always brings a smile. Although it is hard for Rosa to understand exactly how she has shared her story with other people she is very proud of the work she has done.” – Rosa’s mum, Amy.

Rosa’s story is best told through her video, find it by searching for Rosa Me Hancock at dimensions-uk.org

Visit dimensions-uk.org/leaderslist2019 to meet all our inspirational Leaders and follow DimensionsUK on social media to stay up to date.

Edel Harris





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