As a Broadway performer and the Founding Director of Kaiser’s Room — a nonprofit that offers arts programming to individuals with cognitive and developmental disabilities in NYC — I’ve spent quite a few years marrying my two passions: performing and working with the neuro-distinct community.

Finding the different ways to use acting, improv, and dance to most successfully connect with our participants and students while creating meaningful spaces of acceptance and self-expression has brought me great joy.

Inadvertently, I’ve had the pleasure of distilling my process and approach to relay it to our teaching artists. This process has helped me realize how universal this approach is for considering and communicating with everyone and anyone, not just the neuro-distinct community. In the space of self-identification and acceptance, what could a deeper sensory understanding mean for our efficacy and productivity?

We were probably all taught that we have five senses: touch, taste, sight, smell, and sound. But the more time we spend understanding our bodies, the more we’ve realized that there are many more senses to explore. For example, the vestibular sense is an entire sensory system that works to maintain balance and navigate spatial orientation. An aspect of this collective, known as proprioception, specifically focuses on body position: by sensing “movement, action, and location, [i]t’s present in every muscle you have.”

These two senses can be quite challenged in the body of an individual with a cognitive or developmental disability, as can the regulation of the other five senses. As a result, understanding both senses and the way we regulate them is very important, especially in my line of work.

Some of the work I do with our teaching artists uses improv exercises to take them through a series of sensory simulations. These simulations help our teaching artists better understand what it could feel like to be in the experience of one of our students. In particular, these simulations help our teaching artists realize the importance of regulating all of our senses and, even more specifically, how this regulation must occur before we can begin to accomplish tasks. In essence, these simulations represent my attempt to engage with the idea of the Sensory Funnel.

Read the full article about the sensory funnel by Stephane Duret at Blue Avocado.