Our Senior Clinician, Leona Brennan, recently went to the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder in the US with our Founder and Director, Lisa Hughes, where they participated in an intensive mentorship programme. In this blog post, Leona has shared some of her experiences and learnings from the STAR Institute.

The start of a career as a children’s Occupational Therapist will mean you learn very quickly about Sensory Processing difficulties and the work of Dr. Lucy Jane Miller, founder of the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder. The STAR Institute is the home of the world’s leading treatment, research and education centre for children and adults with Sensory Processing Disorder.  I have been studying and using my learnings from Dr. Miller’s work for over five years, so when an opportunity to meet her arose, I of course jumped at the chance.

The opportunity took me to the STAR Institute in Denver, Colorado, with my colleague on a week-long intensive mentorship, learning from the world’s leading Therapists who work specifically to help children with Sensory Processing challenges.

The gym

A Peek into the STAR Institute

Taking a walk around the STAR Institute, you will find many happy Occupational Therapists, children and parents all working together in teams. There is one large gym and many smaller sensory rooms, each designed for a specific purpose. The rainbow room, for example, features an array of lycra sheets attached to the four walls providing a landscape for fun climbing up and down. My favourite part is when you wander outside to the large tailor-made playground, a magical space where children can explore and challenge their senses.

There is a research team who are continuously making significant contributions to the literature. One exciting project currently underway is the Sensory Processing 3-Dimensions Scale. This is a new assessment tool designed to assess sensory processing abilities, and identify patterns of Sensory Processing Disorder. It is currently under testing across the United States for standardisation.

The playground

Mentorship Training

We received intense daily lectures covering topics such as; sensory regulation and modulation, sensory discrimination, posture and movement, auditory processing and listening therapy. We observed therapy sessions each day from behind a two-way mirror. This gave us the opportunity to evaluate the child in the moment in real life. We hypothesised and questioned everything, revelling in the learning and conversations being had. Latest research and best practice were a significant part of this training, with lectures from Dr. Sarah Schoen – Director of Research at the STAR Institute Research Centre.

STAR Treatment Model

We learned how to implement therapy using the STAR Treatment Model. The STAR Institute are constantly researching best practice and work only within this intensive model. The model has five main areas;

  • Intensive sessions: This mean the child receives therapy 3-5 times per week for as long as they need, often 20 or 30 sessions.  Research shows that changes happen faster and last longer when therapy is more intense over a shorter period of time.
  • Parent involvement and education is crucial: Parents are educated and coached so they are empowered to help their child with sensory challenges.
  • Individualised therapy: Goals are focused on living life so it is fun and functional.
  • Customised therapy programmes: Many treatment approaches are combined so each child has their own Therapy Program. Examples of therapy approaches include; Sensory Integration, Feeding Therapy, DIR® / Floortime®, Listening therapy, Emotional Regulation.
  • It’s fun! Children learn through play. A play-based model allows children to experience success and be in the mindset for learning. Once joyful interactions are present, developmental changes come more easily.

The ‘Rainbow Sensory Room’


The trip to the STAR Institute was such an inspiring and motivating experience. From the opportunities to watch the therapists work with the children and their families in their therapy sessions, learning from Dr. Miller’s wise humble words, to seeing the magical playground garden and therapy spaces, and meeting the 12 other wonderful OTs on the Mentorship alongside me. I have taken back to Sydney bucketsful of ideas, and a feeling of pride in our own therapy centre here in Sydney, for our values and beliefs are strongly in line with those at the STAR Institute: We endeavour to implement best practice and quality outcomes for our clients and families. We continue to push our practices beyond the ‘norm’ to offer our clients what they need to meet their goals.

This may include:

  • Individual parent and child therapy sessions
  • Parent coaching
  • Group sessions
  • Intensive holiday sessions
  • School visits
  • Teacher training evenings
  • Parent evening courses

If your child struggles with their Sensory Processing or you’d like to learn more about Sensory Processing Disorder, please talk to your child’s Occupational Therapist or contact our Head Office.