The world can be an overwhelming place for some people. We are constantly inundated with sights, sounds and smells to stimulate our senses. This stimulation is not a problem for most, but it can be a genuine problem for some people who suffer from developmental conditions.
Sensory processing disorders[i] are usually detected in early childhood, most commonly among those who have conditions such as autism. However, sensory processing issues can also be found in adults and are often a precursor to conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
While doctors are not yet sure what causes conditions such as autism, Alzheimer’s and other neurocognitive conditions, the use of sensory rooms is proven to help control the effects of sensory processing disorders. Many educational and medical institutions include sensory rooms as part of their programs but for those with a special needs child at home, you too can create a sensory room to help your child’s development.
A sensory room is an enclosed space for therapeutic purposes. It includes a variety of equipment designed to help the induvial focus, develop and control the input of sensory stimulation. Sensory rooms are also immensely beneficial to bring calm to people who are often overwhelmed when they are overly stimulated and can also help them learn how to interact with others around them.
As the name suggests, a sensory room can include stimuli to activate one or more of the five senses – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch – in non-threatening surroundings. It teaches children to focus on the stimuli and react calmly.
Any child or person with special needs can benefit from spending time in a sensory room. They include[ii]:
There are many benefits to having a sensory room[iii] at your child’s school as well as having one at home. They can help a child develop mentally, physically and emotionally in positive ways. Let’s take a look at some of the main benefits.
Creating A Stress-Free Environment For Learning – Some children can become agitated in a traditional classroom setting. A sensory room is less intimidating, especially when positive learning programs are in place. The environment can be controlled so that sensory stimuli are introduced calmly, motivating the student to explore and engage.
Promotes Social Interaction – The stress-free nature of the sensory room can help encourage the child to interact socially with others. They can be introduced to the room individually and then gradually introduced to new students, teachers, carers and other people integral to the child’s development. This can eventually lead them to feel more comfortable when unexpected people enter their spaces.
Learning Through Play – Most children learn faster and absorb more information when learning is combined with play. Games that include controlled sensory stimulation can encourage fine motor skills, problem-solving skills and activate different areas of the brain. This can help them retain more information as they learn in a safe, friendly and fun way.
Develop And Improve Communication Skills – A sensory room for autism can be particularly beneficial at improving verbal and non-verbal communication. They have shown a particularly positive effect on those who are more withdrawn to come out of their shells.
Better Focus – A common problem for children with ADHD is maintaining focus. A sensory room with the right equipment can help a child with ADHD focus on the task in front of them. Through specially designed activities and equipment, the child can learn to keep their focus which will be immensely beneficial later in life when they face the trials and tribulations of everyday occurrences.
Ideally, the sensory space you create should be in a separate room in your home where your child can take ownership of the room and feel completely at ease in. However, if you do not have a dedicated room that can be used for this purpose, the child’s bedroom, half of a shared bedroom or a special corner of family spaces can be just as useful.
Before you begin your sensory room design, speak to your child’s teacher or therapist for ideas. The perfect sensory room should be tailored to your child’s needs. Some children need more stimulation than others, so don’t be afraid to ask for professional advice.
As with all home improvement plans, the first consideration is what colour to paint a sensory room. While bright colours are great for kids, they can be over-stimulating for ADHD and autistic kids. Neutral colours are easier on the eye and less stimulating. White is not usually a wise choice where kids are concerned, and the stark brightness can be intimidating, so think light beige or eggshell colours. These lighter tones work the best when you want to create a light wall sensory room feature using light projectors.
Don’t be too quick to dismiss dark coloured walls as they can be quite calming. Think of darker shades of blue or green, which can be very tranquil, and you can create a unique theme with these colours. Floors in darker shades are easier to keep clean, and they will highlight anything you have on the walls. Avoid hard flooring if you can, as carpet is cosier and more comfortable. If you don’t like the idea of a sensory room with wall-to-wall carpet, you can add an area rug or two where they’re needed.
A sensory room will become a very special space for your child, and furniture will play a vital role in this room. A small table and a few chairs are a must to allow for sensory activities for autism, ADHD and kids with developmental delays. There should also be a dedicated corner of the room for reading or quiet time. Angel chairs are cute, and your child can curl up in this chair with a favourite book or sit quietly for a while. Bean bags are also a good choice for activities that involve sitting on the floor as well as designated cuddling time.
Sensory room equipment should include one or more of the following:
If your child attends special education classes, you have probably seen many of the toys and other equipment they like to use. Include some of their favourites but also introduce some new items.
Children and adults with autism can often become overwhelmed and even highly agitated when they are confronted with stimulation on all sides. In these cases, you need to adopt a low arousal approach[iv] to keep your loved one feeling calm and safe. There are many calming sensory room ideas for people living with autism, and in these cases, the best sensor room ideas should lean towards creating a quiet sanctuary for where your child or adult can retreat to when they need to feel safe and secure.
A low arousal sensory environment needs to be well organised without clutter. Avoid busy patterns and bright colours as these can be overstimulating. The room should be a relaxing and quiet place for rest and rejuvenation.
Setting up a sensory room can be a challenge, especially if you’re on a tight budget. However, there are sensory room ideas that you can make yourself with some inexpensive materials and a few tools. Other elements can be added gradually to spread the sensory room cost over several months instead of in one big hit but you should also contact your local support groups to see if there are any programs for funding sensory rooms.
Adults can also benefit from having a sensory room that can be used to keep them calm or stimulate them, depending on their state at the time. An Alzheimer’s or dementia sensory room can be a retreat for the sufferer and offer respite to their careers.
Whether you have a child or an adult in your home with special needs, a sensory room can help your entire household cope by giving the child or adult their own special place to retreat to when the world outside becomes a little too much for them to handle. Make sure your loved one feels safe in this space and encourage them to take personal ownership of the room.
Everyone is different but we all need to have that one special place to go to.
Office and marketing manager for Sloane & Sons Stylish Chairs, who sell a range of high-quality tub chairs, accent chairs and more.