A sensory room is a therapeutic home space with various types of equipment that may provide relief to children and adults with special needs. This room helps calm people who are living with autism and other sensory processing disorders, creating a focus so they can interact with others productively.
Individuals with processing disorders can get easily overwhelmed by touch, movement, sights, or sounds. There are two types of sensory processing issues:
- Hypersensitivity, which is when sensory input is too overwhelming;
- Hyposensitivity, which is when people look for sensory experiences.
Too much or too little of either sensory challenge can lead to an outburst of emotion which may disrupt learning, work environments, and daily life in general.
It is common for people with autism or other sensory disorders to seek out or avoid certain sensations. Sensory rooms give people a safe space to calm down and regulate their feelings. Additionally, this type of space helps individuals living with sensory disorders acquire skills to support attention and behavior in the future.
Sensory rooms are not just good in the home — they can be helpful in schools as well. With these rooms available in education centers, educators are able to keep their students in the community instead of sending them to an outside facility. Many therapists have found sensory rooms to be helpful when treating patients. Those that are studying occupational therapy use physical activities provided by a sensory room to meet their client’s needs.
Besides being a safe space for individuals with special needs, there are many other benefits to sensory rooms.
Increases Development Skills
Kids with autism spectrum disorder develop at different rates, which means they might not develop skills in the same order as other developing children. These skills can include:
- Listening skills;
- Interaction with others;
For example, a child with autism or sensory processing disorder (SPD) may not respond to their name or make eye contact, which can make it difficult to get their attention. Additionally, children with SPD might know colors, but don’t understand how to sort by color. Having underdeveloped skills makes it hard for children and adults with SPD to interact with others in everyday life.
The activities in a sensory room help individuals coordinate their actions and develop their motor skills. The room allows the individual to practice gross motor skills in a safe environment. Some activities and tools that can be included in a sensory room to assist a child with developing their skills include:
- A tactile board;
- A balance board;
- A trampoline;
- A bean bag chair;
- A ball pit.
These tools help stimulate the vestibular system, which is involved in the regulation of movement and coordination.
The ability to focus can be difficult for individuals with attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and SPD. These disorders could be a result of a lack of dopamine in the brain, which means an individual experiencing these mental health issues needs more stimulation and reward in order to focus their attention.
Sensory rooms use heightened stimulation to help individuals retain their focus, which may in turn help them in future classes, work offices, or remote work settings.
Children can experience inattention for a number of reasons, including:
- Bright lights;
- Loud sounds;
- Crowded rooms;
- Sudden loud noises.
Whether the individual is hypersensitive or hyposensitive, there are sensory-room tools to accommodate each:
- Climbing wall;
- Stability ball;
- Crash floor;
- Rocking chair;
- Weighted blanket.
Since sensory rooms are designed as a safe space for people with SPD, these rooms may also stimulate their creativity. People with SPD sometimes feel physically hurt when they are overstimulated. This can lead to fight-or-flight feelings, which are a natural reaction to negative sensory experiences.
Being in a constant state of fight-or-flight causes individuals to experience a large amount of stress in the body and mind, and can interfere with creativity. Creating a room that has the right lighting, textures, sounds, and smells helps care providers make an individual with SPD feel safe, and therefore reignite their creativity.
Tools to include in a sensory room that may stimulate creativity are:
- Coloring books;
- Music toys.
Hypersensitive experiences can cause distress for individuals. This may lead to a meltdown, panic, or anxiety that is hard to regulate. A sensory room provides a safe place to de-escalate without putting anyone in danger. It also helps these individuals learn how to regulate their own emotions, which is beneficial in other settings.
Individuals may experience hypersensitivity due to the following:
- Loud noise;
Additionally, a person’s reaction to stimuli could be the opposite; hyposensitive individuals may engage in thrill-seeking behaviors, searching for stimuli that could be harmful to themselves or others. For example, this can lead them to jump off tall structures, run around a room, or swing too high.
Sensory room tools that may help regulate behaviors and emotions include:
- A swing;
- A white noise machine;
- A diffuser;
- Colored lights;
- Toys that can be chewed on.
Sensory play helps children develop cognitive skills by allowing them to make stronger associative connections to respond and process information. For example, activities in the room can help those with autism explore cause and effect and how their actions influence the outside world.
Additionally, sensory training may help them cope in situations where their reactions would normally be extreme or harmful. Studies also show that sensory play experiences can help children build cognitive skills if they combine touch, vision, hearing, taste, and smell.
Tools that can be included in a sensory room and enhance learning are:
- Wooden blocks;
- Visual mood cards;
- Social skills games;
- Toys that include sounds;
- Toys with different textures.
It’s important to note that sensory rooms help as long as the individual is receptive to it. If you find that a person with SPD does not respond to a sensory room, it may be time to consult a professional. Occupational therapists treat patients with a variety of disorders and can help strategize new treatments and activities so people with SPD are able to develop skills that will help them in everyday life.
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