A Sensory Room...
The Best Space To Create For Some Awesome Relaxation Or Stimulation. Let's
sensory room is extremely therapeutic for both children and adults with
sensory processing disorders... from mild to severe. In fact, anyone
in the general population could benefit from
spending time in one!
By the term "sensory room", we are talking
about a specific room, with specific sensory equipment and
activities, to benefit specific sensory processing difficulties.
The room must be tailored to one's specific sensory
needs just the same as, for example, you purchase a mattress and/or
pillow. Some people will prefer a firm mattress and firm pillow, some
prefer a soft mattress and soft pillow, and some prefer a combination,
soft mattress with a hard pillow or vice versa.
Although a sensory room will be tailored to address an
individual's unique needs, (and ideally would be set up with input from a
knowledgeable professional such as an occupational therapist) there is
also certain equipment which can have therapeutic sensory system effects
on most anyone.
The reason for this is because it will become
therapeutic depending on how, when, and why the equipment or activities
are used. The professional guidance needs to come in regards to how,
when, and why... it can then benefit anyone on opposite ends of the sensory
This article will tell you about equipment and
activities that can be used for both hypo- and hyper- sensitivity, as
well as specific suggestions for one end of the spectrum or the other.
(Yes, I admit, this is tricky... often children don't
neatly fall on one end or another, but fluctuate back and forth. Exactly!
This is precisely the reason an OT can help you set up a room specific to
you or your child's needs.)
Remember, the point of a sensory room is to calm or
stimulate an individual through each of the senses. Also keep in mind,
when we are talking about sensory processing, we like to refer to the 7 or
8 senses instead of the usual 5, so be sure to include them all in your
I will start with one of the most common items you should include in
a sensory room... a swing that moves in one plane
Unfortunately, these are expensive. The cost is much more
"justifiable" and achievable in a clinic or rehab facility. If you can
afford one, fantastic! It will be money well spent. It would
definitely be the ONE piece of equipment you would want.
If you are setting up a sensory room in your own home,
and are looking for a cheaper alternative, hammocks,
glider swings, and glider rockers can give you some of the same effects.
Either way, the gentle swinging motion can be both soothing or stimulating
depending on its use.
A good sensory room will have controllable light sources and light
therapy. Most importantly, make sure there are absolutely no
fluorescent lights (they are bothersome even to people without sensory
processing disorders)! Color cubes, fiber optic light sources,
lights, and/or low wattage pastel colored light bulbs are all good ideas.
As discussed in my
machines article, aromatherapy is quite beneficial
to children with sensory processing disorders. For this reason, you
will want to include some variety of particular aromas which can be used
via different mediums in your sensory room.
Remember, the particular scents you use will vary with
the effects you are trying to achieve. For example, great calming
scents include (among many others!); vanilla, lavender, peppermint, or
jasmine. Stimulating scents include (among others); cinnamon, strong sweet
or sour smells, floral scents, or spices.
Supervised licking, sucking, tasting, or chewing a variety of foods,
liquids, gum, or candy is a great activity to include in your sensory
For hyposensitive individuals include sweet, salty,
spicy, and/or sour flavors. For hypersensitive individuals, just one new
taste or texture at a time!
Meet them at their level! Do not force them to eat
anything they are extremely anxious about. If you must, due to extreme
sensitivities, give them many opportunities to explore the food through
their other senses - i.e., sight, smell, feel etc. - before introducing it
Also beneficial to both hyper- and hypo- sensitive
individuals are oral massagers; to be used prior to eating and/or
trying new foods and textures. Use the oral massagers to stimulate mouth,
cheeks, tongue, palate, and lips to decrease hypersensitivities or
increase input they are craving.
You can use
therapy balls to roll on top of them,
blankets, big floor pillows,
bean bag chairs, lycra swings, and
hammocks. Deep pressure input applied correctly and at the proper time
will calm, relax, and soothe even the highest energy kids!
You will also want your sensory room to provide
opportunities for activities which give muscles and joints significant use
and pressure. Some great ideas are:
hippity hop balls, mini trampolines, squeeze/fidget
toys, and things to climb or hang on.
Heavy Work Activities - an extensive list of heavy work activities and
proprioceptive input (gross motor, fine motor, oral motor, etc.) which are
useful in calming unfocused, overaroused children.
Tactile / Touch / Feel
Tactile experiences will be the easiest to supply in your sensory
room, after all, everything has it's own texture and feel. However,
popular tactile input activities will include: playdoh, funny foam, "gak",
(see playdoh recipes) , zyrofoam, textured balls, tactile walls,
boards and books, and/or textured puzzles, sensory brushing with surgical
brush (using Wilbarger brushing protocol), coloring over textured
materials, fingerpaints (regular, or using pudding and/or Kool Aid mix,
etc.), koosh balls, using various materials (i.e., satin, carpet swatches,
silk, lambswool, washcloths, cotton balls, etc.), and don't forget
massagers and vibrating kids toys.
Lastly, we must not forget the soothing sounds! They come in all types
of mediums; sound pillows, sound eye masks, CD's, tapes, nature sound
machines, white noise machines, indoor wind chimes, etc. Nature sounds,
white noise, classical music, or new age music are the most popular
choices for calming, organizing input.
Naturally, I could go on and on (oops, already did) with
specific suggestions! Whether you are working with an Occupational
Therapist or not, you may instinctively know what is calming, soothing, or
stimulating from previous experience or even common sense.
Also, know that new sensory experiences are encouraged and necessary to test out
and provide for your child. You truly may not know how a particular
sensory experience will effect your child until you try it.
The bottom line is this... a sensory room based around an individual's
sensory needs can be one of the most valuable therapeutic tools possible.
Be sure to include as many sensory experiences and "stations" as possible.
Work on 1-2 senses at a time; for example, soothing music while feeling
different textures, or deep pressure input while using light/visual
therapy and stimuli.
Use the room as "therapy", i.e. 5-7 days a week, 1-2 times per day,
depending on the individual's needs.
Encourage all senses to be explored and used.
Pay attention to your child's reaction to various stimuli. Give him more
of what he is seeking, the best input to calm or stimulate.
DO NOT force anything.
Be creative in activities and ways in which the sensory stimuli is
Watch for signs of over stimulation/over arousal/extreme fears.
And, above all... have fun! This should be a pleasurable, calming,
organizing, exploratory experience!
I have tried to find the least expensive products for you, but know that
if you CAN afford it, there are companies that have very specific
equipment, individuals who will design and set up a room for you, and some
incredible products! If cost is not an issue, this will be best.
However, if cost IS an issue, building a sensory room is still extremely
feasible, even within a budget, by using some creativity.
This is why I have provided resources for you within this site, as well as
on my partner store site for you (see link below) to use for a fraction of
the cost of your typical sensory integration catalog equipment!