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Sensory Rooms for Children with Special Needs
A multi-sensory room is a special place designed for children and adults with learning difficulties. It is a room to go to which has calming and uplifting effects, which is beneficial for those who have physical or mental problems.
The rooms have a way of triggering senses and emotions which are hard to express, as well as being interesting to be in.
Light sensory rooms, or White Rooms serve a multitude of purposes for individuals with various difficulties. People with dementia, those in need of palliative care, and those with mental disabilities can benefit from being in a sensory room.
The individuals who use the sensory room are free to explore how they wish without the need for verbal communication. Distressed, hyperactive or frustrated users can feel calm and focused. Those who have difficulties with communication or have physical problems may also find a way of benefiting from sensory rooms.
What is in a Sensory Room?
In a multi-sensory room there can be bubble lights, lava lamps, coloured spot lights, fibre optic lights and light images projected onto the walls and ceilings. The lights are of low wattage, as bright or fluorescent lighting can be over stimulating.
The room will be lit up to awaken mood and senses.
Children who have problems with sight can benefit from light and sounds, and autistic children can focus and be given time out.
Sensory rooms may have soft and calming music or play nature sounds. Some may have a soft play area with a ball pool, furniture of different textures and feelings, massage chairs and mirrors.
Some sensory rooms have water features with bubble lamps, pools and water beds.
As well as visual senses, the textures of soft and hard toys, bean bags and sounds of squidgy or crinkled objects will stimulate other areas of the brain. When the child spends time in the sensory room, they will find what calms them the most. If they like to sit on soft surfaces and look at a waterfall, then let them.
Some things may not suit them or make them fearful, so never force them with anything.
Sometimes smells are introduced in multi-sensory rooms. Aromatherapy oils and scents which are safe can help to relax, help with communication and increase concentration.
Anything scented will help, as long as the scent is beneficial. Lavender is relaxing, while spicy cinnamon is more invigorating.
Try scented soft toys (such as bean toys which heat in the microwave), play dough, diffusers and smelly blankets.
Children who are over sensitive to certain smells may find it easier to have aromatherapy oils and air fresheners in the home. Some will feel sick by kitchen or bathroom odours, so this will help.
Touch and Feel
By encouraging the child (or the person using the sensory room) to feel different textures, it can develop their experiences.
Soft toys to squeeze, gloop, sand and anything tactile will help with development. The items can be as simple as cotton wool or finger painting, or specialised toys for children with special educational needs.
Outdoor areas can also help with learning and development. Gardens with scented plants and flowers, water features and wind chimes stimulate moods and feelings.
Enclosed areas, textured pathways, swings and seats create interest and imagination.
Again, textures such as hand rails, sculptures and features to touch or move can be beneficial to the users.
Music, bridges and seating of different materials help children to explore and discover.
Plants can be edible or can be touched, smelled or make rustling or whistling noises in the breeze.
Where to Find Sensory Rooms
Sensory rooms can be found in some children’s centres, leisure centres and special needs schools.
You can design your own sensory room at home if you have a child with special needs
- Add bead lights, a lava lamp and light globes in your child’s room. Use inexpensive fairy lights and battery operated spot lights.
- Add cushions and bean bags so your child has different textures to feel and sit on. If your child has physical tantrums, use lots of cushions and padding so they can go to their room for time out without hurting themselves.
- Use different flooring for a child to explore on, such as giant sponge jigsaws.
- Depending on your child’s age, interest and abilities, introduce soft toys and textured toys. Moon sand or ‘Gloop’ (a mixture of cornflour and water) is great for children to feel. Glitter and food colouring makes it look interesting.
- Play soft music which they like. Panpipes, the sounds of birds or chill out music can relax and calm.
- Aromatherapy oils, reed diffusers, scented soaps and scented paper can promote a calm environment. Use them safely and supervised.
Make your garden into a peaceful and interesting place to visit. Use solar lights, swing seats, hammocks and plants of different textures and scents. Put a sand table outside, soft cushions and wind chimes to create your own sensory garden.