Our senses are always in use, even when we are asleep. At any given moment, they are collecting a vast amount of information from our environment and relaying it to the brain. To analyse and regulate the stream of input from our sensory systems, the brain employs sensory processing. When confronted with a large quantity of inputs, an individual’s sensory processing might be overwhelmed, resulting in difficulties with other brain activities. Individuals suffering from sensory processing overload or underload, frequently struggle with communication, decision making, and information processing. They may often experience feelings of acute anxiety and a trigger of the fight or flight response.
When faced with the stimuli commonly found in public places, children with Autism may experience sensory overload or underload. When this occurs at school, a student’s capacity to learn and communicate effectively may be impeded since their brain is focused on managing the challenges of their surroundings. Fluorescent lights, loud noises, different textures, and strong odours are examples of stimuli that may create sensory processing difficulties.
Is there a solution to this issue? Yes!
Sensory rooms are designated areas in schools, homes, or public spaces that aim to provide a safe environment to be used as a refuge for those who have sensory processing disorders. Creating a sensory room at a school allows children with Autism to have a space where their sensory preferences can be met. Schools that have a sensory room report that it helps promote
positive learning outcomes and effectively eases the pressures of the daily learning experience.
History of the Sensory Room – Its Inventors and the Issues They Sought to Remedy
The usage of sensory rooms began in the Netherlands in the 1970s, when occupational therapist Ad Verheul and his colleague, music therapist Jan Hulsegge, set out to address the problem of not having acceptable leisure activities to utilize during sessions with their patients. At the time, the majority of activities being practiced focused on day-to-day living, with little time set out for play or relaxation. They soon came across studies by American psychologists Cleland and Clark, who theorised that using sensory exercises may result in positive outcomes for patients, such as improved communication and positive behavioural changes. Based on the findings of this study, they devised a strategy to begin incorporating sensory motivators into their lessons.
The sensory tent was Verhuel and Hulsegge’s first design. Their aim was to construct an inviting sensory environment that could both engage and calm their patients. In the sensory tent, they placed a variety of items that could elicit sensory responses. Items such as soft cushions, balloons, tactile toys, and sound were noted as promoting positive outcomes during their therapy sessions. After reviewing their positive results, they used this knowledge to refine their invention further into what they called a ‘Snoezelen’. The Snoezelen was the first sensory room built, and it was utilized by patients at the Centre De Hartenberg as a place to retreat, relax, and enjoy sensory stimulation that suited their preferences.
Over time, the success of their creation attracted the attention of other doctors who began establishing similar rooms in their own practices. Snoezelen are now commonly referred to as “sensory rooms” and have been a major success since their inception. In modern times, the use of sensory rooms is widespread, with installations in over 40 countries.
What Is a Sensory Room – How Does It Work?
A sensory room is an area designed to offer respite from sensory inputs that might be overwhelming. They are frequently utilised in schools as a place where children may come and engage in sensory activities that can either relax or stimulate them. One of the main properties of a sensory room is the presence of equipment that is able to stimulate the senses through sound, touch, movement, colour, or aroma. Sensory rooms in schools are frequently used by children with Autism, although all students can benefit from the experience.
Sensory rooms offer an engaging retreat that allows children to simply be in the moment of whatever emotion they are experiencing. Children that have difficulties with sensory processing benefit from these environments because it gives them the space to invigorate their mind with activities that distract from and alleviate their anxiety. If you’re interested in creating sensory rooms at your school in Ireland, experts can create rooms that meet the needs of any sensory activity. If you’re curious as to how a sensory room works and how it can benefit your school— let’s get into the senses!
• Sight — Sensory lights are utilised to induce visual stimulation and can also have a calming effect due to the glow they bring to a space. Devices such as projectors, fibre optic sensory lights, and sensory light tables are often used to create a visual atmosphere that is beneficial to individuals facing sensory overload.
• Smell — In sensory rooms, the sense of smell is activated through aromatherapy practices. There are various sensory equipment options that could meet the needs of this preference. For example, the sensory room in your school can use aroma diffusers with relaxing scents such as lavender, eucalyptus, or orange. Sensory activities can involve scratch and sniff stickers, scented playdough, or scratch and sniff books.
• Taste — To create a sensory experience with taste, edible gel, jelly, or textured snacks can be used to satisfy children’s gustatory needs. Activities involving food can help children have fun with safe, non-toxic, and edible sensory toys that will enable them to self-regulate.
• Hearing — For auditory needs, a sensory room uses speakers to play meditative music, ocean waves, or white noise. Bubble tubes are great for a sensory room to create soothing noise as well as satisfy the other senses with the light, movement, and sound. For children overwhelmed by sound, you can supply your sensory room with ear plugs, noise-cancelling headphones, or fuzzy earmuffs.
• Vestibular — This sensory system provides spatial information and is essential for both balance and movement. Any toy that promotes physical activity can be used as sensory equipment to aide vestibular processing issues. A sensory room can be equipped with swings, balance boards, step-a-logs, or body wheels to guide physical activity and allow children to stim.
• Touch — Tactile sensory stimulation can be explored in a variety of ways in sensory rooms. Sensory equipment that provides vibration, soft texture, or pressure can be beneficial to children who are touch sensitive and crave tactile stimulation. Items like vibrating cushions, sand and water tables, fidget popper toys, and sensory boxes may be helpful in providing these needs.
• Proprioception – This sense is how the brain receives information about the body’s location, position, and movement. A sensory room equipped with items that allow the action of deep pressure therapy can be beneficial for children that are proprioceptive sensory seekers. Sensory equipment that can engage this sense are items like bean bags, body socks, hugging pea pods, or pressure vests.
• Interoception – This sense provides information regarding the sensations felt from inside of the body. A child that has issues with processing interoceptive information may not understand the messages their body is sending them. This can cause anxiety, confusion, and emotional withdrawal. Activities that promote mindfulness, such as yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises are ideal to help children that have these anxieties. Sensory equipment such as crash pads, yoga mats, and ball pits may be comforting to a child facing problems with interoception processing.
The Difference a Sensory Room Makes to a Child with Autism
A sensory room provides a relaxing environment where children can self-soothe and be comforted by their preferred sensory activities. If you want to know the difference a sensory room can make for a child with Autism— continue reading.
• Fun — Sensory rooms have toys and equipment that caters to each child’s unique sensory processing difficulties by engaging them in play.
• Relaxing — Children can work through their difficulties while feeling supported by their surroundings, instead of being in an environment that can trigger or exacerbate sensory overload.
• Versatile — An ideal space for occupational therapists, music therapists, and psychologists to conduct sessions rather than have students face the stress of travelling off campus.
• Positive — May provide positive therapeutic outcomes and lead to an improvement in their motor skills, socialisation, and cognitive development.
Why Schools Around Ireland Are Increasingly Creating Sensory Spaces for Their Students
Creating sensory areas for children has proven to be a successful practice in schools across Ireland. The implementation of these spaces in schools has resulted in a variety of positive changes in students’ behaviour and academic development. Sensory spaces can reduce the stress of a paced curriculum by allowing students to learn at their own speed in a place free from distractions. By having access to sensory rooms, the noise and triggers of the classroom can be taken out of the equation and children remain in an environment that is ideal for their academic success.
A sensory room is an inclusive area that supports a variety of needs and skillsets. Sensory room usage in Ireland has been cited as improving concentration, attention, and alertness in children with Autism. Schools around Ireland are creating these spaces for all students to promote mindfulness and wellbeing with positive results. Students that utilise these spaces are happier, more relaxed, and feel supported. Sensory rooms help children face their sensory triggers in a healthy and positive manner outside of the home and are integral in teaching methods that may help them self-regulate their anxieties.
<H2>Government Funding Programs for Sensory Rooms
Funding for sensory rooms in Ireland can be provided in a number of ways. Schools in Ireland can seek out government funding, parent donation, fundraising efforts, and charity support. The Dublin Airport provides a community fund and has partnered with schools’ ASD units to create sensory rooms. Your school in Ireland too can apply for a grant that allocates €6,500 to cover the cost of furniture and equipment needs for a sensory room. NCSE (National Council for Special Education) also provides grants for €7,000 for sensory room equipment and €2,500 for loose furniture and equipment.
If your school needs funding for a sensory room, you can also look into these alternative options:
• Parent donation – Parents are the champions of their children and will always be key in school infrastructure.
• School fundraisers – Events such as field days, bake sales, or jumble sales are a quick way to raise funds for your sensory room.
• Charity support — Organisations such as The Giving Guild, AsIAm, and TNL Community Fund are charities that provide support to better the lives of children with Autism.
The Diversity of Sensory Rooms – One for Every Budget, Scale, and Needs
Every sensory room is different but all sensory rooms account for and accommodate students’ needs — no matter the budget or scale. It is important that a sensory room, above all else, becomes a safe space for students to find support. There are two different types of sensory rooms: calming sensory rooms and interactive sensory rooms. Often, schools will have a combination of both types of sensory equipment in the same space. These rooms can be sectioned off in a way that accommodates both sensory overload and sensory underload. For example, a sensory wall can have light, movement, and tactile textures so it is both calming and interactive.
Another area in need of addressing is the size of the room. Sensory rooms should be large in scale to give children ample space for sensory activities. However, it is possible to use a small classroom as long as you try and avoid a space without windows so you may control the light. Controlling the light of the room can help make a small space seem larger with cosy peapods, light projectors, and bubble tubes to give the room depth. Adding a tent in the room is a great option to make a small space seem larger to the children and create a space where they feel embraced.
Sensory rooms don’t have to include every expensive piece of equipment on the market to be effective. If a school has a small budget, it is still possible to create a sensory room that will meet the students’ needs. This can be done with items that are accessible such as weighted blankets, pillows, fibre optic sensory lights, and white noise machines. Keep the children’s preferences in mind and Total Sensory Solutions experts can help you create the sensory room that meets every child’s need.
If you want to set up a sensory room in your school, the specialists at Total Sensory Solutions have sensory room packages and sensory room equipment that can meet the needs of your students. Our mission is to assist you in all your multi-sensory environment requirements.