Could A Sensory Room Help Your Child?

by Cara Koscinski MOT, OTR/L June 19, 2017

Could A Sensory Room Help Your Child?

Sensory rooms are becoming more popular in homes, clinics, and schools. The rooms are designed to assist someone in organizing, calming, relaxing, and seeking out sensory information. The goal of a sensory room is to provide a safe place where someone who has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) can go when they need to either calm or stimulate their senses. They can be as varied as the people who use them. Sensory rooms provide a great variety of activities to help engage the senses.For information about sensory integration and sensory integration therapy, read our post here.

What Should Go In Your Sensory Room?

Since we all have different sensory needs, the room should have a variety of activities and equipment within it. The goal is for the child (and/or adult) to seek out activities to help them regulate their body. When someone has poor processing of sensory information, they may become quite uncomfortable. Another benefit of a sensory room is to de-escalate when in a crisis situation. Some may experience a great deal of anxiety when presented with sensory information which causes a panic reaction. Normal daily function and learning cannot occur when we feel out of control and disorganized. Others may require more of a sensory experience and seek out sensory information in the form of crashing, bumping, chewing, and more. Further, a great number of those with SPD can have mixed needs and seek input in some areas and avoid input in others.

Many hidden benefits exist when using a sensory room. People with sensory and other cognitive and physical disabilities often feel empowered when controlling the environment around them. A sensory room allows users to use whatever piece of equipment they need at the time. For example, someone may have difficulty when overstimulated by noise. She can enter a sensory room and use the items she feels would best make her feel comfortable and more in control of her own body’s regulation. After spending time in the sensory room, users often enjoy increased concentration and focus, improved creativity and expression, increases in fine and gross motor skills, and lowered aggressive behaviors. Another example is when a child constantly engages in sensory seeking behavior. He needs more input in order to stay focused so he might use the weighted items in the sensory room to know where his body is in space.

Tina Champagne, Occupational Therapist, discusses a ‘Sensory Room Umbrella.’ She names the sensory modulation room, sensory integration room, and Snoezelyn rooms.

  1. A Sensory Modulation room is a space in which people go when experiencing a sensory meltdown, panic, or are in a crisis situation. Providing a safe place to de-escalate can mean the difference between someone accidentally injuring themselves when chemically driven panic reactions occur. There may contain massage equipment, lighting that slowly changes colors, bubble tubes, calming scents, music, weighted blankets, bean bags, fidgets and other pieces of equipment designed for calming.
  2. Sensory Integration rooms are wonderful spaces designed for and used by therapists. You may have seen them in your therapist’s room. Swings, crash pads, scooters, gym and playground equipment, and many others are utilized for therapeutic purposes. Occupational therapists can seek out additional training in order to properly use and work with children in the sensory integration room. Be sure to ask your OT if she is familiar with sensory processing when you schedule your first appointment. Check out the SPD Foundation here for specific details about sensory treatment techniques. The OT makes specific client-centered functional goals and uses equipment to help prepare a client to engage and interact for optimal learning.
  3. Snoezelen rooms were first developed in Holland. The name is Dutch and the goal in this room is that the person using the room is in control. The specific needs of each person using the room is considered and there are no specific therapeutic goals. When using the room, the student decides what activities in which to participate.

Remember that there are eight senses:  vision, smell, hearing, taste, touch, vestibular (movement), proprioception (position in space), and interoception (internal information from organs and receptors). While there are many signs of SPD, here are some examples of difficulty processing sensory information:

  • over-responding to unexpected touch
  • covering ears often in crowded settings and/or experiencing a panic reaction with a loud or un-expected sound
  • picky eater and has extremely limited food preferences
  • gags when smelling something
  • avoids messy play
  • seems clumsy and frequently falls or becomes injured
  • becomes upset with bathing, dressing, tags, seams, transition of clothing from season to season
  • does not notice when injured
  • over-stuffs mouth
  • avoids playground equipment
  • experiences difficulty with transition from activity to activity
  • frequent meltdowns

Consider adding a sensory room to help with meeting therapeutic goals, assist in calming, and make life more comfortable. The most important thing is to provide a safe setting. It’s important to remember that we explore and interpret our environment through our senses. When a person can better process sensory information, he can often pay more attention to the teacher, learn functional skills, and even improve verbal skills. The possibilities are endless!

Cara Koscinski MOT, OTR/L
Cara Koscinski MOT, OTR/L

Pediatric occupational therapist, Cara Koscinski, MOT, OTR/L, author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist Book Series, is a veteran clinician of 20+ years specializing in Sensory Processing Disorder, reflex integration, trauma informed care, and autism. She obtained her Master of Occupational Therapy degree in 1997 from Duquesne University. In addition to her longstanding work as a private practice OT, Cara is a successful entrepreneur, having started two companies. Her products can be found in special needs catalogues and websites across the US and UK. Cara’s latest venture is The Pocket Occupational Therapist Book Series. As an author, Cara brings her expertise as a pediatric occupational therapist and mother of two children with autism to parents, caregivers, families, and educators in an easy-to-read, easy-to-follow format. All five books are available at The Pocket Occupational Therapist website at http://www.pocketot.com and on Amazon.


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