How can schools use sensory rooms to provide therapeutic learning environments?
What is a Sensory Room?
In the bustling environment of a school, filled with activity and noise, it can sometimes become overwhelming for certain learners. This is particularly true for students with autism spectrum disorder and other special educational needs. To address this, many schools have turned to the creation of sensory rooms, providing a safe haven of calm and control within the school's lively setting.
A sensory room is a specially designed environment that caters to the sensory needs of a student, facilitating their participation in learning. It is a controlled, sensory-focused space that is intentionally created to support the unique needs of each student.
These rooms are not just alternative environments for children with sensory disorders, but they also serve as therapeutic spaces for facilitating other types of interventions, such as Lego therapy.
The benefits of sensory rooms are manifold. They provide a tranquil space where students can retreat from the sensory overload of the typical school environment. This can significantly reduce stress and anxiety, thereby enhancing the overall quality of life for these students.
Moreover, sensory rooms can also be used to develop a student's sensory skills, such as visual development and visual stimulation.
For instance, a sensory room might be equipped with blackout curtains to reduce visual stimuli, or filled with soft music to provide auditory comfort. The room could also include various tactile objects to engage the student's sense of touch.
Each element within the room is carefully chosen to cater to the specific sensory needs of the student, thereby creating an accessible environment that promotes positive effects on their learning experience.
In essence, sensory rooms are a powerful tool in the educational landscape, particularly for students with special educational needs. They offer a unique approach to learning, one that is tailored to the individual student, promoting not just academic growth, but also personal development and well-being.
- Sensory rooms are specially designed environments that cater to the sensory needs of students, particularly those with autism spectrum disorder and other special educational needs.
- They provide a tranquil space where students can retreat from the sensory overload of the typical school environment, reducing stress and anxiety.
- Sensory rooms can also be used to develop a student's sensory skills, such as visual development and visual stimulation.
- Each element within the room is carefully chosen to cater to the specific sensory needs of the student, creating an accessible environment that promotes positive effects on their learning experience.
- Sensory rooms offer a unique approach to learning, promoting not just academic growth, but also personal development and well-being.
What is present in a sensory room?
A sensory room is a calm space devoted to relaxing and developing the senses. Unlike a regular classroom, where each pupil is mostly expected to listen to the teacher, a sensory room provides children with the autonomy and freedom to analyze the self environment using their senses in their time.
The internal calm environment of a sensory room may include special lighting. It has a Bubble Tube Seating Area, sensory lighting and Bubble tube fibre optic mirrors. A regular sensory room has a soft seating arrangement and a wide variety of interesting things to assess, and it might also contain multi-sensory equipment such as a musical touch wall beanbag chair and soft music.
Equipment items to consider:
- Interactive wall panels
- Sensory lighting
- Beanbag chair
- Infinity tunnel
- Sensory bathrooms
- The ability to transform the room into a dark space
- Activity mats
- Art equipment
- Building blocks creating tactile experiences
9 Therapeutic Ways of Using Your Sensory Room
Incorporating a sensory room into the school environment can have a profound impact on students with special educational needs. Here are nine therapeutic ways of using a sensory room:
- Sensory Integration Therapy: Sensory rooms can be used to provide sensory integration therapy, a form of treatment designed to help children with sensory processing issues. This therapy involves specific activities that challenge the child's ability to respond appropriately to sensory input.
- Emotional Therapy: Sensory rooms can also be used for emotional therapy, especially for children with autism. The calming and engaging environment can help manage emotional outbursts and reduce anxiety.
- Visual Stimulation: The use of lights, colors, and patterns in a sensory room can provide visual stimulation, aiding in visual development and focus.
- Cognitive Skills Development: Sensory rooms can be equipped with puzzles, games, and interactive displays that challenge and develop a child's cognitive skills.
- Communication Skills Enhancement: Interactive elements in a sensory room can encourage non-verbal students to communicate their preferences, promoting the development of communication skills.
- Motor Skills Development: Sensory rooms often include equipment that promotes physical activity, helping to develop gross and fine motor skills.
- Relaxation and Calming: The calming environment of a sensory room can provide a safe space for overstimulated children to relax and regain control.
- Social Skills Development: Group activities in a sensory room can encourage interaction and cooperation, fostering social skills development.
- Individualized Learning: Sensory rooms can be adapted to meet the specific needs and preferences of individual students, providing a personalized learning environment.
As Dr. A. Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist and clinical psychologist, once said, "Sensory integration is a normal, neurological, developmental process which begins in the womb and continues throughout one's life." Sensory rooms, when used effectively, can significantly contribute to this process, enhancing the overall learning experience for students with special educational needs.
What are the advantages of building sensory rooms in a school?
- A sensory room offers a therapeutic space for children and adults with autism and other special needs.
- Choices of equipment can be used to improve a variety of physical and cognitive skills.
- The calm environment of a sensory room may help students with behavioural difficulties.
- Students learn to self-regulate emotions in a controlled environment, without the feeling of being punished or isolated.
- Sensory rooms provide a perfect place for ELSA sessions and counselling and therapy.
However, within the safe space of a classroom, sensory interventions (resources/activities) are preferred over the sensory rooms.
Also, a sensory room is not required at all schools, and not every pupil will benefit from it. Considering that the Sensory Spaces' construction, maintenance and operation can take much time, funds and resources, every school needs to critically reflect on its necessity for a Safe Environment of a sensory room.
Which students can benefit from a sensory room?
In the UK, approximately 1 in 100 persons are on the autism spectrum. Therefore, a 500 students school will possibly have 5 or more students with ASD. Even though autism affects every individual differently, facing problems in processing sensory information is a common aspect of the health care condition.
People with autism or any other sensory problems may either involve hypersensitivity (in which students do not feel the same degree of intensity as others) or hypersensitivity (in which students cannot cope with too much stimuli. Using a comfortable space to design age-appropriate activities for students is one of the ways that a sensory room can be utilised most effectively.
Using Bubble Tubes in Sensory Rooms
A common component of Sensory Spaces is a bubble tube. It is frequently kept in one corner with two bubble tube mirrors put in to give the illusion of three tubes rather than one. In most cases, a platform is created surrounding the tube such that pupils may sit close and touch the tube. There are many reasons for installing Bubble tubes in sensory rooms:
1. Sensory Stimulation
Bubble tubes provide visual sensory stimulation. They often have LED lights that change colours and watching the bubbles float up through a variety of lighting effects provides sensory input. Some bubble tubes also have a vibrating component that allows for a multi-sensory experience.
2. Calming visual focal point
It is a widespread calming activity is to find a place to focus while relaxing one's mind. Most learners will be motivated to keep their focus on their heartbeat, breath, or “visualize” an object. Most of the times, it is easier for the learners to focus their attention on something external. The harmonic motion of the bubble tube offers a calming, concrete, visual focal point.
3. Meeting IEP or learning goals
Some bubble tubes come with switches that allow students to change colours, turn them on and off, or change light patterns. Teachers will use these switches to teach a variety of IEP goals including cause and effect, colours, or other attributes such as on and off).
In schools, Sensory Spaces allow children with autism to deal with all sorts of sensory emotions in a calming and relaxing yet provocative environment.
4. Sensory stimulation
Bubble tubes may give rise to visual sensory stimulation. Bubble tubes mostly have colour-changing LED and watching the bubbles drift through a wide range of effects of lighting offers sensory input. Many bubble tubes encompass vibrating component that facilitates a multi-sensory experience.
Sensory Spaces offer mental and physical stimuli for individuals with sensory impairments, developmental delays and physical disabilities. For those with physical disabilities, interaction with Multi-Sensory Environment may help to develop touch, sound, sight, hearing, and autonomy. The use of sensory equipment may enable children with Developmental Disabilities to build and apply various skills, including:
How do children with special needs benefit from sensory rooms?
Spending time in a calming environment of a sensory room has a positive impact on fine and gross motor skills, as well as, tactile, auditory and visual processing. By offering a sense of comfort and calmness, calming space of a sensory room enables learners to self-regulate their negative behaviours, which eventually improves focus.
Occupational therapists (OTs) have been using the concept of a sensory room for years, but the advantages of "Multi-Sensory Environments of sensory rooms" are so tremendous that a lot of people are building a calming environment of a sensory room in their schools or homes as well.
It is suggested that certain children with special needs might benefit from spending at least half an hour in the sensory environment under the supervision of a physical therapist, occupational therapist and educator. The educator, occupational therapist and physical therapist will work together to create lesson plans and care programmes for those with special needs.
Learning does not take place only in the classroom environment. In fact, for a lot of students with learning difficulties, the environment of a regular classroom is not suitable for learning and digesting information. However, the environment of a sensory room may allow these students to learn at their own pace.
Equipped with things such as bean bags, mirrors, mats, cushions, lights and toys, the stimulating learning environment of a sensory room may offer an opportunity for each student to thrive. Every person has a unique learning style: some may grasp new information better when they are provided with the information visually, whereas, some may prefer a more hands-on strategy (tactile learning). The multi-sensory strategy of a sensory room makes it suitable for all the students with different learning styles, offering education tailored to fulfil all of the student's needs.