BLOG #5K – a. & b. – SENSORY INTEGRATION (a. SENSORY ROOM, b. SENSORY ACTIVITIES)
a. SENSORY ROOM –
A sensory room is a designated space in your home (or school, or community, or public place) specifically designed with tools and equipment to help a child regulate their senses, especially when they are experiencing sensory overload or a meltdown.
Many kids on the autism spectrum have sensory issues. This could mean some senses are heightened — a small amount of sensory input feels overwhelming, which may make a child become sensory-avoidant in certain areas. Other senses may be lowered — a large amount of sensory input is needed, so a child may be sensory-seeking.
1. Swing – to provide vestibular stimulation, sense of movement or gravity. There are different types, such as a deep pressure cocoon that hangs; a platform swing that sits on the floor, net swings much like a hammock.
2. Bean Bag Chair or Crash Pad – A large object, something which provides a safe and soft landing for those who need to jump or throw themselves around. Or, for those who just want to cuddle up somewhere and read or listen to music.
3. ‘Weighted’ Blanket, Lap Pad, Vest, or Toy – Heavily weighted things which provide therapeutic relief derived from deep pressure. Used to regulate sleep, calm anxiety and/or stressful moments.
4. Therapy Ball or Trampoline – of various sizes and shapes to satisfy bouncing and big-movement sensory seekers.
5. Soothing Light – calming or exciting lighting for those who need one or the other. From a string of Christmas lights to projection or wave lamps can be helpful. < My Thoughts > Strobe or strobe-like activity lights tend to start seizures for Sonny. Some lamps tend to get hot or have an electrical smell to them. Just saying you may want to avoid these.
6. Bubble Tube – bubblers or tubes with visuals like fake jellyfish or angelfish… or lava lamp-like tubes which are soothing or exciting, depending on visual needs. < My Thoughts > Again, some tend to get hot, have an electrical smell to them, or safety issues. Just saying you may want to avoid these... do your homework before you buy... and, look for UL approval mark.
7. Fidget Toys – to keep fingers and minds busy, varieties of these available out there. < My Thoughts > Personally, I DON’T allow these out of the sensory room for a long list of ‘distraction’ reasons. I DO allow Rubik cubes, though. Just saying.
8. Body Socks – Sensory socks provide some compression, allowing body movement at the same time. < My Thoughts > there are also ‘wraps’ that can be used for heavier compression, but the person is NOT to be left alone while in one. The idea of the body sock is the person is allowed creative movement, according to their sensory needs. Back in the day, we let kids put pillowcases on their feet and walk around, well supervised of course. Smiles.
9. Sensory Bins – containers filled with different textures; water beads, kinetic sand, dry rice and/or beans. Safety caution… find a container designed to put hands in, but not able to get objects out. < My Thoughts > Supervising this activity is a must! Creative kiddos love to stick beans in their mouths, ears, up their nose, and in other unmentionable places. Trust me on that!
10. Tent – a small table covered with a sheet or blanket will work. Or, there are indoor tents, anything to provide a nest where one can hide out for awhile. < My Thoughts > may want to be able to control the lighting inside the tent… some like it dark and some need a light to be either soft or bright. I’ve heard that even Batman uses a nightlight. Smiles.
11. Noise-Blocking Headphones – there are noise- muffling and noise-cancelling headphones, depending on the sensory need. < My Thoughts > these can be ‘pricey’ depending on the function. If you can, try to consider exchanging headphones with those used for quality ‘Calming Music’. Just saying.
12. Calming Music – this is effective for dealing with anxiety, soothing unwanted feelings, and blocking out the world. Can also generate ‘white noise’ and stimulate those with sensory seeking needs or lethargy. < My Thoughts > Whale sounds, ocean waves, bird, cricket and nature sounds are affective to change moods. For days when Sonny needs inspiration we have Rafi songs like Baby Baluga. Or, bluesy and jazz tunes which get him humming. Smiles.
Retrieved from – 12 Items You Can Use to Create a Sensory Room for Kids on the Autism Spectrum by Ellen Stumbo, (Creator of ‘Disability Matters’; March 13, 2019). https://themighty.com/2019/03/create-sensory-room-kids-autism/
Adrienne Warber tells us to organize our home environment to assist our child’s progress. She emphasizes that one should arrange furniture in a way that allows a child to understand and cooperate more easily with tasks and directions. Like labeling common household items that you child sees and used daily. Use signs to give directions, establish boundaries in the house, making it easier to establish a comfortable routine and to learn.
Warber suggests a ‘sensory room’ where your child can have activities and objects that utilize the senses. A swing for vestibular input, aromatherapy for olfactory input, and various types of music for auditory input. She believes that environment influences behavior and that you can shape the environment to discourage destructive behaviors and encourage positive ones for the child with autism.
Here are some important components she mentions –
- Safety: the environment must always be childproof.
- Structure: children with autism often prefer strict routines.
- Peace: a calm environment can sooth anxiety issues.
- Stimulation: provide opportunities that stimulate the child’s senses within the environment.
< My Thoughts > “…will address your child’s needs and will nurture them.”
Giving you child (or student) a choice is one way to address this. Sometimes when I think Sonny (or students) need to calm down… what is really needed is stimulation. As a parent or teacher, inform and educate yourself about your child’s sensory wants and needs. Consult an Occupational Therapist, or read their articles and blogs. Listen to their podcasts and look at YouTube videos. Make the room a ‘responding’ place where choices can be made. An ‘ever changing’ place where overcoming the sensory challenge being faced is the purpose. Remember that ‘one time’ something works… doesn’t mean that ‘every time’ it will work. Just saying. Smiles.
Retrieved from – Environment for Autistic Children, https://autism.lovetoknow.com/Environment_for_Autistic_Children
Sensory Room on a Budget –
This mom tells us that six months ago, she created a sensory room at home for her daughter Raelyn. She did it on a budget and with things she already had around the house. She knew her autistic daughter would benefit from such a room, but first she wanted to know what it was, exactly.
After researching, she found out that, “A sensory room is a special room designed to develop a person’s sense, unsually through special lighting, music, and objects.” Mom picked out a few essentials that she thought would work for them. Here they are –
- Things that spin, like pinwheels, fans, or fidget toys.
- A cozy corner, a perfect little place with a soft toy, blanket and pillow.
- A sensory swing. Spinning and swinging would be used to stimulate the brain and focus Raelyn.
- A yoga ball to sit on while doing puzzles or coloring
- A slide for climbing and of course, sliding.
- A sensory bin, sectioned and things like a knee-high nylon filled with beans/or/rice, objects of different textures, shapes, and colors.
- Calm-down bottles & soothing lights. Or, you can set-up a projection lamp to rotate shapes and colors on the walls and ceiling.
- Something to help with rocking and spinning. Can be a toy, a chair, or?
< My Thoughts > “…mom rigged up…”
Just a reminder to consider ALL safety issues, when 'rigging up' things for your Sensory Room. Smiles.
Retrieved from – DIY Sensory Room on a Budget 2 BY INACTIVE BLOGGER ON JUNE 8, 2016 SPECIAL NEEDS; http://www.myatlantamomsclub.com/diy-sensory-room-budget/
The need for sensory activities is influenced by one’s sensory processing thresholds. And, how quickly one detects and self-regulates sensory input. Reynolds, et al. (2011) tell us that one’s sensory responsiveness can determine a person’s level of competence in their participatory roles.
In other words, children with autism may choose to limit engagement in types of activities because of their social and motor deficits. Even requested chores, they say, may be limited making the child seem opositional or defiant because of sensory issues. Even overall academic performance of students is associated with auditory filtering and under-responsivity/sensation seeking, according to these authors.
They report that children with ASD rarely engage in dramatic play activities, such as – playing army, playing school, playing house, playing Star Wars action figures, or other imaginative play requiring skills that could attract playmates. Also, saying that sensory over-responsive kids are often anxious and aggressive when forced into play with others, due to their sensory issues.
< My Thoughts > “…requiring skills that could attract playmates.”
There are times when as a teacher, the curriculum calls for students to work in a group to solve a problem, or share information while learning. And, even when you ‘hand-pick’ group participants, it still makes it difficult for those students with sensory issues, not to become anxious or aggressive. Sometimes, with more structured teaching, you can assign tasks and props to give each person a task, depending on grade level.
My Elementary School, Middle School, and Special Education students liked what we called ‘Cooperative Group’ where each person had a role and a prop to use during a lesson. The props had the group members’ role printed on it. For instance… ‘Claire the Clarifier’ had a prop with a picture of a magnifier on one side and a script for what was to be asked ‘in group on the other side of the prop. Smiles.
OT Toolbox author tells us that proprioception is the body’s awareness system which allows us to walk around objects in our path, to move a spoon to our mouth without looking, brush our hair with just the right pressure, and to stand far enough away from others for comfort, and not to press too hard on a pencil when writing. Some gross motor proprioception therapy activities might be –
- At home… carry bags or laundry basket, rake leaves, vacuum or mop floors.
- At school… stack chairs or books, do chair and/or wall push-ups.
- Outside… jump rope or on a trampoline, climb trees, pull a wagon, bounce a ball, play twister or run.
Try doing these things when kids seem fidgety, unsure, overwhelmed, clumsy, awkward, uncoordinated or unmotivated. The proprioception system is alerted through heavy work activities that involve heavy pressure, large and forceful motor movements and pushing or pulling activities. These activities can calm and organize those struggling with their body’s spatial awareness versus clumsiness. Retrieved from – OT Toolbox – How to Use Proprioception Activities to Help with Body Awareness,
< My Thoughts > “At school proprioception activities might include….”
Some students have sensory activities written into their Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). For instance, one boy, we’ll call him Sam, had a choice when doing a task, that if feeling anxious he could ask to have a 1 minute back rub, head rub, or tickle session, first.
Some may say “Wait…what?” Instead of doing a task Sam can ask to be tickled? But this is an intervention which only takes a minute or so out of his learning time, and may keep him from having a severe sensory meltdown. Just saying that sometimes it pays to pick your battles. Smiles.
References used are:
Reynolds, S., Bendixen, R., Lawrence, T., & Lane, S. (2011). A Pilot Study Examining Activity Participation, Sensory Responsiveness, & Competence in Children with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder; Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders; V41, p1496-1506.