Does your church need a sensory room?
Churches and places of worship are adding sensory rooms to their locations. Some churches offer sensory-friendly services too. Do you think your church would benefit from a special needs sensory room? Do you wonder how to offer a sensory-friendly service?
For instance, if these are your goals, then a sensory room at your church is a benefit:
- Increase family attendance
- Improve family comfort
- Become more accessible to the congregation
- Be inclusive to more church members
- Build a positive relationship with children
- Address sensory challenges of children and youth
A sensory room at your church will benefit children and youth.
Examples of underlying disabilities, disorders or differences that contribute to a child or youth having different sensory needs are:
Anxiety, autism, concussion, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, learning disability, hearing loss, low vision, neurological disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, sensory processing disorder, seizure disorders, trauma, vestibular disorder, and other disabilities.
In addition, read more about all the underlying conditions that can contribute to additional sensory sensitivity.
5 decisions to make when creating a special needs room at your church
- Location. Adjacent to the worship hall? In a different spot altogether?
- Age-range of the room. Chose items for the room accordingly.
- Different from a play area or is this also a play area?
- Possibly, you want to add a church quiet room. This would be with fewer toys and equipment. And likely be a place for adults to use too.
- It is a multisensory room? Are you trying to engage the eight senses?
Here are some basic church sensory room ideas
- Rocking chair
- Beanbag chair
- Love seat
- Padded floor area
- Adjustable lighting
- Avoid fluorescent lighting. Include overhead lights that dim. Add floor or table lamps.
- Sound absorbing materials: carpeted area. Pillows on seats.
- Some tabletop toys
Furthermore, you can create sensory rooms on a budget. And you can do a lot with do-it-yourself DIY sensory rooms. First, start simple and add from there. Use simple furniture. Maybe, your congregation donates chairs. Ask families to donate items their children have outgrown. On the other hand, you can fundraise to purchase specific items. Furthermore, there may be funding programs to help you create an accessible, inclusive space.
In general, provide calming, focusing items. And avoid noisy, exciting toys.
Although swings and suspended seats and the like are popular in sensory rooms, use extreme caution. Hence if you do choose to add a swing, ensure the installation meets standards and building codes. As well, pay close attention to weight capacity. Likewise, ensure safety underneath the swing and for the breadth of its swing with a large area of padded flooring and possible wall surface.
Additional features to consider in the room
- Window to see into the church of the room is adjacent to your area of worship
- Audio feed
- Video feed
- Accessible: sensory room. But also accessible entrance, and most importantly an accessible bathroom
- Remove safety and choking hazards for toddlers and young children
5 ideas to conduction sensory-friendly worship
- Avoid extremes in light. No spotlights. No darkness.
- Ensure good quality sound. No crackles. No distortions.
- Provide an alternate viewing room with video and audio feed. Once again ensure good quality sound.
- Make room. Ensure space for mobility devices. Don’t relegate people to the back of the church unless they want to be there. Reserve aisle seats for people who use a cane, walker. Add alternate seating like a rocking chair or armchair too. Have little chairs for children. When their feet touch the ground, they are a little more likely to stay sitting.
- Let people know what to expect. For people who experience sensory overload, knowing what to expect in advance is helpful. So, have an order of service printed to give out. Include a standing one on your website. How long will the service be? How long is each section? When will there be music? Note what sections are loud and what sections are quiet.
We hope you add a sensory room to your church and offer sensory-friendly worship. When you do, please add yourself to the Sensory Friendly Finder. That way, people can find you and worship with you.
Christel Seeberger worked as an occupational therapist for more than 25 years helping people with sensory sensitivity who experience sensory overload. Christel has sensory sensitivity herself; she has hearing loss and wears hearing aids. She founded Sensory Friendly Solutions in 2016. Sensory Friendly Solutions brings together people around the world looking for sensory friendly living and businesses and organizations who offer sensory friendly experiences.