What is a Sensory Room?

A Haven for Calming the Senses

Imagine a space designed to ignite the senses, not overwhelm them. A room filled with textures that calm, visuals that captivate, and sounds that soothe. This is the magic of a sensory room.

Sensory rooms, also known as multi-sensory rooms, provide a safe and comfortable environment for individuals who experience sensory processing difficulties like sensory sensitivity or sensory overload. Moreover, these difficulties are more likely to be caused by a variety of common diagnoses or differences, including:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Up to 90% of children with ASD report sensory differences.
  • Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD): SPD is a condition where the nervous system misinterprets sensory information, leading to difficulties processing sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or touches.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Children with ADHD may seek out sensory input to self-regulate, thus a sensory room is a valuable tool for calming and focusing.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Individuals with PTSD can be easily overwhelmed by sensory input. Hence, a sensory room provides a safe space to de-escalate.
  • Hearing Loss: Sensory rooms incorporate visual and tactile elements to enhance communication and engagement for individuals with hearing loss.
  • Dementia: Studies show that sensory stimulation can improve mood and reduce agitation in individuals with dementia.

These are just a few examples! Indeed, remember that sensory sensitivities can be experienced by people across the lifespan. As well, they can be temporary due to a concussion, for example, or, in contrast, long-term due to a developmental disability.

aromatherapy diffuser in a sensory room

Purpose of a Sensory Room: Fostering Focus and Calming the Mind

Sensory rooms serve a multitude of purposes. For example, here are a few key benefits:

  • Reduced Sensory Overload: With a controlled environment and predictable sensory input, a sensory room may help individuals avoid who feel overwhelmed by their physical environment.
  • Improved Focus and Attention: Sensory stimulation may enhance focus and concentration.
  • Self-Regulation: Sensory rooms can provide individuals with tools and techniques to manage their own sensory needs and emotional state independently.
  • Communication and Social Interaction: Sensory rooms can be a valuable tool to promote communication and social interaction, especially for individuals with neurodevelopmental conditions.
  • Motor Development: Many sensory room activities encourage movement and exploration, which benefits sensory-motor development.
  • Relaxation and Stress Reduction: Sensory rooms provide a calming and soothing environment. They can promote relaxation and reduce stress.
fidget spinner in a hand

Creating a Sensory Room: A Guide for Businesses and Organizations

You multi-sensory room doesn’t require a massive budget or extensive renovations. Here are some steps to get you started:

  • Identify Your Needs: Consider the specific needs of the individuals who will use the sensory room. What sensory differences do they face?
  • Choose a Space: Select a quiet, well-ventilated space that can be comfortably darkened or brightly lit as needed.
  • Plan Your Budget: Sensory rooms can be created on a budget with DIY elements and with the help of professional consultants like us!

Setting Up a Sensory Room: Filling the Space with Sensory Experiences

Once you have a plan, it’s time to fill your sensory room with sensory experiences! However, while we typically think of five senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing), sensory integration actually involves eight distinct sensory systems. Importantly, these eight senses also include the vestibular system (balance), the proprioceptive system (body awareness), and the interoceptive system (internal body awareness) in addition to the traditional five. Furthermore, by incorporating elements that stimulate all eight senses, you create a truly immersive and therapeutic sensory room.

Helpfully, here are some ideas categorized by sensory type:

Visual (See):

bubble tube
  • Fiber optic lights: Create a mesmerizing display of ever-changing colors.
  • Calming visuals: Project calming nature scenes or soothing geometric patterns.
  • Sensory light projectors: Offer a variety of light effects to create an environment that stimules or one that relaxes.

Auditory (Hear):

young red-headed girl waering noise cancelling headphones
  • Noise-canceling headphones or ear muffs: Provide a refuge from sounds and noise.
  • Nature sounds: For example, offer calming sounds like ocean waves or gentle rain.
  • Music therapy equipment: Allow individuals to explore music and create their own soundscapes.

Gustatory (Taste):

It’s important to prioritize safety in a sensory room, and taste exploration can be a choking hazard. For this reason, taste is not a primary focus and should be approached with caution. Thus, here are some alternative approaches to consider:

  • Oral motor tools: These tools provide safe sensory input for the mouth and can be helpful for individuals who mouth or chew on objects. Specifically, look for textured chews or silicone teethers designed for safe mouthing.
  • Flavor simulation: While not directly tasting, scented play dough or play food can offer a simulation of taste and smell. However, ensure these items are not meant to be eaten and supervise closely during use.
  • Provide water: Consider allowing beverages like water or even flavoured water, sipped through a straw.

Tactile (Touch):

sensory bin in a sensory room
  • Weighted blankets and vests: Provide deep pressure stimulation for a calming effect.
  • Fidget toys: Offer a variety of textures and manipulations to keep hands occupied. For instance, consider fidget spinners, squishy toys, chewable necklaces (for appropriate ages), and textured balls.
  • Sensory bins: Fill bins with different textures like beans, rice, play dough, water beads, or shredded paper for tactile exploration.
  • Tactile panels: Mount panels with various textures like sandpaper, fur, bubble wrap, or smooth wood for tactile exploration.
  • Calming massage tools: Provide handheld massagers or vibrating balls for self-massage and relaxation.

Olfactory (Smell):

  • Aromatherapy diffusers: Diffuse calming scents like lavender, chamomile, or vanilla. Importantly, avoid strong scents or artificial fragrances that may be irritating.
  • Scented play dough: As an example, offer a variety of pleasant smells for exploration. For example, opt for natural essential oils diluted in a safe carrier for play dough scents.
  • Scratch and sniff books: Engage the olfactory sense with pleasant and stimulating scents.

Proprioceptive (Movement):

young child climbing an indoor play ramp in a sensory room
  • Crash mats and climbing structures: Encourage movement and proprioceptive input, or the body’s awareness of its position in space, as well as vestibular/ balance.
  • Balance balls and wobble boards: For instance, they provide vestibular input, which helps with balance and coordination.

Balance (Vestibular):

  • Crash mats and climbing structures: Encourage movement and vestibular input. Importantly, crash mats should be age-appropriate and climbing structures should be properly secured.
  • Balance balls and wobble boards: Provide vestibular (and proprioceptive) input, which helps with balance and coordination. Moreover, ensure these tools are appropriate for the user’s age and abilities.
  • Swings: Suspended swings provide vestibular and proprioceptive input, promoting relaxation and focus.
  • Inclined ramps and slides: Controlled movement on inclines can be stimulating for the vestibular system.

Interoception (Internal Body Sense):

woman in child's pose on a pink yoga mat
  • Mindfulness activities: Introduce practices like deep breathing exercises, guided meditations, and yoga poses to promote body awareness and interoceptive integration.
  • Yoga mats and bolsters: Create a space for comfortable relaxation and mindfulness activities.
  • Weighted lap pads: Provides gentle pressure on the lap to increase body awareness and interoceptive input.
  • Mirrors: Allow individuals to observe their bodies and facial expressions, promoting self-awareness.

Remember, these are just a few ideas to get you started. Critically, the best way to create a sensory room is to consider the specific needs and preferences of the individuals who will be using it!

Sensory Room Ideas: Inspiration for Every Need

This is not an exhaustive list! Becasue the beauty of sensory rooms is that they can be customized to meet the specific needs of each user or group. In addtion, here are some additional tips to incoporate:

  • Incorporate natural elements: Natural light, plants, and water features can add a calming and restorative element to a sensory room.
  • Consider mobility: Ensure the space is accessible for individuals with mobility differences.
  • Provide safe and secure options: Choose equipment that is age-appropriate and safe for the intended users.
  • Soft and durable materials: Opt for soft, durable materials that can withstand frequent use.
  • Break down the space: Divide the room into smaller areas with different themes or purposes. For example, create as a calm corner, a bright and stimulating zone, and a movement area.
young black boy sitting inside an indoor tent in sensory room at home

Benefits of a Sensory Room: More Than Just Calming

Sensory rooms offer a multitude of benefits that extend beyond calming and relaxation. To illustrate, here are a few more advantages to consider:

  • Increased Engagement and Learning: Sensory stimulation can enhance focus and improve learning outcomes in children with sensory processing difficulties [7].
  • Improved Emotional Regulation: Sensory rooms provide a safe space for individuals to manage their emotions and develop self-regulation skills.
  • Sensory Integration: Sensory rooms help individuals integrate and process sensory information more effectively.
  • Positive Behavioral Support: When you provide an outlet for sensory needs, you can help reduce behaviors or concern, or behaviours that are mal-adaptive.
  • Sensory -Friendly Reputation: A sensory room demonstrates your commitment to inclusion and accessibility! You enhance your reputation and attract a wider clientele.

Interested in a mobile or portable sensory room? Read our blog: How Portable Sensory Rooms Create Inclusion

Safety First: Essential Considerations for Sensory Rooms

Sensory rooms are fantastic resources, but safety should always be a top priority. Furthermore, here are some key considerations to keep in mind:

  • Supervision: Young children or individuals with complex needs may require close supervision while using the sensory room.
  • Age-appropriate equipment: Ensure all equipment is suitable for the age and abilities of the users. For instance, small objects or climbing structures that could be hazardous for younger children should be avoided.
  • Regular maintenance: Inspect equipment regularly for wear and tear and replace anything that is damaged or broken.
  • Soft landings: Provide soft mats or padding around areas where falls might occur.
  • Secure attachments: Ensure all mounted equipment and furniture is securely fastened to walls or floors.
  • Calming environment: Maintain a calm and relaxing atmosphere in the sensory room. Avoid using harsh lighting or overwhelming sounds.
  • Open communication: Educate staff or caregivers about the purpose of the sensory room and how to use the equipment safely.
  • Breakaway options: Provide clear exits or breakaway areas within the sensory room in case an individual becomes overwhelmed.

Specifically, by prioritizing safety, you can ensure that your sensory room is a positive and enriching experience for everyone.

In conclusion, creating a sensory room is an investment in inclusion and accessibility. Moreover, when you provide a safe and calming space for individuals with sensory sensitivities, you create a welcoming and enriching environment for everyone.

Sensory Friendly Solutions: Your Multi Sensory Room Partner

Sensory Friendly Solutions helps businesses or organizations create a sensory-friendly space that meets the needs of your specific population. For instance, we offer a variety of services, including:

  • Sensory Room Consultation: For example, we can help you design a sensory room that is both functional and engaging.
  • Sensory Friendly Training: We provide training programs to help your staff understand sensory processing difficulties and create a more welcoming environment for everyone.
  • Sensory Friendly Certification: Our certification program recognizes businesses and organizations that are committed to creating sensory-friendly experiences.

Watch our short video to learn more about our Training Membership, where you get all the courses you need to create sensory-friendly experiences at one low cost!

Make Your Event and Location Inclusive with Training

Looking for more inspiration? Don’t miss our most popular blog posts for businesses and organizations:

Finally, ready to explore more? Then, check out our latest 3 blog posts for our latest insights on sensory-friendly experiences:

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