Sensory rooms are therapeutic spaces that provide students with personalized sensory inputs to meet their individual needs. These rooms are not just for students with impairments, however, but for ALL children. Using a variety of tools, sensory-based activities are developed for each child based upon their need to calm, focus, or become more engaged and prepared to learn and interact with others. Each strategy that is designed for a child is referred to as their “sensory diet.”
A sensory room is not just a room filled with toys and equipment – there is a plan and purpose for each tool that is selected. For example, students are interviewed about their symptoms and reactions so the professional (e.g. occupational therapist, behavior interventionist, student advocate, or educator) can understand if the student needs help calming or exciting their system. Behaviors also help the professional understand what the student needs most, with the ultimate goal of increasing the self-awareness of the child and helping them articulate their needs.
There are various categories of sensory input available: vestibular, proprioception, tactile, auditory, visual, and oral-motor. In some rooms, there are color-coded options for sensory input. According to each student’s sensory diet, they can select a few activities from the specific colors or categories that best meet their needs. Students then engage in the activities prescribed to them and, once completed, check in with the professional to see if they are ready to return to their classroom. If they determine they need more sensory input, they select another activity. In most cases, however, students are ready to return to the classroom after they have engaged in the activities specific to their individualized sensory diet.
Sensory rooms do not need expensive equipment to be beneficial. For example, a rocker or swing, weighted materials, a mini trampoline, and/or some tactile objects are enough to provide the necessary sensory input. The rooms, however, should have light covers or bubble tubes since classroom lighting is often over-stimulating for students.
If a school does not have a room available, there are options to put rockers, weighted materials, and other sensory equipment in the classroom to offer support. Some schools even create “brain trails” throughout their hallways, providing pictures on the walls or cues on the ground for students to engage in activities such as yoga moves, deep breathing, cross crawls, and wall pushes.
If you would like to learn more about strategies to use in your school or classroom, please consider taking the online course Courageous Classrooms.