Sensory Room & Sensory Play

Sensory Processing Disorder and Sensory Integration

The human brain is designed to produce and regulate responses to the body’s sensory experiences — those things we touch, see, smell, taste and hear. This link between the brain and our behaviour is called “sensory integration.” For most people, this is a normal and typically overlooked part of their daily experience. But for an individual with a developmental disorder, including autism, the way the brain processes these experiences can be a major source of distress and discomfort.

In some cases, the brain may over-react to these sensory stimuli. Other times, it may not react enough. A person’s sensory experiences go beyond the basic five senses and can negatively stimulate some deeper sensory responses, known as the tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive sensory systems.

An inability to regulate certain sensory stimuli from any or all of these systems is called “sensory processing disorder.” In many cases, it can cause a variety of negative behaviors, such as acting out, fighting, meltdowns, spinning, rocking or hand-flapping, as well as problems with information processing and development.

So what is a Sensory Room

One increasingly popular method of regulating and overcoming sensory problems is the use of a sensory room.

A sensory room is a space designed to help an individual with sensory issues learn to regulate their brain’s negative reactions to external stimuli by developing coping skills for these experiences. In some cases, it may be a whole room, or it can simply be a space set aside in a corner of a larger room. The contents and design of a sensory room or space can — and should be tailored to each individual’s needs because each person with sensory issues will be dealing with different stimuli and have different requirements when it comes to learning to cope with the world around them. While many people are familiar with the use of sensory rooms for those on the autism spectrum, they can also be utilized for individuals with ADHD, Cerebral Palsy and Down syndrome, as well as for individuals with a variety of developmental challenges in the area of communication, movement and balance, and social skills.

Why Create a Sensory Room or Space?

Individuals with all of the conditions listed above often struggle to cope with the world around them. Loud noises, bright lights, rough patterns or foods with unwelcome textures are just some of the things that can cause distress. Because their condition can magnify seemingly small sensory encounters, they are prone to meltdowns, tantrums or negative attempts at self-soothing.

How does a sensory room help?

It can provide a place for an individual with special needs to go when a meltdown occurs. But, it’s not just a place for a time-out. While it can be a calm space where they can regain control of their emotions, a sensory room can also provide a low-stress, fun environment for an individual to work through their emotions and reactions to certain stimuli.

While they can’t necessarily take away their brain’s sensitivity to certain stimuli, they can train their brain to overcome its sensitivity and develop coping mechanisms that will serve them well in the world beyond their sensory space.

What are the benefits of sensory play?

When an individual with autism or a developmental challenge has access to a sensory room, they can and will experience a variety of benefits. Those benefits, however, will likely vary for each individual because each person has different sensitivities and ways of reacting to them. But, even though individuals may experience sensory rooms in unique ways, they still provide a variety of benefits for both children and adults of all ages, such as:

  • Calming
  • Stimulation
  • Socialisation
  • Improved Focus
  • Cognitive Development
  • Sensory Development