How to Build a Sensory Room for Children With Special Needs

The human brain responds to things we hear, see, taste, touch and smell. This brain-to-senses connection is sensory integration and is a fundamental part of life, though it’s one that most people overlook. However, for kids with special needs, sensory integration doesn’t come as naturally. Sometimes, they overreact to stimuli, and other times their brains may not form a reaction at all. This inability to regulate sensory stimuli is sensory processing disorder, something that can cause children distress and discomfort and result in negative behaviors. 

How to Build a Sensory Room

To help children with special needs better regulate sensory stimuli, parents, teachers and even Sunday school leaders create sensory rooms. These safe spaces provide opportunities for children to use their senses, decompress and relax. Moreover, exploring the space and everything in it allows them to develop coping skills they can use elsewhere. Luckily, these rooms are relatively easy to make. 

Here are a few simple ways of how to build a sensory room in your home. 

1. Create a Calming Atmosphere 

Typically, sensory rooms provide a calm space where kids can relax, have fun and unwind. Therefore, it’s essential to create a calming atmosphere. Paint the walls light, pastel shades and cover the floor in carpet or rugs. You might also place light fabric over lights in the room to create a soft glow. Adjustable curtains or shades are ideal so that you can control the amount of natural light that enters the room. You can also incorporate blankets and pillows to enhance the room’s calming effects.

2. Provide the Right Equipment 

You’ll also want to fill the space with the right kind of equipment for kids to use. The items, games and materials you place within the room should give children a variety of sensory inputs. Here are a few items that will encourage engagement and aid the development of their senses. 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

3. Bouncing Balls 

Bosu balls or full-size exercise balls are great for kids who have trouble sitting still or focusing. Plus, bouncing on them offers children a safe way to exercise. With regular use, they can improve posture and balance. You might also use bouncing balls to lightly press down on your child’s back as they lay on the floor. This practice provides deep pressure and can be very calming to some. 

4. Whiteboards

Whiteboards are an excellent addition to any sensory room because you can write on them, and they’re magnetic. Your child can choose to either move letters around the board’s surface or draw and write on it with dry-erase markers. Giving kids the option to choose between these uses allows them to make their own decisions and enjoy a bit of freedom. 

5. Hanging Chairs 

Similar to a swing, a hanging chair is a comfortable, zero-gravity seat that can help kids improve vestibular and gross motor skills. Both easy to hang and get into, these chairs can be a safe, fun addition to your sensory space. The swinging motion helps children feel balanced and can provide primary input about movement, positioning and spacial awareness. Since every kid loves to swing, you can even use the chair as a reward to motivate your child. 

6. Mirrors 

Attach shatterproof mirrors to one wall in the room to give your child visual feedback while they play. Seeing themselves promotes self-discovery and stimulates curiosity. Plus, installing mirrors can improve your child’s ability to share and adapt emotions with you and others. From making facial expressions to exploring hand gestures and movements, mirrors allow kids to practice communication and social skills while encouraging self-recognition. 

7. Tactile Walls 

In addition to mirrors, you might also install some engaging, tactile wall. For example, you could secure lego bases to the wall so your little one can build out from it horizontally instead of vertically. Specially-made sensory wall panels serve the function of increasing motor skills and improving cognition. These panels often include cogs, buttons, tubes, levers and a combination of soft and hard objects to encourage engagement. 

8. Body Socks 

Away from the hustle and bustle of the hanging chair, bouncing balls and tactile wall, you might create a quiet space with cushions, pillows and soft rugs. You may also include body socks in this area. They may be strange-looking, but these socks can help calm kids who suffer from sensory overload by providing them with material to push up against and have pressing back on them. 

Set Up the Space

Once you’ve gathered your equipment to create a calming atmosphere, it’s time to set up your space. How large your sensory area will be depends on how much room you have to spare. If you have an empty area in your house and don’t foresee using it for anything else, go ahead and make the whole spot a sensory room. 

You can also designate a wall in your home or a corner of your child’s bedroom for sensory space if you can’t commit to an entire room. Just be sure to keep the area uncluttered and leave room on the floor for your little one to sit, stand or sprawl out. Plus, ensure that all wall installations, mirrors and other items are at eye level and within reach. Once you set everything up, sit back, and enjoy watching your child work their way through the room. 

A Sensory Room Assists Struggling Children

If your child deals with overstimulation, give them a place where they can relax and feel calm. When you follow the tips above and create a sensory room in your home, your child will reap the benefits.

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