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How Can Sensory Rooms Help Students?


Some children become overwhelmed by the sounds, lights and touches in their environment. They can also be sensitive to taste based on textures and flavors. Or they may be almost numb to their environment. This is the case for children with sensory processing disorder. It is common for children with autism and other developmental disabilities to have sensory processing problems.

Bright lights, the sound of a lawn mower or the sensation of being touched can cause discomfort. A child might hide under the desk when there is an unexpected loud noise in the classroom. While teachers can make adjustments to the classroom, it is not always possible to eliminate everything. This is when a sensory room can be helpful.

What Is a Sensory Room?

Edutopia defines a sensory room as "a therapeutic space with a variety of equipment that provides students with special needs with personalized sensory input." A school with a sensory room gives students a place to go when they need a break from their classrooms. The room allows the student to calm down and regain focus to be in a better position to learn.

Non-verbal students who cannot communicate what is bothering them can head to the sensory room to self-soothe. A sensory room contains a variety of items and setups to meet the students' different needs.

"Pasco Sensory Room a Comforting Resource for Students with Autism" provides an example of how to set up a sensory room that meets different needs by having these four stations:

  • Vestibular: This can be a mini trampoline, ball pit, crash mat, or anything that allows the student to feel pressure on the body.
  • Transition: To prevent frantic runs to the bathroom and ease transitions, teachers can add transition tools such as a colorful tunnel for students to crawl through.
  • Tactile: Some students take comfort from the feel and sound of snapping things together with something like plastic, magnetic building tiles or Legos.
  • Visual stimulation: This is a quiet space with gentle lighting, such as colorful lights in a bubble-tube or a lamp with a colored light bulb.

Evaluate student needs to determine how you will create a sensory room. It may not be fiscally feasible to do everything. Instead, start with a basic room that has safe colors and adaptable lighting.

Adapting the Classroom

If it is not possible to create a separate sensory room, the school can adapt the classroom to create a safe space for students to go when they need to calm down. Adapting a classroom can be as simple as adjusting the lighting and limiting wall decorations. Teachers can experiment with furniture placement.

They may even ask students for input. This gives the students a sense of ownership. Everyone providing input may help find a way to set up the classroom that works for most of the class. One rule the teachers may want to keep in mind is to ensure they can effortlessly walk around the room and reach each student's workspace.

Also, limit clutter on walls and windows. It may be wise to avoid hanging mobiles or projects from the ceiling because it can distract some students. Pay attention to doors and windows. Some students may need to sit near or away from these.

Those who are sensitive to loud sounds may benefit from headphones. Check the noise level and determine whether white noise or soft music would be helpful.

A sensory room, modified classroom and a safe space can help minimize disruptions and discomfort for students in special education. As a result, they will be able to focus and engage in learning.

Learn more about the University of Wisconsin-Superior online Master of Science in Education -- Special Education program.


Sources:

Tampa Bay Times: Pasco Sensory Room a Comforting Resource for Students With Autism

Edutopia: Sensory Room 101

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