The basic definition of sensory overload is when the brain has issues with responding to information that comes through the seven senses. This means that normal environmental conditions can be a little jarring. It’s a very common condition in many children with ADHD, autism, and other disorders.
For them, a regular classroom could be a little overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to set up sensory spaces.
Sensory spaces are areas where these children can get the stimulation they need but in a certain way. For example, heavy fluorescent lighting can be harmful, so in a sensory space, you would trade it for dimmer lights.
In this article, we’re going to go over that and much more so you can set up your own sensory room in your home or classroom.
1. Post a Schedule Up
Many children benefit by knowing what’s coming up in the schedule next. These visual cues are great for those with autism who suffer from sensory overload. They might not like surprises or sudden changes that come with not having a known schedule.
You can post the schedule up in increments of time, or you can put the entire day’s schedule up at once. Your choice will depend on what you think is best for your kids.
It’s strange to think that something small as lighting can influence our emotions. Loud, fluorescent lighting can make children feel uncomfortable. They just shine too brightly in their faces.
There are many other ways you can create light in your sensory room without the use of them. One idea is streaming holiday lights across the room. Candles are also a very calming source of light. Lava lamps are visually stimulating because of the light they give off and the motion of the lava slowly moving up and down inside the glass.
Any of these options are a better idea than just flicking on the overhead lights. It’s all about influencing the child’s mood through lights, and you will find a very negative reaction with the fluorescents in most cases.
There are many things that a child can do with a whiteboard. You could set up a section of it that just has a bunch of magnetic letters and numbers. The child could have fun spelling out words, and learn at the same time.
You could also just provide markers and let the child’s imagination run wild. Any of these activities not only stimulate creativity, but also help develop fine motor skills as well.
4. Crash Pad
You can buy a crash pad or make one all on your own. All you need is a zip-up duvet that you can fill with cushiony items like pillows and stuffed animals. The kids will enjoy jumping on them as well as throwing them around.
It’s kind of surprising what kind of stimulation this will provide. It will provide body awareness and is actually pretty soothing.
5. Therapeutic Smells
Like lights, certain smells can incite different moods. For example, a light scent of lavender can leave someone feeling very calm. At the same time, some smells can be overwhelming.
Instead of going with strong sprays, pick up a few candles, incense, or scented oils. These will leave a light fragrance behind.
The child could also benefit from playing with scented toys like playdough. The smell plus the stimulation from the texture of the playdough can be very beneficial to the child.
If the child really responds well to scents, put a little bit of essential oil on a cotton ball and let them have at it.
6. Deep Pressure Items
Some children respond well to high pressure, such as being wrapped tightly in a blanket like a sushi roll. You could also fill up an inflatable pool with stuffed animals, pillows or blankets. They could enjoy snuggling up in it.
You could provide a tunnel that children can not only play in, but grab a blanket and escape in it as well. Being able to get away like this is great for when sensory stimulus becomes too much.
7. Music and Calming Sounds
Music does a lot of interesting things with one’s brain activity. It can change the way we think and feel. This being said, you don’t want to crank the music up to its loudest volume.
There is nothing wrong with lightly playing Celtic music, or calming nature sounds from a stereo or even your phone. This will have a very positive impact on some children.
Who didn’t like legos when they were children? Letting the children build isn’t only fun, but also promotes creativity and fine motor skills.
When the child is focused on building with legos, they will feel calm and it also provides them with great organization skills. Just be careful not to step on any of them.
Some children with autism and other disorders feel comfort from being able to rock back and forth in a rocking chair or swing. Swings do this by stimulating the child’s vestibular system.
They aren’t too hard to install and most of them come with detailed instructions so you don’t risk putting them up wrongly.
10. Tactile Center
All you need to set up a tactile center is a few containers and sensory materials like rice or sand. The child can stick their hands in the containers and play with it and it’s actually very calming.
Not only is a tactile center calming, but it allows them to develop and work on their fine motor skills.
Sensory Spaces Ideas for Your Students
Sensory spaces are important because they allow children who suffer from sensory overload to escape into a place that is more comfortable. Having coping materials at hand like swings, tactile centers, and deep pressure items can make all the difference for a child who needs it.
To learn more about sensory items and how they can help a child at home or in the classroom, visit our blog.