Sensory Rooms in School: A Page From My Book

The Benefits and Essential Elements of Sensory Rooms

Have you read about or experienced firsthand the benefits of carrying out sensory activities within a designated sensory room? These spaces contain a variety of equipment for students with special needs to use and play with to help them focus for classroom learning and become more relaxed. More and more research is available on how therapists can create sensory rooms in schools to improve student learning. Below are some benefits of sensory rooms in schools and my own experience with them as an Occupational Therapist.

Four Key Advantages of Sensory Activities Within Sensory Rooms

  1. Increases students’ body regulation and decreases overstimulation. Overstimulation can be caused by numerous environmental factors, either within academic settings or outside of them. With proper sensory items and the appropriate amount of staff supervision, sensory rooms can physically relax students’ bodies, keeping them from feeling riled up.  
  2. Improves students’ attention spans and level of focus. This is the common goal of most sensory rooms, although each one can be customized to fit the needs of the students. Within a sensory room, students can choose and focus on using a single equipment item at a time; depending on the item, this activity will give students some degree of satisfaction, clarity, and relaxation. They then leave the sensory room ready to work in the classroom!
  3. Helps students reach their annual goals. Consider the long-term outcomes. Sensory activities may help students achieve their school-based therapy goals faster! This benefits you as a therapist, who helps set these goals, as well as each student, who can feel good about their accomplishments.
  4. Enables students to feel part of their school’s community. Some students on the caseload may have a rather lonely experience which contributes to their obstacles. Between attending therapy and related services and keeping up with classwork, these students can have difficulty feeling connected to their community. Sensory rooms, however, serve as safe spaces for multiple students to use at the same time.

My Experience With School Sensory Rooms

I am very fortunate to work in a school that has not one, but two sensory rooms! One of them was set up when I began working, and I had the privilege of helping get the second one up and running.

I work on a campus that has two separate schools on the same property. Although the needs of the students vary greatly between the two buildings, these sensory rooms are available for all students and are meant to be a brain and body break. Students must have a calm body in order to enter; the room is never used as an intervention in the midst of a behavioral outburst. Instead, sensory activities here are used to prevent an outburst due to overstimulation. Students must have an adult with them and may stay in the room for 15-30 minutes.

The first sensory room is for students with Autism and Intellectual Disabilities. The sensory room in this building has a swing, LED and fiber-optic lights, bean bags, pillows, and fiber-optic carpet, as well as sensory massagers, therapeutic brushes, and stretchy bands. We have blackout curtains on the windows to use when needed. There are also light filters to decrease the glare of fluorescent lights. Most students prefer to turn the main lights off and enjoy the fiber-optic lights.

Many of the students in this building use the room on a daily basis to keep their bodies calm and regulated. As expected, there is very little stimulation in this room; we do not have pictures hanging on the walls or any other objects that may have an adverse effect on students. It is a calm, quiet environment, set up to have different sensory input from the rest of the school building.

The second sensory room on campus is for students with a primary diagnosis of Emotional Disturbance. This sensory room has similar equipment to the ones listed above and includes posters with information on the equipment and how to use it. I use the Fun and Function and Southpaw websites to order sensory equipment for this room. We keep baskets full of fidgets, massagers, brushes, noise-canceling headphones, crayons, coloring books, a body sock, and stretchy bands. We also have a white noise machine to drown out any noises that come from the surrounding rooms.

I have numerous favorite sensory activities, including:

  • Bubble tubes. Many students I work with are drawn to the bubble tubes. There is a set of buttons where the students can change the color of the LED lights in the bubble tube. I have found that this is very calming for students and also promotes communication.
  • Beanbags with LED lights. It is calming for students to place the lights on top of them or just play with them while lying in a super comfortable spot.
  • Fiber-optic rug. I like to have students lie prone on a yoga ball and push back and forth from hands to feet on the fiber-optic carpet. I find that students enjoy and are calmed down by simply sitting on the carpet.

Each student has very unique sensory needs. As a school-based Occupational Therapist, I love introducing my students to different kinds of equipment and then observing which ones they choose to use based on their intrinsic bodily needs. By the end of our time in the sensory room, I know I am returning a student who is organized and ready to work to his or her class. The brain and body break enables them to receive the necessary sensory input and prepare for future classroom work. I hope to see these types of the room become more and more common in educational settings.

For more information about carrying out sensory activities in sensory rooms and how PTS can help you utilize these spaces, contact us today!  

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