The benefits of a multi-sensory environment have become much more apparent in recent years, with a key indicator of this being the steadily increasing appearance of sensory rooms in schools and outside of the typical home/care home environment in general.
While sensory rooms in the home are, of course, incredibly beneficial, sensory rooms in schools enable the benefits they provide to spread even further into other areas of the affected individual's life.
A sensory area is a space that has been optimised for positive sensory input, typically using lighting, sounds and tactile equipment. They are often used by those with sensory processing difficulties including ADHD, autism and SPD, or those prone to sensory overload. We’ve looked at the general benefits of sensory rooms in a previous post, but there are some benefits specific to classroom sensory rooms.
• Promoting the inclusion of special populations
Around 14% of all public school students in the UK receive special educational services – that’s about 7.3 million students. When a mainstream school creates a sensory space, it means that it can provide a more tailored learning environment for neurodivergent or disabled students which would allow them to keep up in the classroom with their neurotypical counterparts.
• Creating a safe space
Sensory rooms provide a safe and supportive space for neurodivergent and disabled students to escape the potentially overwhelming environment of a busy classroom. This encourages those students to succeed socially and academically and can provide them with tools and coping skills to learn more effectively.
• Relieving stresses on students
Sensory spaces allow students to learn at their own pace and develop skills without pressure, while encouraging them to express themselves in an effective, gentle way, and helping them learn how to manage their own emotions.
Sensory rooms in schools can facilitate a wide range of special educational needs, from autistic individuals to students with learning difficulties, and even those with physical disabilities.
• Relieving stresses on teachers
When a neurodivergent or disabled child has emotional or behavioural difficulties, or if they are susceptible to meltdowns, the environment can quickly become distracting for all students, and the teacher is under pressure to maintain a productive and calm classroom. Giving the student a space to work through their feelings allows teachers to manage these situations more easily.
• Reduced risk of potentially dangerous incidents
In most cases, a neurodivergent or disabled child is no more at risk of violence than a neurotypical child. However, a student who is overwhelmed and has no healthy outlet might turn to self-destructive behaviours (such as hitting themselves or banging their heads against a desk). In extreme cases, they might engage in destructive behaviours towards others.
The best way to stop this from occurring is to prevent it, and give the student a place to go to express themselves more constructively.
• Extension of home sensory learning
Sensory rooms in the classroom can serve as an extension of at-home sensory learning, whether that’s a full sensory room or a few toys. They can be very useful for those families who might not be able to afford a sensory room or cannot dedicate the space for one, and can also help students by allowing them to experience effective sensory strategies outside of the home.
• Can be used by all students
The benefits of sensory spaces are not restricted to neurodivergent or disabled students. They can be used as a relaxing, calming space for any student, allowing them to step away from the stress or pressure of school life. Encouraging the use of sensory rooms in schools among neurotypical students also normalises the experience.
Creating an effective multi-sensory room at school depends on choosing the right sensory products. While private sensory rooms are tailored to target a particular individual's sensory needs, a shared environment should try to accommodate as many needs as possible.
• Goals – is the sensory room intended to be calming or interactive for its users, or should it be able to accommodate both? Bubble tubes, for example, are soothing to watch, yet also stimulate visual and communicative development.
• Design - curved walls, ample space and openness are most beneficial, as well as painting the room's walls in calming colours. Check out our guide to autism-friendly colours as a useful starting point!
• Lighting – when choosing a space to use as your sensory room in school, try to find one with no windows (or with windows that you can easily cover over), as this will enable you to control the environment's lighting.
• Location – try to locate your sensory room in a quiet part of school (i.e. not next to the playground or music department!).
One of the prohibitive factors that might concern schools when looking at installing a sensory space is the cost. However, this needn’t stop you from creating a sensory room at school! You can create a sensory room on a budget to reduce costs, using smaller or cheaper items to create an overall sensory experience.
To find funding, you should first take a look for any grants that might be available for sensory rooms at schools – check out some of the available educational grants for schools. At Experia, we’ve worked extensively with Lord Taverner’s in the past to create amazing sensory spaces.
You can also fundraise within the school. Some great ideas include:
• School fairs
• Parent donations
• Sponsored events
We’ve created a fundraising pack that includes more fundraising ideas, sample letters, tips and other bits to help you create a successful campaign!
Seating in the Watford FC sensory room
Schools are certainly not the only place where a sensory room can be valuable – sensory spaces are used across a range of different sectors to enable disabled or neurodivergent people to receive the support they need wherever they are, enabling them to enjoy life to the full!
Along with care homes and respite centres, multi-sensory environments have become increasingly popular in busy public venues such as shopping centres, airports and football stadiums. When people think of accessibility, the main things that come to mind are likely ramps instead of stairs and disabled toilets. Those are both very important, but the spectrum of accessibility needs is much broader than that, and available sensory spaces can make the world much more accessible for many people.
If you need assistance setting up your school's sensory room, please contact the sensory experts at Experia today.