Pediatric Therapeutic Services

Sensory Room 101

A sensory room is a safe, familiar space for students to re-focus themselves during the school day. The use of sensory rooms as a part of a school’s special education program has been shown to improve performance and behavior in the classroom.

The occupational therapists, behavior specialists, and physical therapists at Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS) are available on a consultative basis. We can show your school district how a sensory room can benefit your students while also helping to contain special education costs.

What is a Sensory Room?

Sensory Room 101 Conshohocken PAYou’re probably already familiar with the concept of a sensory room. It’s a therapeutic space with equipment that helps students calm and focus themselves or release excess energy during a long school day. It’s typically run by occupational therapists, but it can also be used by physical therapists, speech-language pathologists (SLPs), counselors, behavioral specialists, and other members of the related services team.

A sensory room has been shown beneficial for the following students:

  • Students with personalized sensory input needs
  • Students with ADHD
  • Students with sensory processing disorder
  • Students with self-regulation challenges
  • Students with proprioception and spatial awareness issues
  • Students with vestibular challenges who have trouble balancing
  • Students with difficulty processing proprioceptive input
  • Students who struggle with spatial awareness

Sensory rooms are also recommended therapies for students with vision and language difficulties, learning disabilities, and emotional disturbances.

Since what’s good for the highest need students is often good for all students, a sensory room can prove beneficial for any student who needs a safe space for a brain break. Plus, the multi-disciplinary and multi-tiered approach of a sensory room allows for enhancing academic, behavioral, and social-emotional outcomes for all students.

The Benefits of Having a Sensory Room in Your School

With the help of a sensory room, you’re able to provide your students with a safe space to calm and focus themselves, recover from overstimulation, or release excess energy, all while practicing or developing important skills. In brief, students benefit from a sensory room because it:

  • Creates a safe space
  • Provides opportunities for calming or alerting the nervous system
  • Increases skill acquisition for social-emotional development
  • Facilitates prevention and de-escalation strategies
  • Improves communication
  • Promotes self-care/self-nurturance, resilience, and recovery
  • Promotes increased independence and academic success

Why You Should Have a Sensory Room in Your School

Having a sensory room in your school allows students to participate in their least restrictive environment, which can improve outcomes.

For example, research has shown that the use of a sensory room tends to positively impact a student’s classroom performance by increasing their readiness to engage in educational activities by 56%.*  That’s a benefit to all students that allows them to stay focused on the curriculum with fewer disruptions.

How to Create a Sensory Room in Your School

If you’ve determined that a sensory room will benefit the students in your school, then there are some steps you can take to build one.

Start with Funding

The Sensory Room Resource Manual from PTS includes a sample grant letter that you can submit to secure the funding you need to create your room. We can also support you on a consultative basis to help them set up a sensory room in a way that coincides with your students’ needs.

Our BudgetWatch™ software can help you figure out your funding, too. This software allows us to track our partnering schools’ special education funding. Our Clinical Directors can then analyze the BudgetWatch™ Program Summary Reports to make budgeting forecasts, analyze how resources are being used, and determine where resources can be re-allocated to fund a sensory room.

Building Your First Sensory Room

Sensory Room 101 Conshohocken PAAs you’re getting started, you can make the most of what you have available. For example, you can choose any unused room and put down carpet, paint the walls a calming color, and put thin fabric over the lights.

Use equipment that you may already have in the school gym, like:

  • Therapy balls
  • Jump ropes
  • Scooter boards

You can also make your own sensory bins by filling clean, plastic dishwashing containers from the cafeteria with rice and dried beans.

Equipment You’ll Need for Your Sensory Room

As funding for your sensory room increases, you can begin to include equipment that’ll meet the needs of your students even more effectively. The occupational therapists (OTs) at your school, or an OT from PTS, can help you identify the equipment that will serve your students best. Some examples are:

Tactile equipment

  • Art supplies
  • Rice/bean/sand bins
  • Theraputty
  • Play-Doh
  • A comfortable rug

Visual equipment

  • LED light strips
  • Projector and effects wheels
  • Black-out shades and a dimmer switch for the lighting
  • Books

Auditory equipment

  • Music
  • Nature and relaxation CDs
  • A sound machine
  • Noise-canceling headphones

Olfactory equipment

  • Scented markers
  • Essential oils
  • Scented stickers

Proprioceptive equipment

  • Lycra stretch bands
  • Weighted items (vests/blanket, lap pad)
  • Bean bag chairs
  • Tunnels and tents
  • Body sock
  • Stress ball

Vestibular equipment

  • Swings
  • Rocker chair
  • Yoga mats
  • Trampoline
  • Balance Beam

Oral Motor equipment

  • Mirror
  • Bubbles
  • Whistles

How to Use a Sensory Room at Your School

As you gather equipment for your sensory room, it’s important to set it up in different stations with a variety of activities that students can choose based on how they’re feeling that day. The overall program of your sensory room can be tailored to meet the needs of the students or class, so create activity stations that are unique to your school and the students in your program.

If you need some assistance, PTS offers trainings, as well as a Sensory Room Resources Manual to help you effectively implement a sensory room as part of your related services program. Some top tips we have for effectively implementing a sensory room include:

Stick to a routine in the sensory room or create a visual schedule
Sticking to a routine ensures students know what to expect when they visit the sensory room, which can be comforting. It also keeps students focused and on-task instead of treating the room like recess. Having a strong sensory room protocol in place is a way of implementing a plan that is thoughtful and consistent while students are in the sensory room.

Focus on reinforcing the right behaviors
Establish the sensory room as a neutral zone. Students should never be sent there as a punishment. While in the sensory room, use the 5:1 ratio of positive attention. This practice involves providing five positive interactions to every one negative interaction so that you spend the majority of time pointing out positive behavior and not challenging behavior.

Train staff on how to properly use the room
Make sure that everyone understands the purpose of the room, what all the equipment is used for, and how to put it away afterwards. PTS provides in-service trainings to partnering schools, during which we can discuss sensory rooms and how to use them effectively as part of a student’s treatment plan.

Consult with PTS about Building a Sensory Room for Your School

The OTs, PTs, and Clinical Directors at PTS can help you determine how effective a sensory room would be for your school’s related services program. We provide our therapists with supervision from Clinical Directors to ensure everyone is properly trained on how to use the tools inside a sensory room.

If you want more detailed information on how to incorporate a sensory room into your school’s related services program, download our Sensory Room Guide.

Contact PTS to support your students with a sensory room today!

* https://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=ot_education

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