Using Sensory Rooms With Guidance from an Occupational Therapist
Sensory gyms and sensory rooms are becoming more popular, and this is great news for children who have sensory concerns. Sensory input can be very therapeutic for children with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Sensory Processing Disorder, when carried out in a controlled and intentional manner. When used appropriately, specific types of sensory feedback can help:
- improve attention
- improve self-regulation
- improve a person’s ability to engage in daily tasks
- improve communication
- improve coordination
- improve social skills
… and the list can go on! However, it becomes a concern when there is a free-for-all approach that we see too often being used in the schools, in commercialized sensory gyms, and in sensory spaces at home.
Children with sensory processing disorder are unable to self-regulate, and therefore; turning them loose on sensory equipment is not helpful and can even be dangerous for that child. Unstructured sensory input can create even more chaos, disorganization and disrupt their nervous system. Children with sensory differences require structure and an intentional approach to sensory integration that can be carried out and taught by an occupational therapist. It is also important for the child, caregivers and family to be able to recognize the child’s current sensory state and analyze specific behaviors in order to engage them in appropriate sensory activities.
So, what do we as occupational therapists recommend?
- A structured and systematic application of sensory input that is backed by data
Data is easy to obtain and can be collected by the family, caregivers, teachers, etc.
What type of data are we looking for as occupational therapists?
- What type of sensory input does the child gravitate towards?
- Is the child sensory seeking or sensory avoiding (hypo-responsive, hyper-responsive)?
- What type of reaction occurs when we use specific types of sensory feedback?
- What are the behaviors noted when using sensory input? For example:
- Is the child communicating more/less?
- Are they overstimulated or able to attend better?
- Are they becoming aggressive?
- It is effecting their sleep/feeding/self-care?
- Vestibular input– this is, by far, the most powerful input a child can receive from engaging in activities within a sensory space. It can be so beneficial but also very detrimental for a child! Vestibular input can be alerting or calming depending on how it is used. Slow, rhythmic motion is calming and cause releases of “feel-good” neurotransmitters that have about a 2 hour impact upon the brain. On the other hand, fast, multi-directional movement is alerting for a child. This feedback can be overstimulating for some children and disrupt their nervous system, making their behaviors and ability to regulate worse.
- Proprioceptive input- this is the body’s ability to sense its location, movement and actions. It lets us know where our bodies are in space. This type of input can be calming for children and can help with coordination, calming, attention, strength, and balance when accessed correctly.