The benefits of a multisensory 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. In December 2018, education secretary Damian Hinds announced that councils would receive an additional £100 million in funding for specialist areas in mainstream schools. And whilst sensory rooms in the home are of course incredibly beneficial, their presence in schools enables the benefits they provide to spread even further into other areas of the affected individual's life. Read on to discover why your school should install a sensory room!
What is a Sensory Room and What are the Benefits of Sensory Rooms in Schools?
A sensory room (also referred to as a 'quiet' or 'calming' room) is a special room that employs sensory-controlled techniques to bring about positive effects in individuals who struggle with sensory-overload, many of which are from special populations. The benefits of having sensory, or quiet rooms in schools are abundant. Having a calming room in schools;
- Provides a safe and supportive space to escape the noise of a busy classroom
- Promotes the inclusion of special populations into non-specialist schools (63% of autistic students are currently in mainstream schools)
- Helps parents who cannot afford private sensory rooms at home
- Allows special populations to succeed academically by providing them with the tools and safe space they require to concentrate and learn
- Relieves pressure on teachers in the classroom
- Enables students to experience effective sensory strategies outside of the home
- Manages students' emotions in an effective, gentle way
- Alleviates and regulates emotional and behavioural difficulties
- Greatly facilitates a wide range of special educational needs, from autistic individuals to students with learning difficulties, and even those with physical disabilities
- Enables students to develop and learn at their own pace, without pressure
- Has a knock-on effect on all students' learning, by limiting distractions and reducing strain on teaching resources
- Can be used by other students as a relaxing zone or to develop skillsets
- Reduces the risk of crisis situations occurring which affect all students
Whilst hurdles to installing sensory rooms in schools do exist, these can be overcome, and are far outweighed by the benefits they provide. A lack of funds can be accommodated for via parent donations, support from charities, and fundraising at school fairs and through other means. As for finding correct sensory room supervision, local specialist support groups offer voluntary help. It's also a good idea to seek out university students studying special educational needs for placement opportunities, as well as co-sharing sensory facilities with other nearby schools.
How to Create a Multisensory Room at School
Creating an effective multisensory room depends entirely on choosing the right sensory products to fill your room appropriately. Whilst private sensory rooms are tailored to target a particular individual's sensory needs, in a shared environment you'll want to accommodate all. Fret not, for this is perfectly achievable with the right products.
Different sensory environments exist, which are largely categorised as either calming or interactive. Whilst some products accommodate one or the other, several accommodate both and can be used to stimulate or calm. Bubble tubes, for example, are soothing to watch, yet also stimulate visual and communicative development.
For the actual design of the room, curved walls, ample space and openness is most beneficial, whilst painting the room's walls in calming colours will also massively help. If possible, refrain from having windows in your sensory room, as this will enable you to control the environment's lighting. Finally, locate your sensory room in a quiet part of school (i.e. not next to the playground or music department!).
If on a limited budget, investing in fibre optics, along with bean bags and soothing music, can create a simple yet effective sensory room for only a couple hundred pounds. Smaller sensory items can also all add up to create an effective multi-sensory environment, without the price tag of larger equipment. These include mirror balls, mini bubble tubes, and a whole host of smaller sensory toys.
See our blog post for more information on how to plan your sensory room.
Sensory Rooms in Other Public Venues
Watford FC's Vicarage Road, courtesy of Wikipedia.org
We've already seen the benefits of sensory rooms in care homes, which include increased communication between residents and carers, a better understanding by patients of the environment around them, and improved behaviour and mood. Along with schools, multisensory environments in busy public venues, such as shopping centres, airports and football stadiums, are also growing, the importance of which cannot be overemphasised. Having safe spaces in these overwhelming environments enables those with learning and sensory difficulties to receive the support they need wherever they are, enabling them to enjoy life to the full; just as it should be!