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.
Back in December 2018, the education secretary Damian Hinds announced that councils would receive an additional £100 million in funding for specialist areas in mainstream schools. While 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.
Why does creating a sensory room at school matter?
A sensory 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 and are as seen below:
- 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.
How to set up a sensory room at school
While hurdles to creating a sensory room at school 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.
Sensory environment that benefits everyone
Creating an effective multi-sensory room for schools depends entirely on choosing the right sensory products to fill your room appropriately. While 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. However, 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.
The actual design and location of the room also need to be considered. Curved walls, ample space and openness are most beneficial, as is painting the room's walls in calming colours, you can have a look at our guide to autistic friendly colours to get an idea of which colours to use.
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!)
Sensory products on a budget
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 post on delivering a sensory room on a budget, for more money saving tips.
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, multi-sensory 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!
If you need assistance setting up your school's sensory room, contact the sensory experts at Experia today. Alternatively, please read our blog post for more information on how to plan your sensory room for multiple users, or, you can view our case studies to see for yourself the positive impact these rooms can have on pupils.