“A space defined to help an individual learn to deal with the world around them; to understand their own senses, develop skills and coping strategies in a safe environment, whether this is alone, with care givers or with a specialised therapist.”
In this booklet you will find an educational section about the senses and items of equipment that we have broken down into 3 categories: calming, stimulating and developmental, with suggestions and benefits to help guide you to get the most out of a sensory room. Please remember: How you use the sensory room is about how you engage with it and using your own imagination. It is how you Interact with the environment and/or with the people you are with. You know what you need more than anyone else, explore the environment and find what works for your senses!
The 8 senses p. 3
Tactile Walls and Blankets p. 9
Sensory seekers p. 4
Interactive Surfaces p. 10
Sensory avoiders p. 5
Bubble Tubes and Walls p. 11
Influence of colours p. 6
Waterbed p. 7
Ladder Lights and Infinity Tunnel p.13
Fibre Optics p. 8
Additional tips p.14
The 8 senses
Sensory processing describes the way our body receives and interprets stimuli using our senses, with each sensory system playing unique roles. Some individuals will find sensory processing challenging, which can affect attention, learning and performance of everyday tasks. Sensory processing difficulties can include:
Sensory cravers or seekers, have an infinite need for sensory stimulation. They may be constantly seeking out bright lights, loud music, certain textures, or physical contact with others.
Seekers may seem to need constant stimulation. However, they will often become more deregulated as they get more input.
Over-responsive individuals or avoiders, feel overwhelmed by their senses. They may be irritated by faint smells, changes in temperature, or background noises that others may not notice.
Auditory: Sense of sound, received through the ears.
Gustatory: Sense of taste, received through the mouth.
Avoiders often have extreme or upsetting reactions to even very mild stimulation.
Proprioception: Awareness of where the body is in space. Strength is used to complete tasks.
Vestibular: Sense of balance and orientation.
Under-responsive individuals have difficulties detecting, understanding, and responding to sensory stimuli such as sound, light, or touch.
Olfactory: Sense of smell, received through the nose.
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Visual: Sense of sight, received through the eyes.
the sensory input.
Tactile: Sense of touch, received by skin contact.
Sensory processing can be strongly linked to emotional state. When individuals are calm and relaxed, they can be more accepting of incoming stimuli. For further information: What is Sensory Processing? – Sensory Processing (humber.nhs.uk)
Interoception: Awareness of the internal body states, understanding and feeling what is happening with the body.
Here are some suggestions of what a sensory seeker and sensory avoider may look like and some equipment/techniques that may be beneficial.
Please keep in mind that there is no one size fits all! Everyone is unique. Most people will often present both seeking and avoiding behaviours at different times. There are times when that child may become over stimulated and need calming down, and other times when that child may be under stimulated and need alerting stimuli.
If you require more input, seek additional help from a professional.
What this may look like
Equipment/techniques that may be beneficial
Hand flapping Enjoys spinning bright or shiny objects Turning on and off lights repetitively Holds objects close to their eyes Actively smells everything Craves strong and unusual smells Yelling or talking loudly Producing repetitive sounds such as clapping Seeks out loud noises
Projectors Bubble tube with changing lights Interactive games
Aromatherapy Create smelling bottles
Music mat Music Sound tactile wall
Prefers varied textures Craves hugs and prolonged contact May play rough
Messy play Tactile wall or blanket
Chewing on inedible objects Choose strong tasting foods Have a large appetite
Rough play, including jumping, bumping and wrestling Crave pressure and tight hugs
Weighted blanket Lycra Resistant band
Constant motion seeking, running and spinning Engages in impulsive irregular movements Enjoys being upside down May not register pain or hunger Have more frequent accidents as they struggle to identify they need the bathroom
Spinner Peanut ball Rocker chair
Use educational prompts: mirrors and feeling cards to help understand bodily cues
What this may look like
Equipment/techniques that may be beneficial
Poor eye contact Turning off lights, seeks darkness Avoids going outside on sunny days Frequently rub or squint their eyes
Tent/den Do not have too many lights on
Complains about faint smells Hold noses to avoid smells
Keep rooms ventilated Avoid aromatherapy
Easily distracted by noise Agitated by repetitive sounds Engage in self soothing regulation, such as rocking
Headphones or earplugs when needed. A useful link: Flare Audio – Flare Audio Ltd Soft music
Dislikes being touched or getting dirty Avoids playing with others Anxious in busy environments
Waterbed – If alone and in a smooth rhythmic manner Mirrors
Have a low appetite Avoid strong tasting foods, may seem to be picky Avoid textured foods
Use bland tasting food Chewies can help users get used to oral stimulation
Avoid physical play Anxious around playground equipment Feels unsteady on uneven ground Experiences motion sickness Anxious when unable to feel the ground
Graded techniques to build up tolerance Improve understanding by education
Waterbed, in a smooth rhythmic manner Deep pressure can soothe – use weighted blankets (this needs to be no mo tha 10%) th ’ b w ht) Footstool if unable to reach ground Use educational prompts: mirrors and feeling cards to help understand bodily cues
Constantly hungry, thirsty or needing the toilet
For further information or reading, please visit: About the Senses - Twenty-One Senses (twentyonesenses.org)
There are numerous factors that can impact how we receive sensory input, colours for example, which can influence mood and evoke memories. The meanings of colours come from the associations and experiences that people have, meaning that they may change for different people. The generic influence of colours can be seen on the next page.
The influence of colours
Red: Reported to increase heart rate and blood pressure. Associated with agitation.
Yellow: Associated with morning and waking up. Increases arousal and alertness.
Blue: Associated with night and sleep. Increases relaxation and calming levels. Reported to lower heart rate.
Green: Associated with tranquillity. The colour of nature and growth. This colour cannot be over stimulating.
Waterbed (these can include audio)
Stimulating: As the bed moulds to the body, the body will receive proprioceptive and tactile feedback, stimulating these senses. When the user is laid down on the bed, the water can be moved by someone pressing down, this can rock the body, being alerting or calming for the user. Calming: Lying down on the waterbed can provide a calming and soothing environment. The water help distribute bodyweight across the bed, helping promote the spine ’ s natural position and relieve pressure on joints. As the water is heated the warmth can help relax muscles and provide a soothing sensation against the body. Heat can often help with relieving some symptoms of pain which can be beneficial to users that suffer with pain. The security of the warm bed may help calm and regulate some users. Use a projector above the bed, this can be interactive or just to watch and promote relaxation.
Developmental: Tasks that develop skills can be completed whilst laid on the bed if this helps the user concentrate. For some this may be achieved better on the bed as the user may be relaxed and more alert, depending on their sensory needs. This provides a safe environment to help focus on other activities, such as sensory stories or educational tasks. The motion of the water can help a sensory avoider develop coping skills with vestibular issues. Try engaging with deep pressure techniques whilst on the bed, this can include a weighted blanket or pressure massages. Communication can be done through touch and music. Here is a useful website suggestion if you would like more information and training in this area: tacpac.co.uk
Sensory avoiders may find this a safe space to gain tactile and proprioceptive stimulation without it being overwhelming.
T ‘ Sensory stories .’ Th can be used to help develop cognition and imagination. Use one of the stories available, create your own or use a book with pictures. Using visual aids can also help with visual interpretations and development. You can include the service user in creating a story. Find several free stories as a guide on this website: Sensory Story Collection - Special Education and Inclusive Learning (inclusiveteach.com)
Visual seekers will find bold colours, spinning objects and brights lights helpful to regulate. The lights often provide a calming environment, whether these are across the floor, a bed or hanging from the ceiling. If someone is avoiding the lights or squinting, try a darker colour or place a see through sheet over the lights to make them less visually stimulating, this can also provide further tactile feedback. For a user that has limited mobility they can be draped across their lap, this can support with inclusion and increase focus. Being surrounded by the lights can provide a sense of security.
The bright lights from the fibre optics are alerting and will stimulate the visual sense, improving visual development and colour recognition. The lights will often stimulate the desire to touch and explore, encourage this as it will help develop fine motor skills by holding individual strands. Tactile seekers will be able to touch the lights in a safe environment, receiving plenty of tactile feedback with no risks of harm as the lights will not get hot.
The lights can help develop interactions and connections between individuals and the environment, which can support the development of social skills. Encourage this by creating games to do, try counting the strands or including them in nursery rhymes or music. Colour control can be changed using dice, controllers or an iPad, depending on which option you have opted for. Encourage the user to interact and choose their colour to develop colour recognition, if you require visual aids to do this use coloured cards. This will also support to build the cause-and-effect skill which in turn develops curiosity and communication.
As the colours change encourage the user to identify the different colours, this will help improve cognition and focus their attention to the task. You can also try mirroring. Show the user a task and get them to copy you. This can include crossing the strands or moulding the strands into shapes, such as Plaits. This will develop fine motor skills and sequencing skills.
Calming: Tactile blankets, also known as fidget blankets, can be a soothing solution for those with dementia and those who suffer with restlessness. The various ribbons, fabrics and laces help calm the mind by keeping it busy and distracted, providing a resource for fidgeting hands. Repetitive behaviours often occur when someone is anxious, try providing an outlet for this anxiety through fidgeting.
Tactile Wall and Blankets
Stimulating: There are numerous types of tactile walls, providing various visual, auditory and tactile feedback.
To achieve the most tactile stimulation, encourage the individual to explore each part of the board or blanket featuring different textured shapes. Comparing the various elements and textures help stimulate the brain, with the potential of different patterns evoking memories for those with dementia. Walls with auditory features such as bells can be used to stimulate alertness, encourage the user to create the sounds by pressing the buttons, this will help develop sound recognition and the cause and affect skill. The fidget blankets can help alleviate users from boredom by stimulating the senses, the more senses that are stimulated from the blanket the better. Scents can be used to help stimulate memories, whether this is applied to the blanket or using an aromatherapy diffuser.
Developmental: They develop curiosity, discovery, hand eye coordination and interaction. Mirrors on the walls can help visual development and self-awareness. Try using emotion prompt cards and practice what these emotions look like in the mirror, for example asking the user what happy would look like, and so on. The fidget blankets help maintain fine motor skills, encouraging activities that are often activities of daily living including zips, laces and buttons on. This can help develop or maintain the skills such as zipping items of clothing up or tying shoelaces. The walls can also help tactile avoiders control what they touch, encourage them to get used to different textures by grading. Grading simply means increasing or decreasing the difficulty depending on how the user responds, which can also be done with various tasks, more information on this can be found online.
Create you own fidget toy, for yourself or for others that may benefit from one. They are designed to help reduce anxiety for dementia patients who are feeling restless. Here is a pattern to follow: How to make a dementia fidget toy to ease restlessness | Alzheimer's Society (alzheimers.org.uk)
Calming: The interactive surface can help support calmness by providing therapeutic activities, these can Include various themes. Try the beach theme, the sound of the sea waves In the background add an extra calming affect alongside the task of moving shells. It can also be used for reminiscence as it can evoke past holiday memories. The interactions can be minimal and repetitive, such as swiping left and right to move the bubbles. The projector can be used at all mobility levels, with the options of project It on a table, floor, ceiling or wall, making it inclusive for everyone.
Stimulating: You can grade how stimulating you want these games and interactions to be for the user by selecting various games. The games can be videos, pictures or music related, offering options to engage with all users differently. This can help users that need stimulation to stay alert, providing proprioceptive and vestibular feedback through physical tasks and interactions. Many games will promote social activities and communication through interacting with others while using the interactive surface.
Developmental: Interactive surfaces can support individuals with their developmental milestones by using different types of games to help build their hand eye coordination, learning number sequences, visual recognition and also how to take turns or share with other people. With the support of these games, it can help improve the developmental age that the user maybe functioning at, either emotionally, physically, cognitively or socially. These games can be selected and graded to suite the target audience who is using it at that time. Various skills can be developed, with improvement to focus, hand eye coordination, midline cross over, motor skills and the ability to follow as sequence.
For more Information and demonstrations: OM Interactive | Interactive Sensory Projection Systems
Bubble Tubes and Walls Calming: The walls and tubes create a sense of calm and relaxation within the room through the colours, bubbles and the soft sounds of the pump. The bubbles which change colours and constantly keep moving will help catch the eye of the users creating a calming effect, helping soothe the user through the smooth motion. Also, as pat “ tact th ap , “ where bubble tubes help the individuals occupy their minds and transports them away from their current situations. The bubbles and colours help overpower their thoughts or feelings helping them to unwind and relax in the moment. If you have more than one tube, a thin sheet can be draped across both tubes, creating a den like atmosphere. Stimulating: With the bubble tubes & bubble walls, the lights can change colour regularly. These bright lights and the bubbles create a stimulating, alerting & engaging experience for the user. It will also help improve their visual recognition and developmental. The bubble tubes encourage the individual to touch the tubes or walls to feel vibration knowing it is safe and in a safe environment.
Developmental: Bubble tubes softly vibrate, which invites users to explore touch and encourages engagement. They also help promote the user to develop the cause-and-effect skill and the interaction with others. The bubbles and colours helps the users to focus and builds development of attention, this can be beneficial when it comes to education, if teachers are noticing that the child is struggling to relax and engage within their work they could use this as breaks within their day to help the child regulate and re-engage. Similar to the fibre optics, the colour change can be controlled by the user or achieved with assistance from whoever is helping them. It can be controlled by using dice, controllers or an iPad, depending on which option you have opted for. Encourage the user to interact and choose their colour to develop colour recognition, if you require visual aids to do this use coloured cards. This will also support to build the cause-and-effect skill which in turn develops curiosity and communication.
Idea: You can pay for additional beads or shapes to be put into your tubes. This can be in forms of sea life creatures and fit in with themes of the room. Try playing a game to help with the engagement, help increase the visual developmental and promote focus. This can be counting the coloured fish or clapping when the jelly fish reaches the top.
Stimulating: Faster upbeat music helps the individual feel more awake and alert and can help make you feel more optimistic and positive. This helps uplift the emotions. You can also link this music to physical activities to encourage movement and motivation, this would be beneficial to physical health. Using physical activity alongside music will help the user receive plenty of proprioceptive and vestibular stimulation, which will be alerting and help focus. Calming: Research suggests that slow jazz music can help the body relax, it is said to activate the alpha brain waves which helps calm the mind. It proposes that it helps reduce anxiety and also stimulate productiveness. Having a slower tempo of music can help quiet the mind, relax the muscles leading to a soothing and relaxing sensation. There is a method called sound healing which helps reduce anxiety by using the power of music. Sound healing uses the vibrations from the music to help relax the body and mind. Meditation music is carefully created to help provide sensory values. This can be things such as classical music , Gregorian chanting , primordial sounds and nature sounds. You can also use meditation music to help unwind, relax or even to assist to sleep. There is a wide range of meditation music available. Find a playlist that best supports the user, this can have lyrics or not, be their favourite music or just be in the background.
Idea: If the user is actively seeking physical activity or proprioceptive feedback, music can be used with exercise. This can be done with all ages, adapt it to be done seated if required. Find a video to follow online, be creative and make it up, or maybe the user can help with this. Aromatherapy can be used alongside music to stimulate other senses. Smells and music can stimulate memories, try this with reminiscence.
Developmental: The exciting bit of music is that you can use it to help the users engage with a range of activities to help build and develop their brain, confidence, social skills, movement, language and math skills. You can choose a piece of music that links best to your goal. For example, head shoulders knees and toes. This is helping the individuals engage with touch, physical movement and speech as they can be encouraged to say the words. This helps the user develop sequencing and self-awareness skills, for example, they will be engaging with their body and acknowledging where their head is in space giving them the body recognition. Using music in reminiscence can help trigger memories, try music quizzes, these can be as simple as required and with help develop cognition.
Ladder Lights and Infinity Tunnel What is a Ladder Light? A ladder light is a sound sensitive ladder that lights up in response to sound. It can respond to clapping, shouting or singing. What is an Infinity Tunnel? An infinity tunnel is a sound sensitive illusion of depth creating the look of a tunnel which you place on the wall .
Calming: The lights from the ladder react to sound, they can be controlled with soft music in the background as this will slowly light up the ladder in a calming way. You can also try adding ladder light masks to reduce the amount of light given out and alter the shape.
Stimulating: both pieces of equipment are visually stimulating for users as the colourful lights are connected to sound. The level of stimulation can be controlled by music choice, if the beat of the music is fast the speed of the lights will increase. Try playing a game and interacting with the lights to develop the cause-and-effect skill. For example, ‘ Happy and you know it ’ , this will stimulate engagement alongside developing numerous skills, such as sequencing and gross motor skills.
Developmental: Tunnel: When you press the front, it creates the effect of bending the light within the tunnel, which makes it a more exciting experience. From this, the individual is rewarded with colours that rotate at different speeds. When you make certain sounds, this also then impacts the flash of colour that is given out. This is an excellent cause- and-effect toy that will encourage vocal communication. Ladder: Like the tunnel, when you make noises from clapping, shouting or singing, the lights then create the cause and effect for the individual. The display of lights on the ladder are sound sensitive which then will encourage vocal communication of the individual and exploration of vocal ranges.
Try transitioning techniques in and out of the sensory room. This will help the user understand that the time in the room is beginning and ending, readying them for the room and mentally preparing them that it is over. For example, a song that the user can identify as the start, alongside removing shoes and then a song they can identify as the end, alongside putting shoes back on. Choose music accordingly, if you want it to be a calming atmosphere let this reflect in the chosen music. Try lyric-less music, this can still be up to date music: Pop Instrumental | 2 Hours of Music Without Words - YouTube Keep an ‘ about me ’ profile, this will help understand and know what the user responds to, this information can then be shared with others, maintaining continuity. You can try to have individual tactile/interactive boxes to cater for each users needs. Try not to overload the rooms at once by turning everything on, this can cause more dysregulation and result in the room not being used in the intended way. Turning everything on at once can become dysregulating and distracting, use what is beneficial. You can change what is used in the room to help establish what works best for the user. Having a goal may help guide how you use the room: If it is to calm, then utilise the room in this way If it is for developmental then prepare what you wish to achieve before you enter the room, however, do not be disheartened if you do not achieve the learning outcomes set out. Not everyone will wish to interact, some users will want to explore their own senses solo, this is ok. Ensure they have what they need and be there for support if needed. The Vecta is a portable sensory experience. This can be bring a sensory room to any space, which can be useful for users that are confined to their rooms or bed. This can support wellbeing for those potentially in their final days. We use our senses all day, everyday. Sensory techniques do not need to be confined to one room, be creative. Try sensory strategies, here is a toolkit for teachers: Sensory Strategies in Schools - The OT Toolbox
This guide has been created by two 2nd year Occupational Therapy students from the University of Worcester, Jade Turley and Emily Griffin. Over the course of 10 weeks, they researched the benefits of a sensory rooms and the items within them. From their research, observations and interviews they have created a sensory guide to help you get the most out of your sensory room.
Please remember, this is just for suggestions. Explore the room and find out what works at an individual level!
Most of all, enjoy the experience!
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