What are sensory rooms?
- to provide relaxation and enjoyment by eliminating distraction,
- to increase creative sensory input, and
- to facilitate communication and mobility for children with a wide range of disabilities.
Sensory issues are common in children with special needs. Sensory issues include sensitivity to smells, touch, texture, taste, light and sound. For example, some children with sensory issues find different types of clothing bothersome. Sounds bother other children, even sounds most of us struggle to hear. The exact cause of sensory problems is not known. However, it relates to poor processing of the information received through the senses. Many children with autism have sensory issues. There is also a specific disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder.
The idea of using multi-sensory rooms to help people with disabilities started in the late 1970s. At that time, two Dutch scientists set up a sensory tent for children with intellectual disabilities. Using the sensory tent was beneficial to the children and a formalized therapy called SNOEZELEN® developed. “SNOEZELEN® has grown into a worldwide movement in over 30 countries with thousands of installations,” according to its website.
Places using sensory rooms
Schools set up sensory rooms for children with special needs, including autism or sensory processing disorder, to take breaks. Hospitals, doctors, therapists, camps and even some shopping malls have sensory rooms.
An elementary school in Vancouver, Washington runs a sensory camp for children with autism and other disorders. The camp includes a “low stim” room where campers can take a break and calm down. Parents’ fundraising efforts allowed the camp to stay open. A physical therapist in Massachusetts uses a multi-sensory room for therapy. The room is designed to remove distractions and uses “special lighting, fiber optics and bubbles to stimulate
different parts of the brain” and help children focus.
Effectiveness of sensory rooms
Medical research on the effectiveness of sensory rooms on children with special needs is limited to small-scale trials. These trials however, found sensory rooms do help children with autism. Additionally, sensory therapy is beneficial for children with sensory issues. See Autism: Home Sensory Exercises Improve Autism Symptoms for information on a study done at Temple University.
Researchers in California are investigating the benefits of SNOEZELEN®. SNOEZELEN® incorporates “soft lighting, gentle music, enticing smells, cosy fabrics and visual displays such as moving pictures on the ceiling and transparent tubes filled with bubbles that children can touch,” according to JewishJournal.com. Researchers are examining whether this multi-sensory therapy can make visits to the dentist easier for children with autism. Researchers hope favourable results will lead to the adoption of this practice by other dentists.