Updated: Oct 5
For many children, sensory sensitivity interferes with normal childhood development. Be it an aversion to bright colors or disliking certain textures, traditional play spaces aren’t suitable for these children.
Sensory rooms are safe, customized alternatives to traditional playrooms. Designed with the child and their sensitivities in mind, sensory rooms embrace all the senses in fun, comfortable means.
Children with autism, ADHD, and other sensory sensitivities thrive in safe spaces. Sensory rooms help children to self-regulate and decompress, which are both excellent life skills. As well, in a sensory room designed around the child’s likes, you and your children know they’re in a safe environment.
Here are four ideas for creating a sensory room.
Key Areas of Focus
Every sensory room is different. Also, not every sensory sensitivity is the same. Thus, make sure to customize the room’s features to your child’s wants and needs. The following four focus areas help ensure your child’s sensory room is exactly what they want.
1. Always Consider the Colors
Colors are a significant source of emotion. Bright, bold colors often cause overstimulation in children with sensory processing disorders. On the other hand, softer colors soothe and calm. When constructing your sensory room, pay attention to the colors.
Bright colors like red, orange, and yellow are warm and energetic. For some kids, these colors energize and stimulate. Toys with these colors make great visual indicators. However, avoid using too many bright colors. Bright walls, for example, hinder focus, or even cause overstimulation.
Cool colors include blue, purple, and green. These colors calm children, soothing those with sensory disorders. Pale pink is a pleasing color for those with autism. Likewise, pale yellow provides a touch of energy without being too invasive.
Natural colors, including browns, soft pastels, and earthen hues, reduce hyperactivity. Walls made with these colors help avoid the cold, distant feeling of white walls. Also, their natural colors are easier to process than bright tones.
Don’t be afraid to color-coordinate the sensory room. For instance:
Use brighter colors (when and where appropriate) on active toys and activities.
Cool blues and greens are great for pillows, beds, and other comforting surfaces.
Walls of pale pink or sandy tan create a comforting tone throughout the room.
Color is vital in a sensory room. Before diving into the sensory room, though, take some time to determine your color scheme.
2. Pleasing Sensory Lights
Bright, flashing, or otherwise distracting lights create sensory overload in many children. Using sensory-safe lighting is a great way to make an inviting room. Instead of traditional lighting, consider the following alternatives:
Lava Lamps: The slow-moving soft shapes are pleasing to watch, and they lack the electronic hum of other light sources.
LED Cubes: These are gently-pulsing cubes of color. Many are programmable or app-controlled to ensure pleasing and soothing colors.
Fiber Optics: These offer tactile stimulation, as they are soft and safe to touch. Plus, fiber optics come in almost any form, even as flooring.
Once you’ve considered the lights, think about the surfaces. Many children have sensory issues from reflective surfaces. Avoid light sources directly overhead a reflective surface. Or, cover surfaces with non-reflective materials, including fabric, feathers, or cushioned foam.
Lighting plays a crucial role in creating the calm needed in a sensory room. And when a space is calm, so are the occupants.
3. Crash Mats, Puffy Chairs, and Textures
While a sensory room promotes calm, your child might need some extra prompting. Sometimes, they’ll want to jump around or practice their tumbling. A sensory space should always be safe. So, if your child enjoys a bit of activity, ensure the room is full of soft surfaces.
Crash mats are a great option to line the floor. From soft foam to puffy cushions, these mats create a peaceful landing place for your rambunctious kids. Crash mats and pads also provide safe places for exercise and yoga that help promote calm.
Beanbag chairs fill a similar role. Intended more for sitting, they are another soft surface to keep your children safe. Beanbag chairs are great for kids who have difficulty sitting still. As they conform to the body, they create unmatched comfort.
Consider the textures of crash mats, beanbag chairs, and other aspects of the room. Tactile stimulation is important, but it is often too much for some children with tactile sensory issues.
Avoid triggering textures, but encourage your children to explore. Minor additions, like a textured blanket, help gently desensitize children with sensory issues.
4. Sensory Activities and Toys for Skill Development
Not all children with sensory sensitivities avoid activity. In fact, safe but hands-on sensory activities help teach skills and promote fine motor skills. Even children with tactile sensitivities benefit from sensory toys and activities. Like other aspects of the sensory room, base these on your child’s needs.
Children with sensory processing disorders deserve to have as much fun as every other kid. Here are some everyday activities and toys:
Sensory bins: Fill bins with items of various textures, including beans, pasta, sand, and more. Include scoops and tools to manipulate the objects. These promote tactile adventuring, as well as sensory processing. Note, though, that these aren’t ideal for children with aversions to tactile stimulation.
Ball pits: Perfect for the active child, ball pits are full of tactile stimulation. Ball pits provide exercise, motor skills, and body control. Also, with hidden toys or textured objects, ball pits become treasure troves of fun.
Sensory swings: Available in many forms, sensory swings provide areas of peaceful rest or active fun. Cocoon and wrapping swings are great calming tools, and might even lull a child to sleep. Log swings and hammocks promote activity in a safe and controlled room.
Tactile tools: Tools are great for kids with tactile sensory sensitivities. They allow kids to handle objects like food or materials. Chopsticks or other smaller tools promote fine motor control, as well. And objects like paintbrushes turn art into fun hand-eye lessons.
Don’t forget exercise-based objects, too. Colorful jump-ropes, textured exercise balls, and illuminated stepping stones help build coordination. Also, they let your kids blow off steam at the same time. Even a simple dance party is perfect for getting moving and having fun with your kids.
In addition to these 4 ideas, check out this overview of bedroom design considerations for kids with autism or sensory processing issues from the Reviews Team at This Old House:
They have put together this comprehensive guide in honor of National Disability Awareness Month. Whether your child is sensory avoidant or sensory seeking, this guide will offer helpful insight to your design choices.
Kids with sensory processing disorders have many sensory-based needs and limitations. Often, this leads to social anxiety and stress at “not fitting in.” Sensory rooms provide safe spaces for your children to thrive and develop.
With guided play and a calm environment, children learn to experience their surroundings. Indeed, they might even become desensitized to some of their sensory issues.
Work with your children to create the perfect sensory room. The entire family will love it.
Written by: Rachel Perez on behalf of ANGI
Rachel is an Outreach Associate with North Star Inbound. An honors graduate of New York University, she contributes home improvement, landscaping and renovation pieces. When not writing, she enjoys gardening with her mom and spending time in the Florida sunshine.