6 Important Tips for Your DIY Sensory Room

A custom sensory room can be a soothing haven for children with ASD.

ADOBE BOUGHT SENSORY ROOM

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Sensory rooms are dedicated environments that offer controlled sensory stimulation and relaxation, making them ideal for children on the autism spectrum.

Carefully planned elements like soft lighting, soothing sounds, textures, and tactile objects can have many benefits, including self-calming, self-regulation, and sensory-motor development.

While sensory rooms should be tailored to a child’s specific needs, Optism has a few tips on building the best DIY sensory room for your child.

Pinpoint sensory elements specific to your child’s needs

Before you begin working on your DIY sensory room, consider your child’s age, the available space, and your goal: are you hoping to develop sensory skills or create a calming environment? 

The Taksen family spent time observing the things their nine-year-old son Tyriz enjoys and experimented to find the right sensory elements for him. 

“Our son really loves the swing when he visits the playground, so we got the idea to install one in the house for when he feels the need to relax and calm down,” says Farah Marcy.

Farah and her husband Tadaffee attached a sensory swing to a pull-up bar on one of their door frames.

“The fabric cocoons around Tyriz and makes him feel safe. He used to just enjoy sitting there, but now he loves swinging on it too.” The swing is detachable, which means the family can bring it along when they travel, as well. 

The Taksen family has also set up a trampoline into their living room, which helps Tyriz release energy and alleviate stress. The activity also promotes the development of his vestibular system.

Use soundproofing and lighting for a serene DIY sensory room

Select a quiet area in your home, away from distractions, and improve the room's acoustics by soundproofing with acoustic foam or hanging blankets on walls and doors. 

Avoid rooms with many windows or use blackout curtains to block out the light. Opt for flicker-free, full-spectrum lighting and install dimmer switches to adjust intensity.

Occupational therapist Gundeep Singh from the Child Development Centre suggests, 

“If the apartment is small, parents can designate a small space by using easily removable texture mats on the floor. Use colored plastic sheets on light bulbs to produce colored light instead of using expensive fiber optics.” 

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Hanging blankets provide a budget friendly option for soundproofing.

Choose the right colors and materials for your sensory room

Experts advise choosing cool or neutral colors for the walls of your sensory room. In particular, off-white walls enhance light projection and reflection without overwhelming brightness.

Tigerplay, a play space design company in the UK, often collaborates with learning specialists to meet specific needs, and their Research & Development Coordinator, Lou Riley, has found that parents should "opt for calming colors and minimalistic designs to avoid overstimulation. Avoid bright whites or strong primary colors that can be seen as fluorescent.”

Eco-conscious parents will be inspired to learn that Tigerplay's sensory rooms also incorporate eco-friendly materials, such as efficient LED lighting, soft play items made with recycled foam, and sustainable coverings for soft furnishings. 

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Experts advise in choosing cool or neutral colors for sensory rooms.

Use a variety of sensory elements

Focus on multiple sensory elements to create a holistic calming experience for your child.

Visual: Bubble tubes, lava lamps, and bubble mirrors offer soothing color displays and optical illusions. In larger spaces, you can enhance the sensory experience by incorporating various elements such as textured walls, fiber optics, music touchwalls, balance beams, and illuminated ball pools. 

Oro-motor: Chewy tubes, vibrating brushes, and bubble blow toys encourage speech and feeding development.

Tactile: Interactive liquid tiles and ball chairs provide sensory engagement and energy release. Fidget toys, Theraputty, weighted blankets, and kinetic sand are easy additions.

Explore budget-friendly options like sensory bins, sensory bottles, and colored sensory materials. Additionally, consider making homemade modeling clay.

Auditory: White noise machines, nature sounds, and drums enhance auditory processing skills.

Olfactory: Use color-changing aroma diffusers or aroma dough for scent engagement, although you should take your child’s sensitivities into consideration first.

"Ultimately the kind of sensory elements to include depends on your child’s specific needs,” says Jason Hsieh of LakiKid, a leading sensory product provider.

Your child can be sensory seeking or sensory avoiding. Talk to them and ask them what they like. Design the space together and include their favorite toys, so they can take ownership and keep the space both fun and tidy.
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Sensory elements such as fidget toys, lava lamps and diffusers can create a calming experience.

Keep things safe in your DIY sensory room

Opt for soft, padded flooring or mats to provide cushioning in case of falls or accidents. Ensure that the lower parts of the walls are properly padded. Cover or round sharp edges on furniture, install childproof covers on electrical outlets, and securely anchor equipment and heavy objects. Additionally, ensure adequate ventilation to maintain good air quality and prevent overheating.

Occupational therapist Gundeep Singh suggests consulting with your child's occupational therapist before using sensory toys and equipment. Still, some general rules include selecting age-appropriate toys and avoiding overloading the space to maintain a clutter-free environment. Prioritize non-toxic, child-friendly materials and purchase from reputable manufacturers to minimize potential harm. Consider your child's sensory sensitivities, allergies, or other challenges when selecting materials and sensory equipment. 

Incorporating a visual schedule within the room can provide structure. Adult supervision is crucial, especially for children who require additional support. Jason emphasizes the importance of setting clear guidelines with your child on how the space should be used. “Establish expectations with your child, so they understand this is a place where they can take a break when needing sensory stimulations or feeling sensory overload. It’s not a place to watch TV or avoid homework!”

Regularly inspect sensory equipment to ensure its safety and functionality. Adhere to the weight limits and usage guidelines provided by the manufacturer. Maintain cleanliness and hygiene by regularly cleaning and sanitizing the sensory room. Vacuum the floor regularly, with special attention to carpeted surfaces and the space beneath floor padding. For hard floors and floor padding, use soapy water for mopping. Clean and wash other sensory equipment and toys regularly to keep them in optimal condition.

Lou believes that parents should regularly assess their child’s evolving sensory needs and update the room accordingly. “Gradually introduce new elements or modify existing ones to match the child’s developmental stage. Keep communication open with the child and seek their input as they grow and their preferences change.”

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A visual schedule can provide structure.

Provide a wonderful bonding experience

Gundeep encourages parents to actively participate in their child's play sessions and immerse themselves in the experience. “Join your child’s play sessions. Involve yourself and work together. Children love to see their parents follow what they do, so be a child with them and enjoy. This also helps parents learn more about their child’s needs. Tidying up together is a perfect example of doing an activity with your child.”

 

Visit Resources here to download our curated list of items for your DIY sensory room.