Creating a Sensory Integration Room – Dominic Simpson, Jigsaw Occupational Therapy

Transforming a blank space into a Sensory Integration room is no easy task, it involves a lot of creative thinking, imagination and planning due to the sheer amount of limitless options! We encountered this very situation when creating our unique space some four years ago now and if things go to plan we will be embarking on another journey to create even bigger and better Sensory Integration facilities in the near future (watch this space!).

For those not already familiar with Sensory Integration rooms let me explain. They are created and used specifically by Occupational Therapists who are trained in Sensory Integration techniques and these spaces contain very specific types of equipment and intervention processes. Combining the development of both Proprioceptive and Vestibular senses, Sensory Integration activities can assist in developing the ability to process this information and help to treat children with sensory processing disorders, dyspraxia, vestibular disorders and balancing problems. Sensory processing disorder is a neurological condition in which a person responds inappropriately to sensory signals. A sort of “traffic jam” occurs and prevents the brain from getting and interpreting sensory information. Inappropriate reaction to bright lights, loud noises, motion, and other sensory experiences can trigger anxiety, motor problems, behavioural disturbances, and cause difficulty learning.

Here at Jigsaw OT we work with children and young people experiencing a wide array of profound and multiple disabilities. Some of these conditions include; cerebral palsy, autism and Asperger’s syndrome, attachment disorders, sensory processing disorders, acquired brain injuries, motor coordination difficulties and learning disabilities. For children with sensory processing disorders the sights and sounds of many environments can be overwhelming. For example, doors slamming, people rushing past, the voices of the general public and car horns etc, to name just a few…all of these things can be upsetting and impact a child’s ability to pay attention and participate in any activity they may be attempting.

Because of the wide range of conditions we work with our Sensory Integration room and equipment needs to be flexible (so that it can be used creatively to meet individual needs) with additional storage so the treating therapist can manipulate the environment to meet their aims. To start with we had to consider how children will enter the room. e.g uneven surfaces, a tunnel and small soft play slide and steps are great for developing praxis and provide a challenge with the reward of the motivating equipment on the other side.

As a group we made a wish list of different equipment under vestibular, proprioception and tactile and tried to ensure that we had enough resources to provide these opportunities. Some of the children’s favourite pieces are the Buddy BoatScooter RampGlider SwingSensory Shaker and an Inflatable Roll. However, not all Sensory Integration resources have to be big bulky items or cost a lot of money. We made sure we had a wide array of small fidget items and fine motor skill games  and even simple ideas like making use of discarded bubble wrap can result in a fantastic activity with the use of the aforementioned Scooter Ramp!! Large beanbags for children to crash on, roll on, get squashed in and crawl under. Different textured and weighted fabric is great for hiding, creating dens and rolling over. Don’t forget to include play props; fancy dress, construction, messy, and Vibrating Cushions.

The list of things you can include in a Sensory Integration room is almost endless, we have also incorporated a blackout dark den, fairy lights, art supplies, Weighted Blankets, activity panels for walls, music, hammocks, chew toys, exercise balls, Balance BoardsTrampoline….I could go on but I hope you get the picture!! So many different items can be used for so many different purposes and that’s what makes a Sensory Integration room so unique and a pleasure to work within.

From creating our first space we have learned a great deal and will use this knowledge to help us hopefully create even more fantastic spaces for the children we work with. Keep your eyes on this blog in the future to hear more about our plans to create a new Sensory Integration room (with the help of Southpaw)

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