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First Choice Allied Health Blog

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Sensory Rooms Explained

A sensory room is a specially designed space that caters to individuals with sensory processing issues, such as autistic people, those with ADHD, dementia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other sensory challenges.

These rooms serve as therapeutic retreats, providing individuals with a controlled space to self-regulate and manage sensory input. They can provide a tranquil space where people can retreat from the sensory overload of the surrounding environment, reducing stress and anxiety.

Sensory rooms can range from simple to elaborate. Often the rooms are equipped with a selection of sensory elements, including soft lighting, soothing colours, and comfortable furnishings to create a safe and relaxing space. Additionally, tactile surfaces, textured walls, and a variety of sensory-friendly equipment or tools may be incorporated into the design to engage and stimulate the senses.

Sometimes visual stimuli through projected images, bubble lamps, and fiber optic lights are used to captivate the visual senses. Conversely, other areas of the room may provide tools to reduce visual stimuli such as blackout curtains or hanging pods.

A good sensory room is flexible and varied, with the ability to fulfil individual needs and match preferences for both calming and active experiences.

The calming elements should be designed to provide relaxation and emotional regulation. Soft, muted colours, dimmable lighting, and comfortable furnishings will create a soothing environment with elements like gentle music, nature sounds, and aromatherapy also incorporated into the design. Tactile materials, such as plush fabrics or weighted blankets are useful tools to offer comfort. Rhythmic swinging and motion on a sensory swing is great for relaxation and, if space allows, are a highly effective tool. There should be designated areas within a sensory space that minimize visual and auditory distractions and foster a peaceful environment for individuals with anxiety, stress, or sensory sensitivities. 

Sensory rooms can include active elements that are designed to engage and stimulate the senses, promoting relaxation and sensory integration. Equipped with a variety of interactive tools these elements cater to individuals seeking sensory exploration. Active components of a sensory room might include ball pits, sensory boards or equipment that allow swinging or joint compression. These types of input help to regulate the nervous system and offer valuable proprioceptive input— which is sensory information from muscles and joints that help people to understand their body's position.

Sensory rooms are most commonly found in schools, therapy and health centres, hospitals and airports, with the more recent addition of sensory rooms into sports and entertainment venues a welcome advance.

The introduction into sports stadiums and entertainment venues reflects a commitment to making public spaces more inclusive and accommodating to the diverse needs of the population. Individuals with sensory challenges can enjoy sporting events and entertainment experiences without feeling overwhelmed or restricted.

In Melbourne, a number of major venues have recently added sensory rooms to their list of facilities, including the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Marvel Stadium and John Cain Arena thereby allowing individuals, and families with members who experience sensory processing challenges, to attend events knowing there is a safe and supportive space available for them, whatever their need may be.

Another encouraging trend relating to sensory rooms is that more workplaces are introducing sensory spaces into their offices. Workplace sensory rooms need not be expensive or complicated projects and can begin with a modest selection of tools and resources and a willingness to listen to employees and incorporate reasonable suggestions. Thankfully some employers are now acknowledging that sensory rooms contribute to a more inclusive workplace by recognizing and accommodating the diverse sensory needs of the population. Employees facing stress or sensory overload can use the rooms to recharge, improving mental health and productivity.     

In summary, sensory rooms are invaluable additions to society, providing therapeutic spaces that cater to diverse sensory needs. They enhance wellbeing by offering tailored environments for relaxation, sensory integration, and emotional regulation. These rooms, and the wide range of organizations that provide them, promote inclusivity, support mental health, and contribute to improved focus and overall quality of life for all members of society.

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