Sensory Integration Rooms

Schools are unpredictable, busy environments that can quickly dysregulate children and staff. Children who are sensitive to different sensory information can find school a difficult place to be in and whilst we cannot take away their sensitivity, we can help retrain their brain to overcome its sensitivity and develop coping mechanisms. 

Occasionally Sensory Integration Rooms are used to keep children safe when demonstrating challenging behaviour. Although it is appreciated that children can harm themselves or others when dysregulated, these rooms are not built for this purpose. Sensory Integration rooms are dedicated to stimulating, developing and meeting an individuals sensory needs by allowing them to use their senses to drive their desire to explore the environment. Therefore they should be used to provide sensory opportunities rather than safety in a crisis.

Sensory Integration rooms are filled with various pieces of equipment such as hammocks, swings, lighting projectors, mirrors, bubble tubes, ball pits, exercise balls, monkey bars and more. All these pieces of equipment help children to regulate by providing sensory feedback.

Glenwood School currently have two sensory rooms: One on the ground floor and one on the 1st floor. Regardless of what sensory room you are in, the do’s and don’ts remain the same.

DO VS DON’T

  • Encourage the child to take their shoes off when entering the room, before engaging in the soft play equipment.
  • Take the time spent in the sensory integration room to engage with the child, develop a trusting and meaningful relationship.
  • Encourage the child to engage in activities that will regulate them.
  • Have fun with the child, ensuring the experience is positive.
  • Watch the child closely to monitor whether an exercise is having a positive effect on them or a negative effect.
  • Use the room to promote communication with the child. If they would like to change swings, ask them to direct you to the swing, verbalise or sign for the swing
  • Use the room as a ‘break out zone’ when a child is dysregulated and demonstrating extremely challenging behaviours. This will develop a negative association with the room, rather than a regulating and positive experience.
  • Allow the children to feed their dysregulation. If a child becomes heightened, move onto calming activities and remove swings.
  • Let a child on a swing before you visually assess the area for safety and physically test the swing to make sure it is attached correctly.
  • Force a child to remain interested in an activity. If they lose interest and want to move on, allow them to.
  • Leave the sensory room door open, for other children to come inside. There should only be 1 child in the room at one time.

Equipment

Hammock swing: Glenwood’s hammock swing has four different coloured layers, which many of the children enjoy climbing through. The hammock swing is an excellent swing to use as it encourages linear (back and forth) swinging, rather than spinning (which can be overstimulating). The children can be wrapped up in the hammock by an adult, to provide deep pressure feedback, which is calming.

Here are some hammock swing activities:

  • In the hammock swing, encourage the child to sit upright

with his legs over one side. Hold onto his feet and pull/push him in linear motions. Repeat this whilst singing ‘row, row, row, your boat’. Try to pull his ankles/feet in rhythm with the song, even slow the song down if needed.

  • In the hammock swing, encourage the child to start at the top layer and call out ‘the crocodile is coming, oh no, hide’. Then use your arms as the crocodile’s mouth. Encourage the child to climb his way through the layers to run away from the crocodile.
  • In the hammock swing, encourage the child to sit upright with his feet hanging over the side nearest to the wall. Encourage him to swing himself by pushing his feet off the wall. Encourage this further by placing a floor mat on the wall and encouraging him to stretch his foot to reach the mat.

Square platform swing: Glenwood’s platform swing attaches to the metal frame and is easily spun. As previously highlighted, spinning can quickly over-stimulate a child and should be avoided where possible. If a child does begin spinning, encourage them to spin the same number of times to their left as they do to their right. The platform swing is an excellent swing to encourage core control, improve postural strength and upper body control. Children can be encouraged to sit on the swing on their knees, with their legs crossed or on their stomachs.

Here are some platform swing activities:

  • Whilst on the platform swing, encourage the child to lay on his stomach and shake the platform from side to side whilst singing ‘Jelly on a plate, jelly on a plate, wibble wobble wibble wobble, jelly on a plate’. This can be extended by then singing ‘the child on a plate..etc’.
  • Whilst on the platform swing, push him in linear (forwards and backwards) motions whilst singing ‘Old macdonald had a farm’. Encourage the child to answer what animals are on the farm and encourage him to make these noises. 
  • Whilst on the platform swing encourage the child to lay on his stomach and push in linear motions. When he comes towards you, hold the base of the platform swing in the air to encourage him to hold his weight against gravity, cheer ‘3,2,1’ then release the swing.-

Exercise ball: An exercise ball is an excellent resource to have as it can be used almost anywhere. It’s a great piece of equipment to encourage stretching, balance and to provide proprioceptive and vestibular feedback.

Here are some exercise ball activities:

  • On the exercise ball, encourage the child to high kneel in front of the ball and reach over the top to place his hands on the floor. Encourage him to rock back and forth, whilst stretching his trunk over the ball. Encourage the child to reach forward to a toy/object then return it to the side of the ball. This can be completed with bean bags, putty, beads etc.
  • Standing in front of the child, engage in a game of throw and catch with the exercise ball, encouraging the child to reach high to catch. 
  • Using the exercise ball, encourage the child at the end of the session to lay on his belly on the floor and roll the exercise ball over his back, arms and legs. This provides proprioceptive feedback which is calming.

Trampette: A trampette can be found in both Sensory Integration rooms at Glenwood School and it is an easy piece of equipment to use, however can quickly dysregulate a child if not used correctly. The motion of jumping on a trampette provides intense vestibular and proprioceptive feedback which is great for children who are under-responsive. However, for children who are presenting as over-responsive, a trampette should be used in conjunction with a cognitive activity.

Here are some activities to use when on a trampette:

These preliminaries settled, he did not care to put off any longer the execution of his design, urged on to it by the thought of all the world was losing by his delay, seeing what wrongs he intended to right, grievances to redress, injustices to repair, abuses to remove, and duties to discharge.

  • Encourage the child to bounce on the trampette whilst blowing bubbles at them. Ask them to count how many bubbles they can pop.
  • Whilst bouncing on the trampette, engage in a game of simon says by calling out actions such as: clap your hands, touch your nose, turn around, throw a ball at the target.

Managing RISK in the sensory integration room

  • All children should be supervised closely when using the room.
  • All electrical equipment must be PAT tested yearly.
  • Equipment must be cleaned regularly.
  • Regular risk assessments should be completed on each piece of equipment. Damaged equipment should be removed and reported to maintenance, or the Sensory Integration Occupational Therapist
  • Adults are to structure each activity to the ability level of the children.
  • Adults are to complete ongoing risk assessments of each activity and piece of equipment, with every child.

Questions and answers:

Who can use a sensory integration room?

Anyone can use a sensory room. We all have a sensory profile such as enjoying roller coasters, disliking long car journeys, working in complete silence or having every light on in the house. Children or adults can use a sensory room, however most sensory rooms are directed towards children’s use. 

Who would benefit from using a sensory integration room?

Sensory rooms can be enjoyed and of benefit to all individuals, however those with sensory processing difficulties will benefit most. Sensory rooms are an excellent resource to regulate a child, to provide a safe and calming environment, if used correctly. Once regulated and calm, the child is more likely to engage in fine motor, gross motor, communication and interaction based activities. Therefore, the sensory room can be used as a learning platform during a session.

What are the benefits of a sensory integration room?

  • It provides sensory stimulation through all sensory systems. However, sometimes a child may need support and structure from an adult to be introduced to this stimulation. For example, an adult may have to turn on and pass a vibrating cushion to the child. This will then provide tactile feedback to the child. 
  • It enhances learning through play. As mentioned above, once regulated through all sensory systems a child is more likely to be focused and engaged with an adult which provides them with opportunities to absorb, learn and grow.
  • It provides opportunities to build spatial awareness, postural control, balance, movement and muscle strength. A sensory integration room can be difficult to maneuver around with soft, uneven flooring, heavy weighted objects, swings to hang from and games to engage in. 

How often should a child use a sensory integration room?

There is no minimum or maximum frequency that a child should use the sensory integration room. However, if used appropriately the child will not need to use the room frequently as their needs would have been met in the first session. Preferably, the room should be used a couple of times per week to provide intense sensory stimulation. In between using the Sensory Integration room a sensory diet can be developed for the child to engage in throughout the day in their classroom.

How long should we spend in the Sensory Integration room?

On average, we expect a child and an adult to be active in the sensory integration room for 15-25 minutes, depending on how much sensory information is needed to calm and regulate the child. This will provide the child with enough time to explore the room as well as providing the adult enough time to encourage organizing and calming activities.

What is the correct term for the room?

There are many different terms used to describe this room such as Sensory Integration room, Sensory room or Swing room. People can often call it a ‘time out room’, however this suggests that the room is being used inappropriately as a break out zone for a child who is dysregulated. The room should be used to meet sensory needs.

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