Students with autism often face challenges in the classroom due to their sensory processing issues. Sensory issues are common among children with autism and are one of the core characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Sensory rooms have become an essential tool to help autistic students regulate their sensory experiences in a safe, controlled environment. For children on the autism spectrum, these rooms provide a calming effect, much like a weighted blanket helps reduce . Here, we’ll take a closer look at the significance of sensory processing and how sensory rooms may benefit children with autism.

Understanding Sensory Processing and Regulation

Sensory processing refers to how your nervous system responds to the things you see, hear, smell, or touch. For some children, it can affect all of their senses, and for others, it may only affect one. For children with autism, sensory processing typically means they’re overly sensitive to something other people are not. For example, they don’t like the feeling of a tag on their clothes, they may be sensitive to loud sounds, or a smell bothers them more than it should.

This can result in sensory overload where they will show a certain behavior when they are experiencing a sensory issue, like refusing to wear certain clothes, covering their ears when they hear a loud noise, or flapping their hands or rocking back and forth when they are experiencing a sensory issue, says 

Accommodating or regulating these sensory issues can help ease discomfort and help children with autism manage their emotions. Since the environment influences sensory needs, sensory rooms can be designed to control these sensory experiences. These rooms are designed to help students feel calm and accommodate students who have .

For example, they may include earplugs, headphones, fidget toys, weighted blankets, soft textures, light covers, sunglasses, or other sensory tools. They may also include soft lighting, calming paint colors, and an open floor plan with adjustable seating.

How Sensory Rooms Can Be Extremely Beneficial to Students With Autism

Sensory rooms can offer numerous benefits for students with autism. Here are a few of the advantages of having one in your school.

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Multi-sensory environments or sensory rooms were found to be an effective way for students with autism to control their emotions better, which can lead to improved control over their emotions, according to a . Since sensory rooms are tailored to address the unique sensory needs of each individual, students can engage in sensory experiences that are comfortable for them, promoting a sense of autonomy or feeling of independence which gives them a sense of control.

Reduces Anxiety

Oftentimes, children with autism who have sensory processing issues feel powerless, so being able to escape to a sensory room can help reduce their anxiety. The calming elements of the room can make them feel safe and allow them to de-stress and cope with their sensory challenges in a low-stress environment.

Develops Social Skills

Sensory rooms can have a positive impact on students with autism’s communication skills. Group activities like games that encourage taking turns foster interaction and cooperation among students in a low-stress learning environment, which in turn helps to develop students’ social skills.

Improves Concentration

Sensory rooms are associated with increased focus and improved attention among children. According to a , research has found that sensory rooms have had a positive impact on students’ performance, increasing their focus and their ability to stay on task and follow directions. A well-designed sensory room can help students focus and sharpen their concentration.

Addresses Difficult Behaviors

Sensory rooms can help manage challenging behaviors by providing a supportive and calming environment that is tailored to children living with autism spectrum disorder. If a student shows a certain behavior when experiencing a sensory issue such as a , redirecting them by going to a sensory room can help them feel a sense of calm. This sense of calm can quickly reduce their behavior, allowing them to refocus their attention and energy on whatever they were doing before they felt a sensory overload.

What to Include in Your Sensory Room

Creating a well-designed sensory room for autistic children involves carefully selecting materials that can cater to a range of students’ unique sensory needs. Here are a few suggestions for creating a calming space.

Lighting and Sound

Soft, warm, dimmable lighting, as well as battery-operated candles, twinkling lights, and lava lamps, can create a soothing atmosphere. Sound insulation can help prevent distractions as well as earplugs, headphones, and working in a space with a closed door.

Tactile Materials

A variety of tangible materials, such as soft blankets or fuzzy pillows, can be soothing and comforting to touch. Textured balls and fabrics can offer tactile stimulation while beads, kinetic sand, and squishy toys can be a satisfying option to help calm some children.

Auditory and Visual Elements

Soothing sounds like white noise machines, sounds of nature, chimes, or soft music can be relaxing for students. Consider including visual elements like panels or textured walls, light displays, bubble tubes, or projectors that change shapes or colors can promote a relaxing visual experience for autistic students.

Calming Colors

Neutral colors create a sense of warmth, while soft blues and greens are known for their soothing effects on the nervous system. These colors can help reduce stress and promote relaxation to help sensory regulation.

A multi-sensory space is a designated space within the school that can help autistic students regulate their sensory experiences in a controlled and safe atmosphere. Since each student responds to sensory experiences differently, sensory rooms need to be flexible and adaptable to meet the needs of all students. By addressing these processing differences, sensory rooms can help students with sensory overload regulate their emotions and reduce their anxiety.