autistic child in sensory room

A sensory room? What’s that?

Picture a room painted in cool colors and bathed in soft lights. The furniture and fixtures are carefully selected to fit the room’s purpose.

You’ll find lava lamps, bubble tubes, and floor couches, creating a relaxing atmosphere.

One side can be a place of activity. Bouncing or medicine balls for exercise, a whiteboard, a Lego wall, crash pads or mats, and interactive panels provide different sensory inputs.

There’s music playing loud enough to excite or calm listeners.

Even the floor is specially designed. There are area rugs, and the foam tiles are soft and interactive. These are like giant jigsaw puzzles so kids can have fun while they are on the floor.

Yes, it’s a place for kids. People create sensory rooms primarily for children with special needs.

*Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links.

What is a Sensory Room?

sensory room example

A sensory room is a sensory space designed for kids with disabilities or disorders, specifically those with ASD and SPD. 

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that creates social and behavioral challenges for people living with it.

Individuals with ASD learn and interact differently from most people. They can either be high-functioning and gifted, or seriously challenged. Autistic children find it hard to socialize and communicate.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition in which the brain has problems with sensory inputs resulting in trouble responding to these.

Children with SPD may be oversensitive to touch, lights and sounds. They are uncoordinated and find difficulty playing.

A sensory room aims to control sensory input so that these children will have a comfortable space while learning or playing.

These rooms may either stimulate or relax the senses to provide support for individuals developing their sensory skills.

Sensory rooms are not a new concept- they were invented in the Netherlands by psychologists Ad Verheul and Jan Hulsegge in the late seventies. Their work with people suffering from severe disabilities led to the idea of the sensory room.

Their primary purpose was to provide a venue to help these individuals adapt to their surroundings by combining play and sensory experiences.

Everything found in a sensory room, from sensory swings to the lighting, has a specific purpose. Each provides sensory experiences that help children with ASD and SPD learn and cope with the world around them when they use their five senses.

Sensory rooms also provide quiet spaces, so children with ASD can enjoy learning without the distractions found in school classrooms.   

The Importance of Sensory Spaces

  1. Sensory rooms provide children with ASD or SPD quiet spaces which help them focus.
  2. These rooms are better equipped for children with special needs.  
  3. It’s an excellent learning, relaxing and therapeutic environment.
  4. These rooms help children develop skills and also learn to manage emotions.
  5. It’s a perfect setting where kids can socialize with others without difficulties.

What Color to Paint a Sensory Room?

Before you choose colors for a sensory room, find out what is its primary purpose. Is it for activity or relaxation? Some colors address both, while others enliven or soothe the senses.

Here are some suggestions to give you ideas on what colors to paint your sensory room!

Neutral Colors

Children with ASD see colors with more intensity. Neutral colors should be your first choice. To most people, these are bland, lack vibrancy or are plain boring.

For individuals with sensory impairments, these are calming or, at the very least, reduce visual stimulation.

Neutral colors can be variants of blue, green, pink, orange, or violet.

Also, consider brown, tan, and gray.

Most paint manufacturers like PPG and Hunker have product lines specifically for sensory rooms. They are supportive of the needs of individuals with ASD. Visit their websites to check out what they offer.

Green Colors  

Green is a versatile choice because it can serve multiple purposes. It represents both serenity and recreation. It also reflects nature, luck, and good health!

Blue Colors

Blue evokes feelings of calm. It’s commonly associated with bodies of water, particularly the ocean. Temper the intensity of your blues because its brightest shade can be harmful.

White Colors

White reflects light and represents purity. It’s an excellent backdrop for fixtures, lava lamps, bubble tubes, and interactive panels.

Black Colors

Black absorbs light and serves as a backdrop for various lighting. It’s also the color choice when creating a dark-room effect.

Purple Colors

Purple is a soothing color that connects to the subconscious mind.

Pink Colors

Pink, when muted, has a calming effect.

Negative Sensory Room Colors

Keep in mind that children with ASD might associate colors with past unpleasant experiences. For example, white might remind a visit to the hospital or the dental office.

Now, the following colors could be used sparingly, but in general, it’s best to avoid them…

Red Colors  

Red is hot and vibrant. It stimulates the senses and is the choice color for activity. Children with ASD see red as florescent and is often overwhelming for their processing.

Red is more suitable for small objects.

Yellow Colors

Yellow is associated with the sun and is an alternative to red. This color represents fun, laughter, and excitement. Again, limit the use of the color yellow to small toys, as it could be overstimulating for childrens’ senses.

How to Find the Right Sensory Room Color

You can employ tools like ColorSnap Visualizer by Sherwin-Williams. Upload your sensory room’s photo. With 1,700 colors to choose from, you can virtually paint the walls and see which colors best suit your needs.

Painting your room white is best if you use light projectors with many colors, like the one I found on Amazon below. The advantage of a projector is its versatility in setting the right effect for various needs.

The color choices of your equipment like lava lamps and fixtures such as floor couches should complement your room color. Extreme contrasts can have a detrimental effect on children with ASD.  

Sensory Room Lights

Lighting is an essential element of your sensory room. It affects the moods of children with ASD or SPD. Lighting is also used to influence behavior.

These can act as stimulants or comforters. So, it’s advisable to avoid harsh, flickering, or high-intensity lights.

Besides ceiling, wall, or floor lights, you have to consider all light-emitting devices or equipment you can add to your room. Here are some suggestions.    

Sensory Room Bubble Tubes

According to this article, Verheul and Hulsegge also conceived bubble tubes. These are sensory devices that provide a relaxing yet colorful experience.

Bubble tubes use LED lights that can be controlled to provide the best settings for any individual. These can be ideal for children with ASD, ADHD, and adults with Alzheimer’s.

Bubble tubes can cycle through a wide range of colors. Artificial aquarium bubble tubes come with fake fish that bob up and down. The only sound emitted is that of bubbling water.

These are available in different sizes, and some recent models are rectangular.  

Benefits:

  • These have soothing and eye-catching effects
  • Development of color recognition
  • Can teach cause and effect
  • Enables focus and visual skill development
  • New versions are Wi-Fi compatible.

Also, bubble tubes provide tactile stimulation. Touching these can activate the nerve signals beneath the skin, thus improving neural activity.

When searching for bubble tubes, focus on reviews instead of looks and price. Yes, the better ones are expensive, but these are sturdier and last longer.

Here’s a high quality bubble tube I found!

Lava Lamps

lava lamp close up

These are excellent alternatives to bubble tubes because they provide almost the same benefits. Lava lamps are visually stimulating, portable, and easily mounted on any surface.

These can be adjusted to set any desired mood.  

A growing number of manufacturers recognize the needs of children with ASD or SPD. Several companies are selling wall-mounted models for sensory rooms.

Lava lamps are now energy-efficient and made with shatter-proof glass. Many models are available now and again, so in a valiant attempt not to sound like a broken record…check the reviews first before buying.

…Yeah, that didn’t work. I’m now officially a broken record.

Awesome.

Check out this lava lamp as a good starting point. Its quality design makes it an excellent choice for a sensory room!

Led Strips

blue, green, orange led light strips

You can mount these anywhere in your sensory room. These provide indirect light, which can be calming for children with ASD. You can change the light intensity and color with a remote or wired switch.  

You can buy led strips that are 60 feet long. These are easy to cut, which becomes significant when dealing with corners. And these can be linked to each other.

Also, most people use these as ceiling borders so they can provide rooms enough light while still keeping them dimmed.

My girlfriend Deanna asked me to share her personal favorite choice of LED strips with you all, and it can be found below!

Sensory Bins

bugs in sensory bin

Sensory bins are large containers filled with all kinds of objects that stimulate the senses. Unlike those found in homes and classrooms, materials for sensory bins in sensory rooms are carefully selected.

For autistic and all other children in general, here are some safe objects you can use for sensory bins:

  • Shredded paper
  • Sand
  • Water
  • Pasta
  • Cereal
  • Rice (Can come in different colors)
  • Jello
  • Beans
  • Edible water beads
  • Lentils

A sensory bin filled with various objects can keep children busy for long periods. If you regularly replace items, they will remain interested in discovering something new.

I suggest you take note of the things they like the most. Mix these with other objects until you find the best combination they’ll love.

Crash Pads/Mats

Autistic kids don’t have to miss all the fun happening on the playground. In the comfort of a home or a sensory room, children can run and play.

You don’t have to fear them getting hurt when they run into things like furniture. When jumping and crashing on these mats, they improve their strength and muscle tone in their legs and joints.

Crash pads also help children with SPD. Their vestibular system, which provides their brains with information about motion, head position, and spatial orientation, is improved. They learn to keep their balance and coordination when moving.

There are several guides on how to create your crash pad. I suggest you check what’s sold in the market first until you’re familiar with these.

Here’s a good recommended option to start with!

Sensory Room Bean Bags

girl reading in a bean bag chair

These are not your ordinary bean bags. It’s a bit tricky to get the right sensory room bean bag as there’s a specific type for each need.

So what particular aspect of your child needs development? It would be best if you answered this first before acquiring bean bags. Sensory bean bags are better for autistic children, whereas heavier ones might be good for kids with SPD.

We take bean bags for granted in everyday life. But there are many benefits for kids with disabilities or disorders, such as…

  • Improved focus and attention
  • Motor skills development
  • Motor planning
  • Improved hand-eye coordination
  • These are great props for interaction.

Sensory bean bags are specially made for autistic kids so that they can have fun with them. They are lighter than standard bean bags.

Some designs come with small extensions or fingers that can improve a child’s sensory integration and tactile experience.

Take a look at this high-rated bean bag I found on Amazon!

Sensory Room Exercise Balls

Also known as therapy balls, these have many uses, including therapy for children with disabilities or disorders. It’s a staple in homes for kids with ASD and SPD. So, it’s a must-have for any sensory room.

Pushing it up a wall helps children improve their strength and balance. Kids getting knocked over while bouncing an exercise ball is great for their proprioceptive sense. People with SPD can’t tell the position of their body parts in relation to their space. 

Rolling, lying prone, and sitting on the ball provide therapeutic benefits, including motor planning development. This is the skill that lets people remember the steps needed to perform an activity.

Children with disorders take time to learn simple tasks like washing hands. 

Now some kids kick the ball, which is also a good exercise for them. But, I suggest supervising when they do so. They might end up hurting themselves.

The smallest exercise balls are less than two feet, while the largest is under three feet in diameter. Most brands today sell exercise balls made from safe materials. These have non-slip or ribbed surfaces.

You can order customized sensory products from online sellers, many of which are parents of kids with ASD or SPD. I suggest you visit their sites.

Also, here’s an example of a highly-rated exercise ball from one of those companies on Amazon!

Wrapping it Up

Creating a sensory room for children with special needs is a continual learning process. It involves patience, trial, and error. As kids develop, you need to make adjustments. It’s tiring, tedious and costs money.

But, building your ideal sensory room for kids is always worth the effort when you consider the developmental milestones that are bound to show a short time down the road!