Neurodiverse children can have sensory processing issues, meaning they either require lots of external input (a sensory seeker) or hide from it (a sensory avoider). A sensory room can help address a child’s unique sensory issues, whether they’re seeking more sensory input or looking for a calming space.
When it comes to neurodiversity, no two children are the same—but there are enough similarities that there’s a good chance adding these sensory features to your home will benefit your child in some way. Whether you have the space and budget to create an elaborate sensory room or just want to add a few key items to support your child’s sensory needs, we’re sharing how to create a sensory space for kids.
How to Create a Sensory Room for Kids
As a parent coach, cognitive specialist, author, and parent of two neurodiverse kids, I created a space in our home that’s pleasing to the adult eye but that also engages my children’s sensory needs. It took some time for me to research and narrow down the things that would most benefit my children. We turned the “bonus space” in our house into an area where my kids can explore their senses.
The sensory exploration space in our home is well-used and loved. When creating something like this for your child, think about what they would like and see if they use it. Avoid attempting to overfill any sensory space. Too much stuff can feel overwhelming, and your child may not use the area because they won’t know where to begin. Start with less and work your way up to adding more items as needed. Check in to see what your child is no longer using or has outgrown either height- or development-wise. Last but not least, enjoy the space with them. Sit with your child while they are playing to create a positive association with the room.
What Is a Sensory Room?
A sensory room for kids is a place for them to engage their senses: touch, smell, sound, and sight. A sensory room doesn’t have to be a literal room, but rather a safe space for sensory exploration based on your child’s individual needs. Sensory rooms can be another great resource for parents of children with autism to access.
Benefits of a Sensory Room
There are several benefits to creating sensory-friendly spaces in your home, including:
- Emotional regulation: When a child is feeling overwhelmed by the environment, it can lead to dysregulation. Often this will look like “bad” behavior. However, when the environment reinforces their senses, it can help them with emotional regulation skills creating a calm effect.
- Improved focus: A fidgety child is not a child who can’t concentrate but is who is focusing on EVERYTHING. Having more connection and awareness of their space can improve their focus.
- Improved gross and fine motor skills: Sensory space can help your child activate different areas of the brain that can help with learning, therefore leading to improving other skills and information retention.
- Activated creativity: When children complain of boredom, it can be the environment not eliciting feelings of creativity. When stress levels are decreased, a child can tap into a creative mode more easily.
- Improved cognitive development and function: For example, a stressful environment can provoke feelings of fight or flight, and a child in that stress can’t make the same amount of cognitive progress as a child who is not.
- Provides a safe place where the child can feel comfortable exploring the abilities they possess. It allows a level of autonomy to grow and build on developmental skills.
Sensory Room Essentials
The details you include in your sensory room will depend on your child’s unique personality and sensory needs. Here are a few essentials we added for my son’s sensory-seeking behaviors and for my daughter’s need for a safe space to avoid sensory overload.
Trampolines and Crash Pads
When my son was smaller, we used to call him “furniture destroyer,” due to his proclivity for jumping on or slamming his body into our furniture, specifically our bed and couch. The bean bag chair in our sensory room serves as a crash pad.
We also have two trampolines in our space. When I initially started designing our sensory room, my son was only 3 years old, so a mini trampoline was all he needed. My son is now 12 and still uses the same mini trampoline, but this year he upgraded to a larger size trampoline.
For times when we have to be inside, I wanted to ensure that if my son felt like he needed to jump, he would have access to a trampoline without going outside. We call it our “indoor trampoline park,” and when he is heightened, I’ll find him jumping off the trampoline into the giant bean bag.
The Quiet Space
As a sensory avoider, my daughter is the opposite of my son. When she was younger, the loud and unexpected sound of public toilets flushing would cause her distress, and you can forget about fireworks. So we have a dedicated space for her called “the quiet room.” It’s a closet space dedicated to avoiding certain senses, an auditory and visual retreat where she can go when she wants to avoid overwhelming sounds or environments. This is a dark space filled with Squishmallow pillows and weighted blankets. Some children might also find the slow-moving soft glow of a lava lamp or a bubble tube to be soothing as well.
Both my kids love this quiet space. My son uses it when he’s overwhelmed, and my daughter uses it to relax.
Basket of Fidgets
I use baskets to store small items for easy access. Having a designated spot for things can help with executive dysfunction. Fidget items can help children with autism and sensory issues focus and regulate their emotions. Again, no two children are alike, so you may need to invest in a few fidget toys before narrowing down what works best for your child and your space.
A hanging hammock chair helps my son with his vestibular input system. The vestibular system is located in the inner ear, and it helps with your sense of balance and movement. When my children feel dysregulated, they require specific movements that can only be provided by moving in a circular motion; that’s when the hammock chair or a camping hammock comes in handy.