The purpose of a Sensory Room is to provide stimulation, and yet be calming. It aims to provide a "failure-free" experience, allowing pleasurable stimulation without the need for verbal abilities or requiring specific outcomes. The focus is to help the user of the room to gain maximum pleasure from the sensory activity they are involved in. The Sensory Room can provide an oasis of relaxation which is vital for children’s emotional health, a place where they can rest and become interested in their environment. Some will simply lie down and enjoy the magic while for others they will engage in the more interactive areas.
Providing a stimulating environment can:
•Increase concentration and focus attention
•Develop or reactivate senses of hearing, sight, smell, touch, and taste
•Heighten awareness and improve alertness
•Improve coordination and motor development
•Promote cognitive development by increased brain function
•Lead participants to explore their environment
•Be an unrestrained atmosphere where participants feel able to enjoy themselves.
•Stimulate the sensory building blocks
•Develop of a sense of cause and effect
•Develop language – more vocalization
•Promote social interactions
•Promote mental and physical relaxation– Stress levels drop dramatically
•Result in more calmness and lower aggressive behaviours
•Increase opportunity for choice and self-determination
•Improve communication and sharing
•Lead to non-responsive patients becoming communicative
•Provide relief from pain and painful physiotherapy
The Sensory Room will often be used for more active activities as well as relaxation, and much of the equipment can be designed or modified to provide switch interactivity. Special switches to suit the physical abilities of users can be used to start or modify the behaviour of the equipment, thus changing the sensory experience. This allows the Sensory Room to be used in active programmes, where switch skills, cause-effect understanding, concentration and memory abilities can be developed in a fun, focused environment.
Exploring the Senses
Attention, interest and expressions of pleasure or displeasure are the basis for participation in the Sensory Room. The responses to the experience of the room will be highly individual and teachers need to be sensitive to the student, suspending their expectations and judgments, closely monitoring any responses they notice in their students. For example, a student with poor eyesight may be frightened by a "flying" bird in the Sensory Room, while another whose vision is not impaired may be delighted by the same projected image. Some may find soft colours projected onto the walls soothing, but become confused by pictures. Music may be pleasurable for some students, but too stimulating for others. In another situation, one who is tactile defensive will not want to touch or even have near them any tactile stimuli, and should not be pushed with this, but allowed to explore other aspects of the Sensory Room. Over time, and perhaps being close to others and watching them touch and enjoy the tactile stimulation, this student may begin to feel safe enough to give this sensory experience a try.
An overactive child or distressed child can be comforted and calmed, an inactive child become engaged. Sensory rooms are particularly useful for children with varying degrees of attention deficiency disorders There are countless anecdotal reports of improved mood, fewer disruptive behaviours, decreased anxiety and fear, improved communication and enhanced interpersonal interactions. However, rigorous scientific studies are relatively few. This is probably because Sensory Room can be so varied in what they contain and provide, and are used in so many different ways with a broad range of users that it becomes impossible to control all the variables required for a stringent study. It would seem that some behaviour, such as aggression and self-injury do improve, especially whilst the student is in the Sensory Room
A key challenge for schools with pupils who have profound disabilities is to educate and develop the pupil using equipment that is available to them. A profoundly disabled pupil learns in a completely different way to a pupil with mild disabilities or no disabilities. Proprioceptive senses process information from our muscles, joints, and other body parts to provide us with an unconscious awareness of the position of our body parts in relation to each other, other people and objects. The Vestibular sense puts balance into our lives. It provides information about movement, gravity, and changing head positions. It tells whether we’re moving or we’re still, as well as the direction and speed of our movement. We can even tell if we are vertical or horizontal—even with our eyes closed. Combining the development of both Proprioceptive and Vestibular senses, Sensory Integration activities can assist in developing the ability to process this information and help to treat dyspraxia, vestibular disorders and balancing problems.
The approach to using the Sensory Room is generally non-directive, without the need for intellectual or verbally mediated activity in terms of following instructions or rules, and regular exposure seems to be more effective. Essentially, one would allow the user of the space the time and opportunity to experience at their own pace what the room has to offer.
One may not use or activate immediately all equipment that the room has available, but gradually introduce more of the sensory stimulation, allowing the cues given by the student to guide the teacher. The time in the Sensory Room should be student-focused, with the wishes of that individual determining the activity.