The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network reports that one in 59 children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and that it is four times more common among boys than among girls. For many children, the resulting difficulties with effective communication, social interaction and comprehension can result in atypical behaviors that make it difficult for them to focus and thrive in everyday settings.
What are the benefits of sensory rooms for children with autism who are deaf and/or non-verbal?
1. Children gain access to appropriate sensory stimulation and their bodies learn how to respond appropriately to the stimulation.
2. Sensory rooms can enhance learning through occupational therapy (OT) or adult-directed play, which engages different areas of the brain, leading to improved information retention.
3. Time in a sensory room helps children improve their visual, auditory and tactile processing, as well as fine and gross motor skills.
4. By providing a sense of calm and comfort, sensory rooms help children learn to self-regulate their behaviors, which ultimately improves focus.
Sensory Regulation at School
Sensory rooms help teach children with autism and other behavioral health challenges to regulate their bodies in a way that allows them to achieve success in the classroom. For example, using a sensory “snack” of vestibular movement (linear or rotary swinging) or heavy work/deep movement (through obstacle courses or gross motor movement) can help students to achieve a calming sensory effect. Improved focus and information processing can make a significant impact on their ability not only to learn, but in how they engage with their teachers and peers. And, for children who are non-verbal and also struggling with behavioral challenges, being able to sign that they need access to this type of stimulation is an important step toward learning to advocate for themselves in the classroom.
Sensory Regulation at Home
For children who have access to sensory rooms at school or through other OT programs, creating a space for behavioral regulation in the home can be beneficial. Finding a quiet corner of the home to set up a small tent with weighted blankets inside, crash pads or a hammock swing can encourage children to take some time to calm and redirect themselves when they are feeling overstimulated. Time in this space can help them to successfully complete routine tasks such as brushing their teeth or putting away their toys, and also allow them to sit, focus and successfully participate in activities such as family meal time.
In June, the American School for the Deaf will open a sensory room to support students in the PACES residential treatment program thanks to a generous grant from the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority (CHEFA). The three-zone facility will feature dedicated spaces for gross motor skills development, vestibular feedback (sensory feedback) and behavioral regulation, including hammock swings, ball pits, sensory tables and even an interactive light feature to teach deaf and hard of hearing students how to keep rhythm to music. Our team of occupational therapists will evaluate each student and identify if time in the sensory room should be prescribed as part of their treatment plan. Through consistent exposure to appropriate stimulation, we aim to empower our students with autism and other behavioral health challenges to self-regulate and become increasingly focused and productive in the classroom.
“Oftentimes, children with autism are reliant on cues from others to direct their behavior,” Jennifer Hennessey, Occupational Therapist, said. “The sensory room will provide students with the resources necessary to learn how to regulate their own behaviors, the positive impacts of which can be felt in the classroom, at home and out in the community.”
To learn more about the American School for the Deaf’s PACES program for deaf and hard of hearing youth with emotional and behavioral challenges, as well as hearing non-verbal children with autism, click here.