We have seven senses:
- Balance ('vestibular')
- Body awareness ('proprioception').
People with an autism spectrum condition ASC can be over- or under-sensitive in any or all of these areas. You may hear this referred to as being 'hypersensitive' or 'hyposensitive'.
We all have our likes and dislikes when it comes to our senses. Who loves that roller-coaster that has 5 loop the loops in one ride? Not me personally but many of my friends do. Personally after the first one my stomach is screaming at me to stand still. Now multiply that by a ten or twenty or even a hundred. Some people with an ASC who are hypo or hyper sensitive with their vestibular senses may either find riding the roller-coaster amazing or it may completely cause them to 'melt down' with the experience too frightening, causing them severe distress.
Okay, so lets look at a more day to day example. Lets try a cuddle. We all like cuddles right? The warm embrace of another person often telling us without words that things will be okay. Most children will crave a cuddle when they are hurt, sad or upset about something. A person with an ASC who is hyper sensitive to touch may find a cuddle uncomfortable or even painful. The sensation of wearing certain fabrics in clothing may cause anxiety and simply brushing their teeth can become challenging. At the opposite end of the scale you may find someone with autism has a high pain threshold and to stimulate any sensory needs they will hug tightly before they feel any pressure.
How can a sensory room help?
Sensory rooms can help to stimulate, develop or balance people's sensory systems. Some specialist schools, local services and hospitals have them, as well as some nurseries. You may also come across sensory gardens. Some families create a sensory room in their house (or adapt a corner of a room, perhaps screening it off with a curtain).
Sensory rooms might include:
- Soothing music
- Vibrating cushions
- Fibre optics
- Mirror balls
- Bubble tubes
- Water beds
- Tactile walls
- Disco lights
- Equipment that is activated by switches, movement, sound or pressure so that people learn about cause and effect.
The reported benefits of sensory rooms come mainly from personal experiences and observations, as there is only a limited amount of research.
You don't have to spend a fortune creating a sensory room, simply look at the needs of the individuals you are looking to support and focus on one or two senses to begin with and build up.