Children who have special needs, such as those with autism, have difficulty communicating, interacting, and comprehending in ways that are easy for the rest of us. These challenges facing them result in their inability to focus on something or pay attention easily. A safe and effective solution involves introducing them to a sensory room. This is a sort of sensory gym used in occupational therapy, helping special needs children engage cognitively and physically.
The pandemic, with all its lockdown restrictions, has made life more challenging for special needs children and their parents. Thankfully, introducing children to a sensory room is a great way to reduce the hardships suffered due to the pandemic.
A sensory room, also called a sensory gym, is a space that engages multiple senses simultaneously, helping to regulate the brain’s negative reactions to outside stimuli. It can help develop coping skills when a child is placed within one of these spaces.
A sensory gym can be an entire room, or it can be part of a room that has been carefully crafted into an occupational therapy space for special needs children. Each one of these safe spaces should match the needs of the particular child to ensure they are as effective as possible. Children who have autism, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, or ADHD can greatly benefit from having easy access to a sensory room.
There are a number of benefits to having a sensory room for your special needs child. Each year we receive thousands of calls from parents who are looking for a safe and effective outlet for their children. Here are the most significant and impactful benefits of a sensory gym:
A sensory room is a type of occupational therapy that helps children with special needs, such as those with autism, with sensory integration. This is vital due to it being a major cause of developmental, behavioral, and information processing issue. When you provide your special needs child with a sensory gym, you help their sensory systems either become more active or less overactive. The pandemic has caused new challenges for special needs children that can be alleviated thanks to interacting with and exploring a sensory room.
It absolutely is! To develop and learn, children need a stimulating environment and lots of opportunities for play. At an early age, kids learn about the world around them by using their senses: touching, smelling, tasting, seeing, and hearing. The best learning environment is one where a child feels safe and encouraged to use their senses and explore their environment.
Sensory play represents a child’s ability to engage their senses as they play and it is recognized as one of the most important educational tools from a very early age. Sensory play includes a variety of activities that stimulate any or all of a child’s senses, helping them explore and use those senses.
The experience of exploring the world through sensory play is fundamental for a child’s development. Art and sensory play promote creativity and imagination, boost curiosity, problem-solving, hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills. Sensory play enhances a child’s social-emotional skills, supports language development, and lifts self-esteem.
Why is Sensory Play Important for Children with Developmental Disabilities?
Children with developmental disabilities often experience difficulties in exploring the world around them with their five senses. They may have a hard time making sense of different sensations they experience with their senses and may need extra support to learn through senses.
Sensory play is important for kids with special needs because it has many benefits. It helps kids understand how their bodies work and teaches them how to process information from their environment.
Taste sensory play helps kids with developmental disabilities recognize different kinds of food, but it also helps them associate food with fun and pleasure. Sight play teaches children about colors and encourages them to experiment with light. Through touch play, kids learn to explore the world with their hands, and so on.
Sensory Play Encourages Fine Motor Development
Fine motor skills involve the coordination of small muscles of hands and fingers with the eyes. Although these movements seem so natural and effortless, fine motor skills are complex skills that involve synchronized efforts of the brain and muscles.
Different art and sensory activities require a child to hold and manipulate a variety of objects, materials, textures, and shapes. Holding and manipulating items such as pencils, brushes, squeeze bottles, crayons, pipe cleaners, Play-Dough, pom poms, beads, straws, stickers, and other small objects promote small muscles development and encourage eye-hand coordination.
Fine motor skills ensure that a child masters a variety of skills from getting dressed to writing their own name. These skills improve brain functions and encourage overall development.
Sensory Play Boosts Brain and Cognitive Development
Brain development in early childhood is rapid and radical and amazingly progresses in the first five years of life. More than a million neural connections (synapses) are created in every second of this early-stage development. In other words, the brain is most flexible to learning during the first few years of life.
Sensory play improves brain plasticity and flexibility, helping grow and strengthen connections in the brain’s pathways. Brain plasticity and flexibility are essential for the child’s ability to complete more complex tasks, cognitive and language development, and gross motor skills.
Sensory activities can help develop memory, enhance a child’s problem-solving skills, and teaches kids sensory attributes such as dry, cold, warm, sticky, wet, smooth, bumpy, etc.
Also, sensory play sparks creativity and allows children with disabilities to make new discoveries and build upon their existing knowledge.
Sensory Play Promotes Social and Emotional Development
Sensory play promotes social interaction and helps children develop their social and emotional skills through engaging with their peers in play. Painting, drawing, and other arts and sensory activities help children with developmental disabilities express their emotions and thoughts. Through the use of a variety of colors, materials, and textures, they can communicate their inner world without using words.
Sensory Play has a Calming Effect
Playing with Play-Dough, coloring, building sandcastles, or engaging in other forms of sensory play has a calming effect and can help children relax when they are anxious, upset, or frustrated. Moreover, sensory play helps kids with developmental disabilities be content and teaches them how to live a happier life.
Sensory Activities for Children with Developmental Disabilities
When you plan sensory activities with kids with special needs, take into consideration how they will experience these activities.
Kids who have physical limitations can enjoy the sensory play by seeing, smelling, tasting, or listening.
Children who are deaf have a hearing impairment can feel the vibrations and feel the music through other senses such as touching or seeing. Children who are visually impaired or blind may benefit from touching different textured objects such as scratchy paper, bumpy rubber balls, soft fabrics, etc.
Children who are overly sensitive to sensory stimulation, like kids on the autism spectrum, may enjoy sensory activities differently. For example, a child may wear a smock or rubber gloves while painting if they get oversensitive about having paint on their hands or clothes.
When you plan sensory play for kids with special needs, always put safety first. Make sure that someone supervises a child and provide help if needed. Be aware of overstimulation and the child’s developmental needs. Finally, ensure that sensory play is age-appropriate and that the child makes the most of it.
After five years in practice, I decided that I needed to upgrade the look of my office to allow for optimal patient care. Upon researching some possibilities, I came across the Fun Factory Sensory Gym. I immediately called the company to purchase my own gym unit. We scheduled an install date and in three short days, my gym and my vision were complete. My patients and their parents walk in and are amazed at the beautiful and fun set up. I truly feel that my patients are getting the most effective and efficient care because I have the best equipment to address their individual needs. With the Fun Factory Gym equipment, I am able to help these children improve by Leaps and Bounds!
The Kaufman Children’s Center was proud to announce an exciting upgrade made here at the KCC. Over a long weekend in late January 2013, we completed a huge remodel to our sensory gym.
Our Fun Factory Sensory Gym has been life changing for our family! The entire experience of having the FFSG team in our home was so enjoyable. The crew’s heart and soul is behind the work they’re doing. From the first phone call, FFSG was committed to helping our family and our 3 small children with their various special needs. We have already experienced the calming effects of the net swing and the multiple ways the entire gym provides sensory input and regulation for our intense sensory seekers. What a great tool for our family and more than worth the investment!