Sunday, January 17, 2016

Design, Build, & Create a Sensory Space in Your Own Home!

Over the years, as a pediatric, sensory based OT, I have helped families incorporate sensory spaces into their NYC apartments and VT homes. We have used closets, mattresses, old couches, hammocks, and more! With therapist and caregiver collaboration, having their own sensory space allows children to continuously have their sensory needs met. This assists with reintegration of the child's sensory systems, regulating their bodies.

This post is based on a room that was designed and built for a 4-year-old boy with autism -we will call him Adam. Adam's Mom went above and beyond setting up this space for her son. Initially, this space was her master bedroom, and it was soon transformed into an amazing, stimulating and calming sensory haven for her son! 

Consultation began in the families home deciding how to set up the chosen area. The initial room that Kristen, Adam's Mom, chose for the sensory room was too small to safely put a swing in the room. After a week, she decided she would move her bedroom to allow for the most optimal space available in the house for Adam. Kristen made my job easy throughout much of the room building, as she took all suggestions I made and built on them ten-fold. She also used her own creativity to make the space even more unique to meet Adam's needs. 

"Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting... So get on your way."
Dr. Seuss

Let's begin with the vestibular system. Kristen's nephew is a contractor (a big bonus!) and assessed the support beams above the ceiling where the swing needed to be attached. Looking at the beams allowed him to decide how he was going to properly and safely set-up Adam's vestibular equipment. Follow this link for one resource that I have used in the past to understand what equipment is needed for a specific set-up. They have associates to help via live chat, phone and email as well. Getting a contractor is always recommended to ensure the swing hardware and mounting system are installed properly. The specific swing in Adam's room is designed to hold 850 pounds! 

The swing was made to mimic a therapy platform swing for a much cheaper price. Kristen's nephew designed the wooden rectangle. Kristen then used pool noodles with a slit to cushion all 4 sides of the swing. She covered the swing with a plush, thick fabric, which was stapled to the bottom of the swing. The chains are connected to a top hook and then attached to a carabina. There is a swivel hook at the top,  which was important for Adam, like many children with sensory needs, to be able to provide various types of input -including spinning. Although Adam's swing is attached directly to the ceiling, there are also height adjustment systems available depending on the specific space and height of the beam. When I initially began working with Adam, his sensory systems were significantly disintegrated, especially his vestibular system. He was over-responsive or hyper-sensitive to movement and exhibited significant gravitational insecurity. Providing Adam with vestibular input became an integral part of his therapy sessions and home program. You can read more about the vestibular system here on a previous blog post. All of the window ledges are lined with pool noodles for increased safety. There are also hooks on the window to place a padded board in front of the window, again, to ensure safety while swinging. The floor is padded with matting that Kristen ordered on Amazon. It cost her about $135 to cover the floor space.
"Today you are you, that is truer than
true. There is no one alive that
is youer than you."
Dr. Seuss

Lets move on to Adam's reading nook! Kristen transformed a closet in the old bedroom and converted it into a cozy, calming area. Adam loves books and reading, and Dr. Seuss, so this is a perfect space for him, especially when he is feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. Kristen built a bench for the closet, which also has storage underneath giving a home to Adam's gross and fine motor games, puzzles and sensory activities. Kristen matted the area and placed a bed rest pillow against the wall for extra coziness. This pillow can be found on amazon and actually has a rayon and bamboo covering. Check here, and here, for alternate pillow options that decrease the toxic burden found in many pillows on the market today, and when piled in, still add coziness to a nook as wonderful as the one for Adam. I urge families to take a look around (type pillows or flame retardants in the search engine) as well to understand the toxic burden many pillows and beds carry - a place where we spend 1/3 of our lives and are impacting children's breathing, sleep and potentially development.

Kristen transformed book covers to make this cheap,
creative wall art for Adam's nook area. 

So far we have met Adam's vestibular needs and provided him a space for self-regulation, calming and enjoyment. A trampoline was placed on top of the mats in the corner to provide Adam with more movement based input while incorporating proprioceptive input as well.                                                                                         
"Sometimes the questions are complicated and the
answers are simple."
Dr. Seuss

In an adjacent corner, Kristen filled a large tub with ball bath balls. She initially had a pool in the corner, which proved to be too large and did not give Adam enough input. With the smaller bin, Adam can squish himself in the balls, which he loves, and receive tactile and proprioceptive input or touch feedback to his whole body. It is a very calming activity for Adam. He also has larger therapy balls to use for various activities. Kristen bounces Adam on the balls, he jumps on the balls in the corner (with assistance), and rolls backwards and inverted then sits up working on decreasing his gravitational insecurity, mentioned earlier, and increasing his core strength. This is a great activity to incorporate a puzzle or beads into, as the child rolls backwards to obtains the objects and then sits up to put the puzzle piece in or bead on the string that you are holding. I usually have children stabilize their feet on my legs and only provide as much support at the legs/hips that they need, so they are also engaging their core muscles in the activity . 

I like nonsense,  it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary
ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a
telescope. Which is what I do, and that enable you to laugh at life's realities.
Dr. Seuss

More about Adam - when I first met him, he exhibited a significant amount of tactile and oral defensiveness. He still has challenges with many foods and food textures, but has come a long way with his overall tactile processing. His sensory space also allows him to continue to have his tactile processing needs met while providing him with a wonderful calming activity. Kristen bought a 20-pound bag of white rice and dyed it Adam's preference, green, in small batches. Here is a way to make sensory rice and here is a way to make non-toxic food coloring, which you could just substitute for the food coloring in the first link. 

Meet Adam's writing space! I recommended that Kristen place a chalkboard on the wall to provide a vertical writing surface for Adam. Writing on a vertical surface improves shoulder strength and proximal stability, necessary for improving fine motor strength and coordination and distal motor control (small, refined movements of the fingers and hands). To make the chalkboard, Kristen bought VOC free chalkboard paint and then placed the border around with 4 pieces of pre-cut wood! Voila, a perfect little chalkboard for Adam :)

Congratulations! Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!
Dr. Seuss

In the corner of the wall by the chalkboard, Kristen placed a piece of a vinyl gutter to hold the chalk - pretty crafty! The table and chairs are the perfect height for Adam giving him 90-90-90 positioning. Initially in therapy, we worked a lot on improving fine motor strength and coordination, increasing bilateral coordination and overall motor planning with upper extremity tasks. This year, in Kindergarten, due to all of our pre-writing activities, Adam has taken a liking to drawing and writing and carries this over to his home space as well! 

Fiber optics provide another level of multi-sensory input for Adam's amazing space. Check out a few sites here, and here for information regarding the benefits of fiber optics and ordering options. 

For Adam's room, Kristen decided to hang blue icicle lights around the perimeter of the ceiling. The excessive lights were placed into a Chinese lantern shown in the photo above - giving the room a fiber optic feel. Actual fiber optic lights were also placed around Adam's chalkboard area and into a design above the chalkboard at Adam's request! Just another phenomenal addition to his sensory sanctuary! 

Additional Comments regarding Adam's therapy and sensory space:

Kristen used a light blue, VOC-free paint for the walls. Check out more about Volatle Organic Compounds and their dangers on Environmental Working Group's website (I use this resource for everything :). She brushed all of the walls with wet paint to give it a textured look. We chose light blue for the color to make it a visually calming color surrounding the space. 

I also recommended an aromatherapy diffuser for Adam's space. Aromatherapy is healing in many ways and can aid in immunity, breathing and have alerting (i.e. lemon) and calming (i.e. lavender) effects, for a few examples. You can search for diffusers on Amazon and please consult with an individual trained in aromatherapy or your local naturopath for various ways to use oils for the most benefits. 

Adam is also followed by a Naturopathic Doctor and follows a gluten free/cassein free diet, which is immensely effective for many children, especially children on the autism spectrum. Adam's behaviors and ability to focus and engage changed dramatically once on a gluten free diet. Wheat and dairy today are not even close to what even my grandparents ate 70 years ago, and are impacting children in various ways, as I have documented and blogged about in the past. Feel free to contact Pediatric Play Occupational Therapy for any consultation regarding meal planning and dietary changes to optimize behavior, sleep, attention/focus and learning. 

I hope that you have enjoyed this blog post, and as always, please feel free to consult via phone, email or FB. "Kristen" is also available to assist families with building their sensory spaces and provide overall support as well. She can also be contacted through Pediatric Play.

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