A sensory room is a WONDERFUL thing for any child, whether they have sensory issues or not. Sensory input is a part of every child's development. If you have children, or if you or someone you know has Autism or Sensory Integration Disorder, please pass this on. I think it is so important for people to have options for sensory stimulation and fun that don't cost a fortune!
Abbi loves the sensory room at her school, with its black walls, LED lights, beanbag chairs, bubble tubes, tactile walls, sensory tables, and more. It helps her to calm down, find a happy spot, and helps her to deal with the stress that she faces by trying to fit her Autistic body and mind into a neuro-typical world. Unfortunately, building a room like that can be INCREDIBLY expensive if you order from medical supply companies for the equipment. For many of us that is just not possible.
Our sensory room is in the process of being built, and will hopefully be finished by March. We have spent a lot of time working with therapists and teachers to find workable, inexpensive solutions that can help those of us with shallow pockets to provide our children with the sensory relief and enjoyment that they so desperately need.
This post is my way of spreading the wealth of knowledge, and hopefully helping some families to give their child a chance to experience some wonderful sensory-based stimulation without breaking the budget, especially in these hard economic times.
The first thing that I noticed about the sensory room at Abbi's school is that the walls and ceiling are black. This provides a low-stim environment, so that they are not overwhelmed by the other sensory input in the room. It is really very calming! Black absorbs light instead of reflects it, which also helps those with vision problems to be able to make out shapes and colors more easily. Paint of course, is pretty inexpensive in the scheme of things, but if you don't want to paint or if you're renting, never fear! You can leave the walls as they are (it won't take away from your child's sensory enjoyment).
In order to find a comfortable place for kids in the sensory room, I find that most therapists use bean bags, crash pads, and ball pits,. Those things can add up pretty quickly if you're not careful. Here are some comparisons and ideas.
Bean Bags: If you were to buy a standard sized bean bag from a medical supply company, it would run you well over $100. The larger ones can run in the thousands.
I recently found a beanbag at Walmart for $25, the same size as the standard ones listed in medical supply catalogs, and even better, it was a solid dark blue instead of rainbow colored, making it much more calming to the sensory child's eye. Really you can find just about any pattern, shape or size you want at walmart (or any other number of retailers) that will run you a fraction of the cost.
This Big Joe bean bag runs about $64.88 with free site-to-store shipping.
Check out this 6 foot XL Fuff Chair! It runs $199 from walmart.com with free site to store shipping.
A similar, but smaller one (5 feet, and much shorter in height) from Abilitations (one of my absolute favorite Special Needs Supply Companies) runs nearly $600. A bigger one like this can be used to lounge on or as a crash pad!
This awesome tutorial tells you how to make a crash pad similar to the bean bag ones, but filled with foam chunks instead of "beans" for a different, more squishy feel!
Please note, that whatever size bean bag you get, it will do wonderful things for your child's sensory input. Just get whatever works best with your budget, space, and needs.
I mentioned Crash Pads a minute ago. Here's a wonderful video on how to use crash pads at home. There are many different types of crash pads. The bean-bag-bed one is just one type. The big mats that are often used in school & gymnastics gymnasiums can be used as crash pads when put on walls or floors. When purchased from traditional equipment manufacturers each panel can run anywere from $180 for the smallest mat to well over $500 per mat, depending on many varying factors.
If you are looking for exercise mats to put on the walls for your child to crash into for good deep pressure impact from, try picking up a 2" thick, super-thick kinder-mat for less than $20!
Interlocking foam mats for the floor run $261 from Abilitations for 12x4' worth of foam flooring. From Amazon, the same amount of interlocking foam flooring runs $29.99. That is less than 15% of the cost from Abilitations!
Ball pits are another big item, so I consider them part of the sensory room "environment." - It may seem like just a toy (and a rather big one) but it is providing all kinds of sensory input! I personally think they are one of the most important parts of a good sensory room, because they can both awaken and calm the tactile system (depending on which way your child is leaning), they can provide visual feedback, give the feeling of water buoyancy without the mess, and help to develop gross motor skills as well. Have a friend over and the ball pit is also a great way to help build social skills!
From a medical supply company, a small-sized ball pit with 180 balls costs over $700 (the cheapest I found it was $270).
We will be getting a hard-plastic kiddy pool because of its durability. The size we will be getting is similar to the ball pit above, and maybe a little bigger. It will run us about $10. If you want to get a softer pit that won't have any hard sides if your child thrashes around, try a blow up kiddy pool for about the same price! Like most things, you can go big or stay small with this. About 300 ball pit balls (which would just about fill the small kiddy pool) will run about $39 on amazon. $50 for a durable ball pit the same size as a $700 one? Not bad.
Hopefully that's a good start for a sensory room. I will be posting more ideas for various aspects of sensory equipment and sensory rooms soon, so check back. I'll include things for tactile, audio, visual, oral, and movement sensory stimulation. :)
**NOTE: I am not a therapist, and I have no allegiances with any of the retailers listed in this post. I'm just a mom on a budget looking to find a way to give my daughter a quality sensory stimulation room!