So you’re thinking: “Ok, I know my child has sensory issues. I know for a fact she doesn’t like her room, and I don’t know what to do about it. I want to help her, but I don’t know how to describe her issues and I don’t know the first thing about design. I don’t even have patience to wrap my head around this issue, I have so much work to do and this is just another thing to add to my list. If I hire an interior designer to re-design her room, or play space, where do I even begin?”
It can seem completely overwhelming to take on another task in a parent’s life, especially when we already have so much on our plate. I know this because I have special needs children too. Every time you think you’ve overcome a problem, another one arises. Sometimes you may even feel like you’re going to break. And somehow you find your hidden reserve and tap into new energy you didn’t think you ad. Us parents are so resilient, even if we don’t always see it that way.
It’s normal to feel lost and want someone to take over an issue that you simply don’t want to spend time on, even if you do have the capability to take care of it.
This happens to me often, because I love to do DIY projects in the home. I am able to fix almost anything in the house. But I get frustrated when I’m not able to repair the garage door remote, or reprogram the Roku TV system. The garage door person told me the other day, “This is why people like me have a job. So that you don’t get frustrated with this and let me help you. You are not meant to be able to fix everything. Otherwise, what’s the point of having a specialty?”
As parents of special needs children, we sometimes try to control more than we are able to. Because when we see success, we can give ourselves credit for the hard work we put in, and forget about the challenges that are constantly surfacing. But sometimes it’s just not possible. This is why professionals like me exist. Because we don’t, and can’t know everything about everything. So let me help you.
Now let’s get to the point, so that you have some general knowledge about a sensory room and how it can set your child up for success. Because it does help- tremendously. I see it over and over again.
You might see some beautifully decorated children’s room on Instagram, or Facebook and you might really appreciate them. But are they right for your child?
Here are 5 tips to be able to identify whether a room is sensory-friendly.
Sometimes you see a really funky wallpaper pattern, and you think oh my gosh I want this for my child’s room. It is so beautiful! But is it functional? Anything too busy with too many patterns is not recommended for a sensory child’s room. It is too stimulating for the child instead of having a calming effect. The same goes for color pallettes. A light mint green is soothing, but not an emerald green. Any soft light color is safe to go on the wall. Otherwise your child won’t know why but they won’t feel good in their space. When they’re in bed, their mind needs to wind down, and anything bold on the walls will just increase their anxiety and won’t let them relax. Here are a few examples of color and wallpaper that might help you visualize it better.
Light fixtures are so funky these days. There are endless unique styles. In a regular room, you may choose to have some hanging lights, or a semi-flush mount that really brings the room together. Maybe even a floor lamp for a reading nook. But in a sensory room, is it functional? Things need to be simple and minimal. Warm and inviting, but minimal. Avoid having different types of lighting everywhere. Nothing hanging from the ceiling. A simple flush-mount is great, with a dimming option. You might try string lights, but don’t make them visible to the child while they’re in bed. In other words, don’t hang them directly on the wool across from your child’s bed. Can you have a wall light? Yes, but it can’t be too bright, and it can’t be overly ornamented. In other words, don’t bring focus to it.
Here’a an example to help you:
3. Wall art
Wall decor may stimulate certain children with sensory issues. Their eyes will tend to focus on that spot on the wall and they might not like it. For children with sensory needs, having art on the wall can seem like there’s something uncomfortable that they simply must remove. Like having a pair of pants where the waist is too tight and you can’t wait to take them off. Or like compression socks- same idea. If you’d like to add some wall decor, think about making it blend with the space, rather than having it stand out. And do it in stages, so your child doesn’t get overwhelmed by it.
When you organize a regular room, visuals are not an issue. In other words, It it not bothersome to see organized toys, barbies, or books, as long as they have their own place on the shelf.
But in a sensory room, it is best to keep toys, books, and dolls organized in a way where items are not directly exposed to the eye. To children with sensory needs, too many visuals can be overwhelming. Less is better. I recommend getting bins that aren’t see through, so that the items aren’t visible.
Here’s an example to help you understand:
Fabrics types and patterns are very important to a child with sensory needs. Before you choose bedding, a rug or pillows, think about the feel of the fabric and how your child’s skin will feel against it. Don’t choose patterns that are overwhelming. You may choose a pattern on the fabric, but aim for light colors where the pattern doesn’t overwhelm the eye. Simpler is better. A pattern that’s too busy can irritate your child.
When I pick sheets, I always recommend the Jersey sheets for kids. It feels like they are sleeping on a soft T-shirt. There’s also a Jersey compression sheet that’s very effective. For duvet covers, I like to pick a light color, like a grey or cream for example. I like using a duvet cover because it can be easily washed. And I can tell you, I wash my kids’ quite often. But, you know your child best, and she might want a regular blanket or a quilt. If you have either, try it out. And if one option fails, then you know to try the second one. You may chose to add decor pillows. Which is perfectly fine. After all, you do want your child’s room to be esthetically pleasing. Stick with the formula: not too bold, not overwhelming to the eye, a soft feel if possible. And you’re good to go!
So there you have it. This is the general technique I use to plan out sensory rooms. Sometimes you need to get very creative depending on the complexity of the child’s case or the configuration of the room, which is what makes my job so exciting. But at the end of the day, I help children and that fulfills my heart.
If this really resonated with you, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I look forward to hearing from you!