Children who have difficulty with sensory information can find it hard, at times, to be in a place where too much is going on. This can push the child who has sensory issues into overload, which can cause a lot of anxiety. Often, it is helpful if kids who have special needs that involve sensory integration can just get away from the situation that is giving them too much stimulus, and take a little break. An school in Maryland has built a multi-sensory room for that purpose.
Sensory integration dysfunction is an inability to modulate, or organize, sensation in an adaptive way. Children who have this disorder experience sounds, smells, tastes, and touches more intensely than would be typically expected. It may feel as though everything is coming at them at once, very strongly, and quicker than the child is able to process it. The result of this kind of overstimulation can be uncoordinated movements, anxiety, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. Obviously, children who feel like that are going to have a very difficult time paying attention to what their teacher is saying, or finishing their school work.
It may be difficult to understand how it feels to experience the world this way if you don’t have this disorder yourself. Imagine for a moment what it would be like if your workplace played extremely loud music, of a style that you don’t particularly care for. The person in the next cubicle is wearing perfume that you barely noticed at the start of the day, but now, hours later, it is making your sinuses itch. The perfume isn’t mixing well with the smell of someone else’s food that is in the microwave right now.
You are wearing a new shirt, and you forgot to remove part of the little plastic thing that attached to the price tag. You didn’t notice it when you put the shirt on, but now, it feels like it’s scratching your skin to the point where you might be bleeding. How well would you be able to do your work under these conditions? You probably would want to run, screaming, from the room, to someplace calmer. Think of this as a window into what it could be like to have a sensory integration disorder.
Carroll Manor Elementary School, located in Maryland, has created a multi-sensory room. This room is designed to give students who have autism and severe communication disorders a place that can help with their anxiety. It is a place where they can escape to, under the watchful eyes of a teacher or teacher’s aide, and calm their minds and bodies.
The lights in the room are dimmed. Soothing music, somewhat muffled, plays. On the ceiling is a web of fiber optic cables, and there are two bubble-tubes that light up. The bubble tubes have a slight vibration caused by the motor that moves the bubbles through the water. The room has a few, small, trampolines, for students who require movement in order to feel calmer. A few moments in this room seems to work wonders for students who are about to reach sensory overload.
Image by Ally Aubry on Flickr