Hi everyone! It’s Antonio, the Inclusion Program Manager at the 14th Street Y. Last month, I wrote with some ways that families can help children with special needs adapt to the crisis we’re all facing. Today, in recognition of Autism Awareness Month, I’m sharing some tips on how to create a calming sensory space in your home!
A sensory room is specially designed to engage with a person’s senses, and is often used as a therapy tool for children with autism. We have a version of a sensory room at the 14th Street Y, and though we can’t access it now, we recognize that during this time of crisis and disruption, it is important to create space in your home where your child can de-stress. Here are some things to consider while making your own sensory space at home:
A sensory room doesn’t need to take up a whole room!
Space is limited in New York apartments, especially with everyone at home due to shelter-in-place orders. See how you can get creative with the space you do have available. For example, consider carving out a corner of your child’s bedroom, rearranging furniture in your living area, or using room dividers or blackout curtains to differentiate between spaces.
One of my favorite ways to carve out little spaces for sensory breaks is using party beads, or something similar, because they can be nice to look at, a good tactile tool to hold and fidget with, and can make soothing sounds that might be appealing to the child. Utilizing wall space and taping beads or curtains to it is a great alternative to hanging something from your ceiling to designate a space for your child.
Bring in materials and toys that engage all five senses.
Think about how you can set up your sensory space to keep your child both engaged and safe with comfortable furniture, soft blankets, and floor pads (especially important in homes with hardwood or cement floors!) Include tactile toys and activities like chalkboards, modeling clay, stress balls, and coloring books. Find options for soft, or even colorful, lighting. Play soothing music or sounds.
A great home option for tactile materials is a shirt that you or your child owns that has a material they like to rub and hold. If they are more hands on and like to craft, there are many recipes online to make your very own Play-Doh at home! The recipe I use is as followed:
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
- 1 cup salt
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 2 cups of boiling water
- Optional: glitter, essential oils, food coloring
- In a medium mixing bowl pour flour, cream of tartar, and salt.
- Mix until combined. Add oil and mix.
- Carefully add boiling water and mix.
- Knead and let cool.
Design with your child in mind.
At the 14Y, we designed our sensory room to work for many children. When creating a sensory area in your own home, you can design your space to work for your child’s unique needs, preferences, and developmental milestones. If your child has a favorite color, activity, toy, or comfort object, find ways to integrate it into the space. If your child is working on a particular skill, find a sensory activity to help them build that skill in a relaxed setting. This also gives your children a sense of ownership in a space that is just for them, which can be helpful when we are all at home together.
Though sensory areas are an effective therapy tool for children with special needs, they can help all children relax. What we’ve found at the 14Y is that many of our After Schoolers enjoy taking a break in our sensory room when they get overstimulated by large group activities. So if you have more than one child at home, your other children can enjoy relaxing in this space too!
We hope you are finding ways to keep calm and manage your stress during this time. If your child is a KOL participant and you’d like help coming up with ideas for your at-home sensory space, please contact me!
During these uncertain times, it is important to pay attention to our mental health. We are offering KOL families mental health check-ins, where KOL Program Coordinator Roniece Crawford and I will talk to you about managing stress and anxiety for you and your child. To set up a mental health check-in or virtual playdate, please email me at ARodriguez@14streety.org.