How can a Sensory Room help people who suffer from Autism?
Autism is a neural development disorder, which is characterised by impaired communication and social interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviour. These characteristics are the essential benchmark of whether or not autism is present, however other problems can be present as well, such as abnormal eating.
Because sufferers of autism struggle with interaction, advances in techniques to stimulate development have been developed to encourage sensory stimulation. One of these, is the use of sensory or multi sensory rooms. The purpose of these rooms is to create an environment where young sufferers of Autism can have an interactive environment that will both set them at ease and allow them to interact and develop social skills.
These rooms have a range of uses, from therapy and education to relaxation and playing. The sensory room is designed as a ‘failure free’ environment. This means, that the users can interact with what the room has to offer in their own time and without direction. They may slowly explore the room and focus heavily on one area, or jump from one activity or feature to another.
Autism and related disorders affect the individual in different ways, and there are varying degrees of severity. Certain senses may be affected differently in different people, for instance, some people may have a dislike of bright colours and lights whereas others may find them stimulating. Therefore, the needs of the individual should be taken into account before preparing a multi sensory room.
For the sensory room to be a calming relaxing space for interactivity, the room is often dark. If part of a larger room, this can be done with dark curtains to partition the area off, with the addition of glowing bubble tubes and lava lamps to encourage the visual system.
Playing calming sounds or music can have a positive relaxing effect on the individual using the sensory room, like panpipe music or sounds from nature, such as bird songs, the sound of the sea or running water.
Sometimes the sense of smell is over looked. A good idea is to have calming scented candles or incense burning to create a relaxed atmosphere; however, this must be out of reach from anyone it could harm.
Because conditions have a varied range, if the room is to be used by different people, it is important to be able to have a variety of options for themes and so on. For example, someone with a less developed sense of vision may find certain images intimidating, whereas others may enjoy that particular stimulus.
It is suggested that multi sensory rooms have the ability to calm and improve moods, reduce aggressive behaviour, boost interactions and social skills and help with fear and anxiety issues. However, there have been few intense scientific studies conducted, because conditions can vary greatly, as can the contents of a multi sensory room.