Sensory Friendly Home Environment

Occupational Therapist doing sensory diet in Bondi JUnction, Mascot, Sydney and Randwick

How to Create a Sensory-Friendly Environment at Home

Creating a sensory-friendly environment at home is essential for children with sensory processing challenges, such as those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or sensory processing disorder (SPD). A sensory-friendly environment can help reduce stress, improve focus, and enhance overall well-being. This blog will guide you through the steps to create such an environment and explain how an occupational therapist (OT) can provide valuable advice and support.

Understanding Sensory Processing

What is Sensory Processing?

Sensory processing is how our nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioural responses. For most people, this process is automatic. However, children with sensory processing challenges may have difficulty interpreting and responding to sensory information.

Signs of Sensory Processing Issues

Children with sensory processing issues might exhibit various signs, such as:

  • Overreacting to Sensory Input: Covering ears to block out noise, avoiding certain textures, or reacting strongly to bright lights.
  • Underreacting to Sensory Input: Seeking out intense sensory experiences, such as spinning, jumping, or touching everything.
  • Difficulty with Coordination: Struggling with tasks that require fine motor skills, like writing or using utensils.
  • Emotional Reactions: Exhibiting anxiety, frustration, or meltdowns in response to sensory overload.

Creating a sensory-friendly environment can help mitigate these issues and support your child’s sensory needs.

Steps to Create a Sensory-Friendly Environment

1. Identify Sensory Preferences and Needs

Every child has unique sensory preferences. Some may seek out sensory input, while others may avoid it. The first step in creating a sensory-friendly environment is to identify your child’s specific needs. Observe their reactions to different sensory inputs and consider conducting a sensory profile assessment with the help of an occupational therapist.

2. Create Sensory Zones

Designate specific areas in your home for different sensory activities. Sensory zones can help organize sensory input and provide predictable and safe spaces for your child. Some examples include:

  • Calm Zone: A quiet, cozy space with soft lighting, pillows, and blankets for relaxation and calming down.
  • Active Zone: An area with space for physical activities like jumping, running, or using a swing or trampoline.
  • Creative Zone: A place for tactile activities like playdoh, sand, or water play.

3. Modify the Physical Environment

Making adjustments to the physical environment can significantly impact your child’s sensory experiences. Here are some modifications to consider:

  • Lighting: Use soft, adjustable lighting to avoid harsh glare. Natural light is ideal, but you can also use dimmable lamps or fairy lights.
  • Sound: Reduce background noise by using rugs, curtains, and acoustic panels. White noise machines can help mask disruptive sounds.
  • Textures: Introduce a variety of textures through furniture, toys, and sensory bins. Ensure that textures are appropriate for your child’s preferences.
  • Colour Scheme: Choose calming colours like blues and greens for walls and decor to create a soothing atmosphere.

4. Provide Sensory Tools and Equipment

Incorporate sensory tools and equipment into your home to support your child’s sensory needs. Some useful items include:

  • Weighted Blankets and Vests: These provide deep pressure input, which can be calming and help with focus.
  • Fidget Toys: Small, handheld items that provide tactile input and can help with self-regulation.
  • Therapy Balls and Swings: Great for vestibular input and helping children with balance and coordination.
  • Sensory Bins: Containers filled with materials like rice, beans, or sand for tactile exploration.

5. Establish Routine and Predictability

Children with sensory processing challenges often thrive on routine and predictability. Establish a consistent daily schedule that includes sensory activities. Use visual schedules or timers to help your child understand what to expect and when.

6. Encourage Active Play and Movement

Active play and movement are crucial for sensory regulation. Encourage activities that involve jumping, swinging, climbing, and other forms of physical exercise. Outdoor play can also provide natural sensory experiences, such as feeling the wind, smelling flowers, and hearing birds.

The Role of an Occupational Therapist

An occupational therapist (OT) specialises in helping individuals with sensory processing challenges. They can provide valuable insights and tailored strategies to create a sensory-friendly environment at home. Here’s how an OT can support you:

1. Conducting Sensory Assessments

An OT can conduct a comprehensive sensory assessment to identify your child’s specific sensory needs and preferences. This assessment will guide the development of personalised strategies and modifications for your home environment.

2. Developing Sensory Diets

A sensory diet is a personalised plan of sensory activities designed to help your child maintain an optimal level of arousal and focus throughout the day. An OT can create a sensory diet that includes activities tailored to your child’s needs, such as brushing, swinging, or deep pressure activities.

3. Recommending Sensory Tools and Equipment

Oftentimes, OTs have access to a wide range of sensory tools and equipment. They can recommend and teach you how to use these tools effectively to support your child’s sensory needs. For example, they can show you how to use a weighted blanket or suggest specific fidget toys.

4. Providing Parent Training and Support

OTs can offer training and support for parents, teaching you how to implement sensory strategies and modifications at home. They can also provide guidance on how to handle sensory meltdowns and support your child during challenging situations.

5. Collaborating with Other Professionals

An OT can collaborate with other professionals, such as teachers, speech therapists, and psychologists, to ensure a holistic approach to supporting your child’s sensory needs. This collaborative approach can help create consistent strategies across different environments.

Practical Tips for Parents

1. Be Patient and Observant

Creating a sensory-friendly environment is a process that requires patience and observation. Take note of what works and what doesn’t, and be open to making adjustments as needed.

2. Involve Your Child

Whenever possible, involve your child in the process of creating a sensory-friendly environment. Let them choose colors, textures, and tools that they prefer. This can help them feel more in control and comfortable in their space.

3. Gradual Changes

Introduce changes gradually to avoid overwhelming your child. Start with small modifications and gradually add more sensory-friendly elements over time.

4. Consistent Communication

Maintain open and consistent communication with your child about their sensory experiences. Encourage them to express their preferences and any discomfort they may feel.

5. Regular Reviews

Regularly review and adjust the sensory environment based on your child’s changing needs. Sensory preferences can evolve over time, so it’s important to stay attuned to these changes.

Conclusion

Creating a sensory-friendly environment at home is an ongoing journey that can greatly enhance the quality of life for children with sensory processing challenges. By understanding your child’s unique sensory needs and making thoughtful modifications to your home, you can create a space that supports their development, reduces stress, and promotes well-being.

Occupational therapists play a crucial role in this process, providing expert guidance, personalised strategies, and ongoing support. By working together with an OT, you can ensure that your child has the optimal environment to thrive and reach their full potential.

If you’re interested in learning more about creating a sensory-friendly environment or seeking the advice of an occupational therapist, reach out to OneOnOne Children’s Therapy. Our team of AHPRA registered Occupational Therapists is here to support you and your child on this important journey.