All humans are sensory beings, as this is how we explore and process information within our world. Sensory rooms are special spaces within the school that allow students of all abilities to self-regulate, rebalance and have their sensory needs met. These rooms can be found in both specialized schools and public schools, such as Hanover Elementary School in Meriden, Connecticut, United States. Meriden Public Schools set up a sensory room to support a holistic sensory input for children with autism on the STARS programme - Students Teachers Achieving Remarkable Success) as well as students of all abilities.
The Sensation Station-Sensory Room at Hanover Elementary was designed to find a creative, appropriate way to address the various needs of the students within the school community. This room is used throughout the school day for students with varying sensory, self-regulatory and behavioral needs and was designed with the primary intent to build a space that feels and looks different from other classrooms within the school as soon as children walk in the door. The specific design and programming allow for purposeful exploration within the room, as well as modeling and small group instruction. Significant aspects of the room include a ball circle for drumming and vestibular input, specific music, mindful breathing , yoga, and stations all with a specific sensory, self-regulatory purpose.
The room provides a means for all students and staff to find appropriate strategies and tools that can be utilized for self-regulation ensuring participation as active, calm learners within their school and community. It also provides tactile, auditory, vestibular, proprioceptive and kinesthetic input as well as stimulating smell, sight and self awareness through small group instruction, mindful breathing, yoga postures and stations throughout the space.
The sensory room is integrated into the whole school. Students use the sensory room as part of their school day with classes timetabled to use the space. Upon returning to the classroom, learning is punctuated with regular, scheduled sensory breaks. This way, the benefits gained from use of the sensory room, such as improved focus and greater retention, are maximized.
Hanover Elementary School has worked with other schools to train practitioners and families across the district. While not every school may have the space for a dedicated sensory room, its creators believe its program and philosophies can be used in all schools with a little creativity. Advice is tailored to the specific needs of the school depending on their space and budget.
It can be difficult to ensure that the equipment isn’t being used inappropriately and it may require a certain level of staffing to ensure the best outcomes and the safety of the children.
Educators will also need to have an open mind, as it could take time to get the children used to this new routine and the expectations that come along with it, which are very different to the expectations of a general classroom.
While this is a sensory room designed specifically for children with autism, Hanover Elementary also has a similar sensory room set up to meet the needs of children with ADHD or emotional and behavioral needs, for example with punch bags and monkey bars to help release energy.
The sensory room is also used by the wider school community. Neurotypical children are welcome to use the room when the sensory sessions are not taking place and the school can hire it out for other uses in the evenings.
Hanover Elementary School hosts Family Night events for the STARS students and family members. This is critical as many of the families describe these events as the only evening they can go out as a family and truly enjoy themselves.