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Sensory rooms: a powerful tool for Early Years

  • 25 April 2019

Sensory rooms, also referred to as multisensory environments, are a very powerful tool for development in early childhood. We want to share with you this article that our expert therapists have written based on evidence and years of experience.

Sensory Rooms are becoming more common in nursery schools, early learning centers, early support, and even in children’s activity areas. We know that the first years of life are crucial for a child’s later development, as in this period the brain is at its most flexible. The structure and stability of the neuronal connections depend heavily on life experiences. It is essential that the child’s environment be stimulating and full of love, in order to meet their needs and strengthen their abilities while promoting their general development. Daily life and our everyday surroundings provide a wealth of stimuli that can be complemented with others, such as a multisensory environment. The SHX multisensory environment allows these stimuli to be directed and adjusted to enrich the experiences that boost development in all aspects of the child’s growth, including the neurophysiological, physical, cognitive, emotional, sociocultural areas as well as communication and interaction. It plays, therefore, an important role in the construction of the child’s identity and personal autonomy. Although this development process normally occurs naturally, it can sometimes slow or even come to a halt. This situation calls for more specific stimulation, in which the therapist – using the numerous possibilities for adjustment and control offered by an SHX multisensory environment – creates experiences that are adapted to each child’s cognitive abilities and current stage of development. The child will be given the need to interact with their environment, and the therapist will encourage them to enjoy the experience.

Sensory processing in development

Our sensory systems are a bridge with our environment – the connection between who we are and what we need. The strengthening of these systems, particularly in the first year of life, lays the foundation for later development. Work in multisensory rooms boosts development by means of primary stimuli. It requires no previous experience, as it engages the most basic of abilities: sensations. Therefore, any child can enjoy and respond to these environments. For example, we can swing a baby in a bag swing (which also helps to soothe colic) to calm them; watch a child crawl towards a bubble island they want to explore; or see them discover how pushing a button changes the color of the room!

The use of these physically and cognitively accessible environments with the help of an adult or other children boosts the maturing of the sensory systems and improves the relationship with the environment. They also allow us to get to know the children better, to know what their preferences and abilities are, and aid the assessment of the child’s global development. The SHX System is characterized by its capacity to adjust and control the environment within the multisensory room. This makes functional use of the child’s skills in communication, cognition, perception and movement possible, even if they are basic or limited due to the child’s current development stage or if the user is a child with functional diversity.

We move because we feel

Learning to hold their head, turn over, sit up, handle objects, drag themselves, slither, crawl, stand up, walk or jump are all important challenges for children. Even more important is presenting the child with these challenges so they can gain sufficient control over their own body.

Having these abilities does not directly
imply using them: to achieve their use,
children must feel motived to move,
explore, discover their surroundings, touch
or feel them. Multisensory rooms dispose
of many tools to help with this.

 

A bed that vibrates with noise brings a child closer to the noisy outside world and helps
them in their internal bodily perception (Fröhlich). A ball of lights that turns on and off and
a doll that moves and sings on the projector stimulate curiosity and, with it, the desire to
move. A large bag for swinging in offers vestibular experiences and helps to calm and relax
the child, even causing changes in the expression of emotions and communication. An
object that lights up every time the child uses their voice boosts the number of vocalizations
they make. SHX multisensory rooms offer infinite possibilities for play that encourages
curiosity in babies and toddlers in addition to their desire to discover the world.
Multisensory rooms allow the child to undertake the activity in different postures, and have
different surfaces to encourage exploration. They are designed with a high regard for safety,
avoiding any risks as much as possible, but also avoiding any unnecessary prohibitions or
restraints that quash children’s natural curiosity. For them, movement is necessary and a
source of pleasure and learning.

Multisensory rooms can be converted into an inclusive space, where anyone can have an effect on their environment, using powerful, gentle, primary or complex stimuli. These can be used in an integrated manner to make them both meaningful and a source of motivation to boost the participation of children with a motor delay, hypotonia or who are insecure, while they develop and have fun.

From perception to action

The senses develop hand in hand with the experiences that act as a base for their perception. We know perception brings about the building of knowledge and the development of cognitive processes. Visual focus and tracking, sound localization, responses to touch and smells, movements and distinguishing them, are only the beginning. It is important to dispose of elements that allow this type of stimulation in varying intensity, forms and frequency. Fiber optics, tactile discs, sensory bags, noise effects and seesaws are just some of the innumerable items available in a multisensory room. The knowledge of one’s own body – a vehicle for sensations – also evolves, boosted by the acquisition of psychomotor skills and different types of sensory stimuli. SHX multisensory rooms offer a full range of options to cover the sensory desires and needs of infants, who discover their mouth, hands and feet before integrating the rest of their body.

The meaning of the senses: with maturity, the response capacity to various stimuli also increases. If these stimuli are consistent with each other, their content is reinforced. The SHX System allows the room elements to be coordinated in such a way as to submerge us in scenes. This is an ideal tool for sensory stories in which we can create places to play in and entire worlds to be discovered. SHX multisensory environments are also an ideal space for learning about cause and effect, recognition, imitation, decision-making, anticipation, memory, and most of all concentration. They allow structured, sequence activities to be generated that require simple interaction with stimuli that will keep the children enthralled! How many things are hidden in the cave? Remembering what we saw, discovering what is hiding behind the shapes, anticipating a sequence of colors or changing the color of the room with the switch… the possibilities are endless.

That is why SHX multisensory rooms are a good option for children who are a little slower or have learning difficulties, as they allows us to create and adapt activities to their level of comprehension and development. These can start from basic things such as discovering sensations, or more symbolic activities such as taking part in a story.

I have so much to tell you

Enjoying enriching and exciting experiences makes us want to share them with others. We
will certainly find lots of things we will want to express in SHX multisensory rooms.
A shout of happiness, a smile, a vocalization, imitating a noise, playing with our voice
(gurgling, babbling) and expressing ourselves with gestures are just the start of what we
want the children to express. That is why it is vital to have access to tools that boost
understanding and expression. The SHX scenes that include narrations, games with simple orders or multisensory stories encourage association, discrimination, and global understanding by means of a space that displays different stimuli with additional information to enhance the child’s global development. Games with a microphone and lights, such as the Voice Kit or Bubble Island, are highly stimulating and allow children to discover that the noises we make have an immediate effect on our environment. They also boost the learning of aspects such as intensity, tune and prosody which help to prepare verbal expression. This environment promotes interaction by means of various controllers such as a switch, some buttons, a rug or a tablet. This way, all barriers to participation are removed, favoring self-determination as the children are able to make choices. This has a highly positive impact on their self-esteem. The children’s possibilities for expression are multiplied thanks to the SHX System: a small action, the smallest movement, can lead to great changes. They can select images, colors or sounds. This makes it a particularly powerful learning tool for those who need support with augmentative and alternative communication.

I feel, I can, I am


Multisensory experiences with the SHX System allow the activity to focus on what is most important to each child or group. The development of corporal and social identity, the use of the communicative competencies every child has and discovering their surroundings safely and effectively are key aspects involved in using this system. The first ego is primarily a body and social ego, which is gradually influenced by the surrounding environment. This means that the adults of reference act as a support system which will result in the children being able to self-regulate their emotions. Pleasurable sensations are the source of affection, and are essential for growing up happy, learning to build relationships, feeling secure in oneself and having self-confidence. Therefore, it is vital that children be offered pleasant stimuli to make them feel good.

SHX multisensory rooms draw on primary stimuli that allow us to create pleasurable, personalized sensations. Additionally, they are a space in which children can interact, explore their limitations and abilities, communicate and feel and identify emotions.

It is easy to find stimuli that enable children to enjoy their experience in SHX multisensory rooms: feeling vibrations throughout their body in a bean bag chair, immersing themselves in a marine world scene with fish and sea turtles, relaxing under a star- speckled sky on the ceiling or watching an optical fiber changing color.

We sometimes come across children who are more withdrawn, dependent, impulsive, and fearful or who have difficulties relating to other children. This space with pleasurable sensations and interaction that is accessible to everyone can be of great help in intervention processes with children with this profile. Once again, the professional’s knowledge, the SHX System and its capacity for creating, adjusting and regulating sensory experiences allow us to create a bond of great trust with the children.

Learning through play

Playing – children’s favorite pastime – is the natural, spontaneous and motivating way to learn. Playing contributes to children’s intellectual, physical and social development: it broadens the scope of relationships; it helps them to bond with adults and to know themselves better; it creates emotional ties; and helps children to communicate and enjoy others.
Multisensory rooms are designed for playing in and having fun. They can include a ball pit that changes color, or the color of the room or a projected image can change with the roll of a die, or the children can chase bubbles. There are infinite possibilities of learning through play.

Much better with music

It is common knowledge that music is a basic element in psychomotor, cognitive and emotional development, and helps to improve the sense of balance among other things. Music is tied to movement, body language, communication, spoken language, recall and interaction.

SHX multisensory rooms are equipped with powerful audio tools and allow us to play by pressing a control pad or a button, by stepping on a mat, or touching an image on the screen of a tablet to change the type of noise and tune that are being heard. This allows us to offer children multiple means of expression, while encouraging them to discover the relationship between cause and effect. We frequently find devices such as Beamz in these environments, which are used to create our own songs, follow rhythms and play with music in a different approach to carrying out sensory activities.

The adult figure

In these multisensory spaces, as in any other context, the adult must provide the learning conditions that best favor the child’s development, and intervene directly as needed and/or make specific suggestions that enhance their autonomy. The adult must choose which stimuli to provide at every moment, how to combine them to generate a meaningful experience and use a system that guarantees that any child, regardless of their limitations, can create and enjoy their own experience.

SHX multisensory rooms offer all of these possibilities by means of the SHX Control software and different control pads and tablets. These devices allow the educator or therapist to easily and intuitively activate and control the different interactive elements while the room is in use.

More information

If you would like to request more information on our SHX System or our multisensory environments, feel free to contact us–our consultants will be delighted to advise you. Alternatively, you can visit our website here.


 

Written by:

The team at BJLive!

BJLive! produces assistive technology for people with disabilities with the aim of improving their autonomy and life quality. Its human team includes: occupational therapists, special education teachers, speech therapists, engineers, IT developers and experts in assistive technology.

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Written by:

Nexe Foundation

Carlos Pérez - Education Director Sara Torrents - Special Education Teacher and Speech Therapist

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