Creating a sensory corner

What is a sensory corner and does your child need one…

Is your child hyperactive and constantly on the go? Does he have difficulties focusing his attention or frequently fidgets with items in his work area? Does he climb on the furniture, crash to the ground, seek out touch and excessive hugs? Does he bite on his clothing or frequently put non edible items in his mouth? Is he a picky eater and bothered by certain tastes or textures? Is he excessively bothered by tags in his shirt, lite touch to his skin, or getting messy? Is he overly sensitive to sound, temperature, light, touch, movement, or taste? If the answer to one of more of these questions is yes, then your child may have sensory processing difficulties.

Seeking an evaluation from a licensed occupational therapist (OT) should be your first step if you suspect these types of  issues. If the results show sensory processing difficulties, your OT will recommend treatment by putting your child on a “sensory diet”. This typically consists of a variety of activities (sometimes incorporating certain foods) which your child would partake in daily.

Vestibular input, which comes from the inner ear, is provided in the form of movement based activities. These may include swinging on swings, spinning on a move and sit, bouncing on a trampoline or large ball or going down a slide. Proprioceptive input, which provides sensation through the joints and muscles, comes in the form of deep pressure and heavy work activities. These may include wheelbarrow walking, crawling, rolling, and climbing through an obstacle course, or pushing, pulling, or carrying heavy items. Finally tactile activities, which provide sensation through the skin, might include finding hidden items in a container of uncooked rice or beans, finger painting, mashing dough to make cookies, or finding hidden beads in play dough, putty, or clay.

Another invaluable part of a sensory diet that your OT may recommend is a sensory corner in your home and/or in the classroom. A sensory corner is a space in a room where a variety of sensory activities and materials are provided so your child has a place to go when they’re feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed from too much or too little sensory stimulation. It’s a place that can be a sanctuary to retreat to where the child can feel more comfortable, relaxed and safe.

What items do you put in a sensory corner? To start with, you can add some of items mentioned above, such as a small trampoline, large rubber ball, a sit and spin, a container of rice or beans with hidden item inside, and/or play dough. A small tent, if you have the space,  is a great addition to your sensory corner. Place blankets (weighted or regular), pillows, a weighted lap belt (which you can buy or make your own with some fabric and zip locked bags of rice), stuffed animals, soothing music, and aromatherapy.  You could include a tactile board, which is simply a board with various tactile items attached. You could buy this online, or even better, make one yourself using poster board, or even a cut up card board box, then have your child glue on small pieces of felt, silk, leather, suede, sandpaper or an emery board, cotton balls, uncooked macaroni or even pebbles for various textures they can touch. A fold up tunnel, wedge cushions and different sized pillows to climb and crash on are also useful additions.

Lights, smells and sounds can also be included in your sensory corner. A string of Christmas lights or colored bulbs, flashlights for them to play with in the dark tent or while the lights are off, and  toys with flashing lights and sounds are good visual and auditory stimulation. Small scented candles (unlit…and only add these if your child won’t try to eat them), aroma sprays, and scratch and sniff stickers can be added.  Headphones with sensory audiology programs can be found online or possibly on sites like spotify or Pandora. Soothing sounds of the ocean, animals in a forest, or trees blowing on a breezy night can be put on for pretend play in the tent, or simply in the background while doing other sensory activities. Louder or sounds that are uncomfortable to the child can be played in the background and added in time as long as the child can tolerate them. A vibrating massager or toy that vibrates could be provided for the child to hold against their arms, legs, back, hands, feet,  and on the face.

A child with a sensory processing disorder will often exhibit seeking and/or defensive behaviors. Their system is not receiving and responding to information that comes in through their senses. In order to reduce or eliminate these behaviors, a variety of methods can be utilized by an occupational therapist, the parents and the teachers. A sensory diet is often one of the first recommended steps to take. Creating a sensory corner, as part of that diet, gives your child their own special space to reduce or eliminate the anxiety and sometimes physical pain they may feel when their sensory system is not functioning correctly. Try creating a sensory corner in your home and you may start to notice your little sensory seeker is no longer demonstrating the behaviors of a child with sensory processing difficulties!