If you or someone you know is living with Sensory Processing challenges, such as Autism, you may already be well aware of how they react to certain environments, and how to manage their surroundings. However if this is all new to you, or maybe you have a visitor coming, then this could be the first time you may have ever stumbled across the term 'Sensory Safe', and the idea of having a 'Sensory Safe Space'. So what exactly does it mean?
Difficulties with Sensory processing make ordinary stimuli extraordinarily overwhelming and extremely hard to regulate. If you aren't used to recognising what stimuli trigger this response, then hopefully we can help shed some light.
Of course, every individual responds differently to external factors, though we're here to cover some of the usual suspects which can impact our senses and lead to a distressing experience, and in some cases, lead to harmful long-term effects.
Potentially stressful environmental factors that tend to be overlooked can include everyday things, like music that is slightly too loud, or lights that are a touch too bright...or maybe not bright enough! It can cause some people to experience the sensation of being 'attacked' by their senses, and they may feel a strong need to get away or remove themselves quickly from the situation.
This is where having a Sensory Safe Space becomes a lifeline. Having somewhere to escape to when everything becomes a bit too much is invaluable to people that can become easily overwhelmed. It doesn't have to be much, even just a corner of the same room that offers a contrasting environment, such as different lighting or perhaps different textures like bean bags or weighted items. Let's take a look at some things you might want to consider when making a space Sensory Safe.
Noise is a big factor when considering how to reduce the impact of an overly stimulating environment. Loud noises can be extremely distressing, as well as having multiple sources of auditory input. For example, imagine having a room filled with lots of people talking, background music playing, then a doorbell rings....this type of situation can lead to a meltdown.
Instead, try to prevent a scenario like this developing in the first place. Reducing the volume or position of background music, even having it coming from another room, can help. If you are hosting someone, it can be beneficial to find out what they prefer to listen to (whether this is their favourite music or what volume they are comfortable with) before they arrive. Also try to limit the number of people in one room. This can not only help those vulnerable to SPD feel more comfortable, it's likely that background chatter will also be less intense for them.
The other big one is lighting, especially at Christmas time where decorations can get a little intense. Bright, flashing coloured lights can be stressful for most of us, so put yourself in the shoes of someone suffering from SPD. Couple this with a TV blasting in the corner and it could spell disaster.
If you know you'll be hosting someone who is susceptible to sensory overload, consider changing the set up of the room to accommodate them. It doesn't have to mean big changes, but the difference between having still or flashing lights can be huge. Or the soft glow of lamps instead of bright, main lights can make a massive difference to an individual.
Certain textures can offer feelings of security, and can be crucial to making a place feel safe and comfortable. If you have hard surfaces on the floor of your house, you could use rugs or floor cushions to make the environment less harsh as well as dampen loud sounds.
Been bags are a brilliant, non-permanent way to incorporate safe-feeling textures into a room for a short period of time. This doesn't mean going out and buying bean bags, you can simply stack some pillows together in the corner, or some cushions from the sofa - it offers the same effect and can even provide an open-ended play invitation for building forts and dens - a great distraction from busy environments.
Social events, like family dinners and get-togethers over the holidays can be an unfamiliar and daunting experience for someone with sensory challenges. It's unusual for them to be around big groups, or have a lot of people in what is normally their 'Safe Space'.
Limiting gatherings to a smaller number of people can be really beneficial to help regulate feelings of anxiety and stress. When this isn't possible, try spreading people out between rooms so nowhere feels overcrowded. With greetings, it can be overwhelming for some individuals to receive too much tactile input in the form of hugging or kissing, so be aware of this if you're approaching someone with SPD. Or, try to give people an advanced warning if you feel their greeting might be a little much for someone on this occasion.
Your sensory Safe Space can be as unique as you are. There is no right or wrong when it comes to what you should include, it is entirely up to individual needs. Though if you're looking for some ideas or purchases, we've got some handy suggestions to get you started!
The Cloud B Tranquil Turtle is a beautiful product designed to create the ultimate sensory experience. Its peaceful lights and sounds help to promote feelings of calm to make even the most stressful environments more relaxing. A great addition to your Sensory Safe Space and one that can be easily taken away with you for an added sense of familiarity in unfamiliar surroundings.
The Harkla Compression Sensory Swing is a fantastic way to self regulate when feeling anxious. Enjoy the gentle squeeze of the tight lycra cradle whilst hiding away in your private cocoon. Being super easy to set up and dismantle, it's the perfect addition to a Sensory space in your home or for when you have someone visiting. Even if you don't have roof beams to instal the attachment, you can simply use it with an affordable chin up bar in the door way - it works a treat!
TheHarkla Hug is a canoe style sensory chair that combines tactile and proprioceptive sensory input to provide a gentle squeeze and deep pressure. The sensation of sinking into the Harkla Hug provides instant feelings of security and escapism, easily transported to any room.
Enjoy some quiet time in the Vuly Hanging Cubby. Providing reduced visual and auditory input combined with a gently rocking motion, this swing is great for those who benefit from a dark sensory space along with proprioceptive input - it combines the two perfectly!
The innovative lycra compression method provides full body calming deep pressure touch. The My Burrow is a wonderfully simple solution to quickly escape busy environments. Easily set up in the corner of most rooms, you're never far away from your very own Sensory Safe space.
The Kloudsac is a good option for those who find deep pressure helpful for calming and sensory regulation. Given the Kloudsac has a filling that is quiet, they are a good choice for those sensitive to noise (especially the sounds of the beans in traditional bean bags).
The Banz Kids Earmuffsare designed to comfortably protect children from loud noises and act as noise reduction headphones. With sound being one of the biggest contributing factors to sensory overload, the Banz muffs help to reduce ambient/background noise while still allowing your child to hear the voice of someone speaking to them. Featuring heaps of different designs, earmuffs are a portable and convenient solution for making stressful environments more tolerable.
Weighted items such a blankets and lap pad's are perfect for those who benefit from compression for calming due to sensory overload. A heavy blanket provides a self-soothe effect that aids in relieving symptoms of stress, especially in children. A weighted blanket is easily incorporated into a room, placed on the sofa or hanging on a chair ready for when you need it!
If you live with someone suffering from any kind of Sensory disorder, we believe creating a Sensory Safe Space is a must. It can become a lifeline, a unique and personal space to feel secure and comfortable when things get just a little overwhelming.
Ultimately, your space must be easily accessible in times of need, provide a feeling of security and help an individual return to a state of calm, whatever they might require to achieve this.
As usual, if you would like more information on anything we've talked about, please do not hesitate to contact our friendly, helpful team at Starfish. We're always happy to help :)
Love Team Starfish x
40 Proprioceptive activities for the classroom. Simple and practical activities to incorporate Proprioceptive into the classroom. 16 A4 sheets to print for your classroom, therapy space or home.
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