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28 February 2017

The World of Sensory

by Alexandra Hooson

A ‘Sensory Environment’ is an umbrella term used to categories a variety of sensory spaces which are specially designed to have a positive impact on specific needs or disabilities. Sensory techniques have been proven to help those suffering with mental health issues and when used appropriately sensory rooms or equipment can:

  •  Help to create a safe space
  • Facilitate the therapeutic alliance
  •  Provide opportunities for engagement in prevention and crisis de-escalation strategies, as well as a host of other therapeutic exchanges (to teach skills, offer a variety of therapeutic activities, etc.)
  • Promote self-care/self-nurturance, resilience & recovery

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Within mental health settings, there are a number of sensory rooms available which typically fall under the sensory modulation room category. What is Sensory Modulation? Sensory modulation is a neurological function and is the organisation of sensory information for on-going use. Efficient sensory modulation is the ability to effectively regulate the degree to which one is influenced by various sensory inputs. The goal is to regulate sensory input and ‘make sense of the physical world’ and the ‘place of self within the world’. Efficient sensory modulation allows the central nervous system to regulate such things like the attention and activity level by enabling the person to attend to important stimuli, filter out irrelevant stimuli, and modify the amount of stimulation the person is exposed to. What Sensory Environments are suitable? ‘Quiet rooms’ are designed to be more sensory focused and used mainly for the purposes of crisis de-escalation and/or prevention and therefore used in mental health care. An essential part of the sensory environment is to maintain an emphasis on engaging in meaningful therapeutic activities and in recognising the inner-relatedness and importance of the therapeutic use of self and physical environment. It is so important when having a sensory room build that you consider the users’ needs and behaviour and design the sensory room around them. The biggest issue people face is deciding on the features of the room and not considering the users’ needs, e.g choosing red as the wall and floor padding colour and this reacting badly to the user, making them feel anxious and angry. Everything to the smallest detail needs to be considered!