Recently, the Pittsburgh International Airport opened a suite of “sensory rooms” for autistic travelers, the latest in six international airports to do so. While sensory rooms have been in use since the 1970s, the addition of these rooms to public areas has increases curiosity about their use and benefit.
What are sensory rooms? What is their purpose and benefit? At Flatrock, several of our care homes are equipped with these spaces for our residents on the autistic spectrum or with other sensory disabilities. They have proven an invaluable resource for caring for these individuals.
Sensory integration is the human brain’s ability to regulate sensory experiences—what we see, hear, touch, smell and taste. For those with development disorders, including autism, that process can be source of distress and discomfort. This may manifest itself in negative behaviors such as spinning, pacing, fighting and rocking.
A sensory room is a space designed to help individuals with sensory issues learn to regulate their brain’s negative reactions to outside stimuli. When someone coping with autism feels overwhelmed, a sensory room is a “safe” space to calm down. Sensory rooms may have different elements, but components may include a white noise machine; balance or movement equipment; aromatherapy; soft lighting; weighted blankets; ball chairs and therapy balls; and gel mats.
We have found sensory rooms to be a huge benefit to our residents’ development. It allows our residents to learn to calm themselves. When people are comfortable, development strides and growth can begin.