A sensory gym is a room that is completely dedicated to sensory play. Sensory gyms normally include equipment that is designed to provide vestibular and proprioceptive input.
Some of the elements include therapy balls, trampolines, swings, and more. When you give your autistic child access to a sensory gym, you will find that they gain access to sensory stimulation and this helps them to learn how their body responds to stimulation.
Sensory rooms can also enhance learning. This is done through adult-directed play, which helps children to engage different parts of their brains. This leads to improved memory retention while helping them to further their own skills in life.
Time in a sensory room can also help children to improve their auditory, visual, and even tactile processing. It helps them with their gross and fine motor skills and it often instils a sense of calm. Sensory rooms can help your child to regulate his/her behaviour as well and this helps him/her with their focus and concentration.
If you have a child with autism, then you may have explored the idea of visiting a sensory room in the past, but you don’t always have the time or the money. That being said, it’s more than possible for you to create a great space yourself.
How to build a sensory gym yourself
If you want to build a sensory gym for your child, then you need to take into account your child’s individual needs. No child with autism is the same as another, so it’s important to cater your gym to match your child’s unique personality.
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For example, if your child doesn’t like flashing lights, avoid this. If he/she happens to like swinging around, then having some swings installed would be a good idea. Children with autism tend to have varying levels of sensory processing abilities, so make sure that you are not going too over the top and overwhelming your child with the choices you make. If you want to get some ideas of some of the products you can choose, take a look below:
- Weighted sensory teddies
- Therapy balls
- And more
Creating your own sensory gym can be as expensive, or as affordable, as you want it to be. You can have a few items, or you can have a full-blown gym with all of the extras. It depends on you, your child, your budget and the space that you have. If you are concerned about space, there are plenty of space-conscious therapy products out there that you can invest in so keep that in mind.
Benefits of a sensory gym for children with autism
There are many benefits to helping your child through a sensory gym. It doesn’t matter how big or how small your sensory gym is either, because your child should benefit to some extent either way. If you are in two minds about investing in a sensory gym or if you are not sure if the benefits outweigh the cost, then you can find out more information below.
Using a sensory gym can support the sensory progress your child is making with his/her own therapist. You may find that it has a calming influence on him/her and that it also helps to reduce the amount of meltdowns that they have as well. You may find your child is able to advance faster, and that it helps him/her considerably if they are non-verbal so keep that in mind.
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Sensory Play Ideas
Bringing sensory development home
Equipment can be tailored to every child’s level of sensory processing disorder. This gives them the chance to explore different senses, textures and more. They can then develop their own skills and go at a pace which suits them. If you take your child to a sensory gym in your area, then you may find that there are other children there, or that you do not have control over the entire experience. When you bring it home, you can control every aspect of the environment while also making it easier for him/her to take in what’s going on around them.
Having fun in a safe and structured way is always a good thing. When you have a sensory gym, you can give your child somewhere to play where his/her processing disorder is not going to be heightened. Learning should be fun, and sensory gyms help this to be the case. When you build your own gym, you can stop your child from being overwhelmed by the things going on around them and this can really help them to feel safe and secure.
Social and life skills
Children and adults mixing in the same space will help kids with their life skills and their social lives too. You may even find that they can interact with other people in an environment that is safe for everyone. Your child can learn how to interact with adults at a pace that suits him/her. You can also do it in a space where he/she feels entirely comfortable, which is always a bonus if you are concerned about meltdowns or your child not responding well to too much social contact.
So, a sensory gym can offer you a huge number of benefits. If you were to build a sensory gym yourself, then you may find that your child can improve his/her sensory integration and you can also help him/her to boost their social skills. If you want to give your child the best possible experience when using a sensory gym then you need to try and cater your gym to meet the requirements of your child, as mentioned above.
Sensory gyms can help with physical and emotional development and having one at home can help parents to support their child’s nervous system. However, it can be helpful to get input from an occupational therapist or occupational therapy assistant about which specific items to include in your home gym, and to get ideas on how to use the equipment with your child.
Sensory processing is not just about the equipment but how it gets used and how it’s presented. When parents play with their child in a sensory gym it can increase the potential for benefit from the equipment. Also having a safe, free play space where children can get sensory needs met, allows them the opportunity to regulate more often but some items and some activities can be too stimulating, even IF your child likes them. Thus having a plan for what to include and HOW to include it, is recommended.