A sensory room is a wonderfully therapeutic and relaxing tool for adults and children with sensory processing disorders such as autism, ADHD and Global Development Disorder, among many others. For parents it provides their children with a calm oasis where tantrums and meltdowns are averted or controlled, and the children are kept calm and reassured.
However, getting a sensory room done from scratch by a professional is an enormous expense that many parents in this situation just cannot afford. Sometimes the cost of the things you need to keep your child happy is directly opposite to the amount of time you have to make the money in the first place. It is a frustrating imbalance.
Thank goodness for enterprising mums then! In this feature I was lucky to meet women who’d beaten the odds and created superb sensory spaces for a fraction of the usual costs. They shared some of their top tips and ideas on how to create a sensory room for under £150.
The Sensory Room
To start with, choose soft colours for the overall tone of the sensory room. White can seem too clinical and reflective whereas black can be too harsh if used extensively. Pastel colours counterbalanced with darker carpets or rugs is ideal.
You can also paint the ceiling black, or a corner of the room in a darker shade, to emphasise bright or neon objects. Grab yourself special offers from DIY stores like B&Q or Wickes but ensure you get good quality paint that will last, handle issues like mould or damp and won’t mark easily. It may be more expensive in the short term but will save you money in the long term.
Cost: Budget dependent
Bubble or Lava Lamps
Now you only need fill your room with all the bits and pieces that will turn it into a sensory den. This kind of sensory room equipment can normally set you back hundreds of pounds from the dedicated special needs retailers, but you can buy similar items at a fraction of the cost. A bubble lamp such as the Bubble Fish lamp from Argos at £34.99 or the Lava Quarium Fish Lamp for £24.99 from Argos is a sensory must have thanks to their therapeutic mesmerising effect.
Put a mirror behind the lamp to emphasise the colours and to create a visual feast. The moving fish (or whatever you have gone with) will help develop tracking skills and the light will attract their eyes and attention.
Ultraviolet or Blacklight
A blacklight or Ultraviolet light produces intense colours that can help those who struggle to see and will create a visually stimulating environment. Instead of spending in excess of £100 on an expensive kit why not use an old bedside lamp with a blacklight bulb, only £4.99 from Maplin.
Neon fabrics, toys and scarves are ideal for helping with eye contact and visual acuity. To train a child to look at your face try covering it with a neon scarf to draw their attention to your eyes. The same applies for any of these objects – if they capture the child’s attention pick them up and bring them to your face while you talk to them.
The scarves are also lovely for texture play. You can nab a neon scarf for as little as £3 from eBay. Also look at things like neon sports balls for only £1.65, or funky neon products like these that won’t cost a bomb but will work a charm.
Cost: From £1.65
Fabrics and Textures
The list for fabrics doesn’t stop at neon though. Visit your local craft market or fabric shops and see if they have any offcuts that they don’t want or are prepared to sell for a discount. You can use all sorts of different shapes and lengths and textures in the room.
Make a taggy out of strange cuts of felt or velvet and ribbon. These won’t take you long to make and offer a lovely tactile experience. Try shops like Cheap Fabrics, or Fabricuk.com. Also send out for fabric samples that you can keep for free.
Cost: from £1.50 a metre
Fibre optic lights can be very expensive but a good way to save on these is to get a couple of small tabletop ones for under £10. This black fibre optic table lamp from Play.com is only £8.55 or those from Find Me A Gift for only £3.99.
Cost: From £3.99
Instead of spending a whack of cash on a space blanket invest in an emergency blanket. These can be bought on eBay from under £5 and offer the same crinkly texture and noise as the space blankets do.
Many children with sensory issues love the feeling of soft pressure on their bodies and so wrapping them up gently can help to relax them. Vivomed sell them for £1.18 , eBay for £2.25 and there are several different options on Amazon from £1.14
Cost: From £1.14
These are only a few ideas on how you can really cut your costs to create a stunning sensory room that will help your child. I do advise you to do a lot of research before you start to ensure that you design your room according to your specific needs and that you get the right equipment in. Visit different sensory rooms to get ideas and then implement them at a fraction of the cost. Good luck!