New Sensory Room Popular With Kids and Therapists

Posted on June 02, 2022

If you’ve ever enjoyed a rocking chair or porch swing, you have experienced the effects of sensory input.

The new sensory room in Van Demark Up on the Sioux Falls Children’s Home campus allows children to explore and benefit from a wide range of sensory items. A grant from the Lyon County Riverboat Foundation helped support the development of the room.

“Kids with trauma have struggles regulating their bodies,” says Unit Director Nici Petrich. “They are often hypervigilant, in a protective mode—looking for danger and in a flight-flight-freeze state. They react very quickly to things in their environment.”

Using the sensory items helps children calm down, feel safe and achieve a regulated state. “When kids are regulated, therapists can more easily help them to process their trauma and get to the core of what the issue is,” Nici says.

Because the sensory room is new, staff are still exploring its potential. “We’ve had a couple of different therapy sessions in the room with kids that were dysregulated,” says Nici. “Once they are in a more calm, regulated state they can process about what’s really going on and what to do with those feelings.”

Different senses for different folks

Everyone is different in terms of the type of input they respond to best. “We have items for visual, tactile, auditory, vestibular and olfactory input,” Nici says. They include:

  • A swing, which is the most popular item, according to Nici
  • Tiles containing liquid that when stepped on create patterns
  • Long fiber optic strands that change colors and pulse to the beat of music
  • A machine that projects points of light and various soothing backgrounds onto the ceiling
  • Stuffed animals that breathe–children can hold them and start breathing with the animals. “One of the things that happens when kids come to treatment is that they miss their pets,” Nici says.
  • Lighted hexagons that change color when touched
  • Sandscapes that when rotated move slowly and create shapes
  • A pad that changes color when pressure from hands is applied
  • A light table with colored plexiglass pieces for making patterns and building structures
  • A velour-covered “crash pad,” which is like a cross between a bean bag chair and a mattress

Additional items ordered include a vibro-acoustic chair, which allows one to both listen to and feel vibrations of music, a trampoline pillow, additional handheld devices and more.

Children already benefitting

Currently, staff are rotating small groups of four to five children through the room. “We are making sure every child on our unit has at least 20-30 minutes in the room each day,” says Nici.

“At other times through the day, the room is used when children become dysregulated or are having a behavior, to help them become calm,” she says.

The sensory room was developed by the Van Demark Up unit. Nici explains that this unit was fortunate enough to have a room that could be used specifically for that purpose. She hopes other units will be able to create their own sensory rooms as well.