More schools are implementing sensory-motor rooms to help de-escalate students’ negative behavior and promote independence in self-regulation. The same elements of a sensory-motor room at school can be helpful at home as well.

Chaos occurs when negative behavior escalates, and the student doesn’t know how to self-regulate and calm down. Chaos is no fun for anyone, not the child themselves and not the parent or teacher.

There are strategies that can calm the chaos, but they need to be intentionally put in place before the student spirals out of control.

Sensory-Motor Rooms

In a sensory-motor room, the child is met at their level and then, through the sensory-motor experiences, drawn into the opposite mode. This is important because chaos doesn’t necessarily mean wild, out of control behavior. Rather, chaos is a term that, in this context, means the excitement level of a child’s brain and body is way too high or way too low.

A student that is angry and banging the walls, for example, is in a hyper-excited state (too high). This child should start the sensory-motor room materials using large muscles. Give them permission to bounce, jump, roll, and thump in a gradually more organized and rhythmic fashion. As their brain and body begin to calm (or regulate) then transition to quieter activities involving the visual-motor system and fine motor muscles.

The student that is shut down, bored, and disengaged (too low) should also be met where they are at. This child should start by using small muscles in small movement patterns. This includes activities such as fine motor and visual-motor activities pencil mazes, puzzles, and board games. As they become more engaged and alert move them to a dynamic seated surface, such as a therapy ball. Gradually increase larger and larger muscles ending up with bouncing, jumping, and rolling.

Identify the excitement level

In a sensory-motor room in a school setting, students score themselves at the beginning and at the end of each session. The score is recorded by the adult in the room.

Despite the student’s self-rating, it is the classroom teacher that should be consulted in order to initiate the sensory-motor regimen in either a big muscle and fast movement fashion or a small muscle and quiet movement fashion. The teacher needs to tell you if the student is utilizing the sensory-motor room because they are in a high arousal (excitement) state or in a low arousal state.

In a home setting, parents will need to help their child first recognize their own excitement level by scoring themselves. Parents must use detective mode to determine if their child needs to rev up or calm down.

With these general parameters in mind, age-appropriate, cost-effective, and durable equipment can be purchased. The use of a metronome is beneficial when moving high arousal students bouncing wildly into a more organized rhythm by following the metronome and, eventually, bouncing in an organized and predetermined (fun) fashion.

Train the Child to Identify Their Own Mood and Utilize the Strategies Independently

Over time, students are better able to utilize these strategies both in the classroom and outside of the classroom in their personal lives. As you can well imagine, self-awareness of the student’s individual state of arousal is the first job.

Sometimes students have not learned how to identify their own mood. They need to be shown that through their own actions, they reveal what they are feeling. “I see that you are hitting the wall, again. You usually do that and later tell me it’s because you were angry.”

Even if the student cannot recall that last episode, the adult’s tone and words sound reasonable. It is important to help it be remembered this time. The student needs to take some action to identify their own mood. He or she can write out their mood on a piece of paper, complete a checklist, or answer an interview question. Any of these specific and intentional actions will help remind the student of their mood. Reminder lists and notes are frequently used adult strategies.

Helping the child understand and identify their own mood is an important first step. In a sensory-motor room, however, it is much better to let the child’s movements show you what they need. Don’t make it complicated; choose three simple states of arousal, too high, somewhere in the middle, too low.

A student too highly aroused may be hyperactive in their movements, aggressive in their use of voice and body, and erratic in their behaviors. A student that is in a low arousal state may be shut down, tuned out, and complaining of being “bored”. The middle option allows students to be non-committal. As they develop in their skill, they will be more adept at identifying either one mood or another.

Create a sensory motor room designed to help your child regulate their excitement level. Here are some equipment ideas to help calm over-excited students and to raise alertness in (non-medication related) shut down.

Ideas for your sensory-motor room:

  • Sensory Swing
  • Balance Beam
  • Landscape structures
  • Outdoor musical instruments (https://www.playlsLcom/en/adlrhapsody/)
  • Crawl Tunnel
  • Chatter Noodle Talk Tube
  • Log Crawl Tunnel
  • Therapy Swing
  • Weighted Balls
  • Pathway-different textures
  • Hilltop-like rocks (Gonge hilltops to encourage them to jump to different heights)
  • Sensory Sock (one large and one small)
  • Climbing wall

Once you know where their level of excitement is, you can steer them toward the activities that are suited to their current state of arousal. Then you will gradually move them to equipment or activities that will serve to calm or rev your child up.

One of Suzanne’s favorite suppliers of sensory products is Fun and Function. They have a wide range of products for unique learners including items for sensory rooms. Learn more by clicking the banner below.

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Suzanne Cresswell Administrator
Suzanne Cresswell is an occupational and physical therapist who has worked with unique learners for over three decades. Suzanne works to educate and provide proven solutions and strategies to those that parent, instruct and work with unique learners. By creating an understanding of unique learners and their learning behavior, she helps parents, teachers and the students themselves find the ability in learning disability.
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