A multi-sensory space is an environment where the primary senses are stimulated through the use of sensory based materials. The spaces can provide a safe, non-threatening environment for anybody to experience a range of sensory stimuli, allowing the individual to have fun, irrespective of their behavioural, emotional, or physical needs. This website has been set up to provide you with guidance around creating a multi-sensory space for your home or community. We strongly recommend that you also seek advice from an Occupational Therapist.
What is a multi-sensory room?
Multi-sensory environments are spaces that allow the user to have complete control over the sensory input they receive from the environment and explore different variations of sensory input.
The user can make music, cause lights or sounds to turn on or off, and feel vibrations or textures simply by moving their arms or hitting a button. These spaces, no matter how big or small, give the user the opportunity to relax or get excited by their surroundings. The power to manipulate input allows the user to maintain a calm and receptive state while in the space because if the user doesn’t like something they can make it stop, if they love something they can make it happen more!
Some MSEs are designed for specific users and they will have equipment in them to calm or excite certain senses specific to that individual. Technically, however, an MSE is non-categorical. This means that these spaces are inclusive of everyone! They are non-categorical because there is equipment in them for each sense and a user can tailor the space to suit their own likes and dislikes. What’s more, a user can change the input from the equipment so if it is too exciting or makes them too lethargic they can move to another, change the settings on the equipment or just use one piece of equipment if they choose.
The senses that should be addressed in a Multi-Sensory Environment are: sight, sound, smell, touch, and movement.
Some examples of the kinds of things that address each sense and whether they are typically stimulating or calming.
|Sight||Flashing lights||Slow changing|
eg. jazz music or shopping centres
eg. African drums, white noise, heart beats
|Movement||Spinning||Slow back and forth|
|Touch||Light touch||Deep firm touch|
These vary by individual or within an individual depending on what’s happening for them, for example if you are very stressed you may not like jazz music and spinning even if you ordinarily enjoy it. Remember that each person is an individual and that while one person may find lavender calming another may not like it at all. You must always consider the individual’s likes and dislikes but also any medical implications. For example, if a user has epilepsy then flashing lights should not be used and if there are any allergies then avoid the triggering materials or scents. To help you understand which senses a user may benefit from stimulating or calming conduct a sensory profile.
What do we use a multi-sensory room for?
A multi-sensory room promotes taking ownership of your experiences.
Everyone has a sensory system made up of the five basic senses: sight, sound, smell/taste, touch, and movement. On any given day and even from moment to moment our sensory systems shift and change based on changes in the environment. For the most part we want to be in the band of optimum functioning, the place when our bodies are calm, we are regulated, receptive and ready to focus.
Outside of the band is the state we usually describe as excited, stressed, anxious, lethargic or down. Things that may put people outside of their band are a surprise party, for example, which may put us above the band momentarily or a death in the family may put us below the band for a period of time. This is natural and most people have some strategies to get themselves back into the space where their sensory systems are calm and they are receptive. Strategies to get back into the band are common things like tapping your foot, clicking a pen, taking a bath, going for a run, lighting a scented candle or getting a bear hug.
While for many people staying within the band is relatively easy for others it is more difficult. This difficulty can be for many reasons such as the band for some people is wide allowing more input before they go out of the band and for others it is narrow making it easier to disregulate. Another possibility is that the individual may not recognise that they are out of the band and keep going further above or below the band until they are in the danger zone. The danger zone means that the person will likely need assistance to bring their body back into the band of calm and receptive. At times an individual may not have strategies to bring their sensory system back to a state of calm and receptive so knowing how much of an activity and which activities cause a person to go over or under the band is important.
In an MSE the user has the opportunity to control the input they are experiencing, that means they can get into that band of optimum functioning more easily. These effects may only last while in the room but it means that for the time they are in that space they are calm, can enjoy the experience, and possibly more receptive to others.
To determine which senses need to be engaged and in what way you can broaden your calm and receptive zone you can complete a . This will help you understand what you find calming and what you find stimulating. Once you have done a practice profile on yourself try to complete one with a user that you would like to support. Ask them what they like and observe their reactions to things they engage with on a regular basis.