Updated: Mar 21
After several weeks of design planning, I was all ready to set up the room. I was mostly thinking about the sensory wall panel for Ashi because I knew it would be the most challenging part. A sensory wall panel is almost like an activity board for kids to play with. It helps with fine motor skills and draws their attention while promoting calm and focus.
Here's an example of a board I found online to help you visualize:
So, I went and bought all the materials I thought would be appropriate for Ashi's needs.
And then I spoke to his occupational therapist.
This is why it’s so important to customize a sensory board to each child. Some boards can be up-regulating, meaning that they will stimulate the child and excite them, and some can be down-regulating, meaning that they will help soothe the child. I almost created an up-regulating board! Glad I spoke with the OT. As much as we think we know, there are always some things we don’t know. It's always a good idea to be open-minded to suggestions from professionals.
Here was my thought process. My son LOVES anything that makes noise. So I bought bells to drill onto the board. This way, he could occupy himself in his room instead of running around the house at ungodly hours and look for trouble. But what I didn’t think about was the fact that he would overexcite himself and be overstimulated by these bells. He tends to be oversensitive when he hears any sort of outdoor noise, like an ambulance, firetruck, or even a regular truck backing up. He can hear it from a mile away. He will stop whatever he's doing and perk his head up.
Conclusion: get rid of bells. ASAP.
Each child has their sensory preference. We, as parents, need to learn to fulfill our children’s needs based on what they are seeking. My child would not benefit from a sensory fidget box for example. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a box full of little toys that sensory children can play with when they they need to calm down, like this:
My child would benefit, however, from a sensory swing in his room because the movement would reset him. He would also benefit from a small enclosed space that he would get to retreat to when he gets upset. That’s why he usually locks himself in our powder room when he has a tantrum. He is trying to self-soothe. But a powder room is not a safe place for a child to lock himself in when he's upset. So I have to redirect this behavior and show him a new space where he can soothe safely.
My very loving and supportive husband, Dan, told me that he doesn’t believe that what I’m doing will help Ashi. That Ashi is so "off the charts" that none of this could possibly help him. That, it's nice for my design portfolio, but it's just a waste of money.
Thanks Dan. That was nice to hear.
It did get me to rethink this whole project for a brief second. But then I gathered myself and decided to keep going.
I realized that I need to teach my child that he has these tools available to him when he needs them. Otherwise, he won't know to retreat to his room on his own when he’s upset. He’s not going to go to his room and sit in his teepee when he needs to self-soothe. I have to redirect his behavior. I have to show him what to do and guide him when he’s upset.
So we had a conversation about it, and I told him that I created this space for him so that when he gets upset he can go there and feel better. Sometimes when I talk to him, I’m not entirely sure whether he "gets" what I’m saying, or if it just goes over his head. He said "ok mommy". I figured, I’ll just have to repeat this information and eventually it will stick. But something amazing happened this week. Ashi got upset one morning and ran upstairs to his room. He locked the door. I gave him a few minutes alone and then followed him upstairs. The door was locked. I said: Can you please unlock the door? He said: I can’t. I proceeded by unlocking the door and found him on the swing. It worked! I gave him a big hug and told him I was proud of him. Best feeling in the world.
A few weeks ago we went out for breakfast, he was completely overstimulated by the noises, lights, and all the commotion in the restaurant. When we got home, he took his iPad and went to sit in the teepee. I was so happy I had to snap a picture.
They're so cute when they behave. Emphasis on the WHEN.
As parents, we are too often doubting ourselves; wondering if we're wasting money on different tools or activities for our children. If we're making the right decision. And most importantly: if we're doing enough for our child.
Remember: trust the process. Sometimes it takes longer than you think.
Always remember to keep an open mind. Ask for help, take suggestions and speak to other parents.
Now, for the room decor.
Here’s a picture of the swing in the new space:
Could I have used a different swing? Absolutely. But this one has inflatable padding which I think Ashi would like. I also have a compression swing like this picture that I will put in the basement.
Or switch it up eventually. I'll see what works best.
I also added a sensory mat that he could use for his hands and feet. And a liquid play mat tile since he loves anything liquid. But this kind of liquid is contained. Mommy's happy.
This is a sensory wall mat, fun for the hands and feet.
I changed the ceiling fan and added a more delicate touch for a light fixture. Believe it or not, even light fixtures can trigger a sensory child.
I also built a shelving unit for toys, and purchased a diffuser with lavender oil. Lavender is very calming. Vanilla can be used as well.
My favorite part of the room:
I hung these motivational prints on top of the bed. The reason I picked these is because all of the motivational prints I found had the pronoun “you”. “You’re strong”, “you’re brave”. But I thought it was important that as my child learns to read, he can read those affirmations and internalize them by reading them as “I’m strong”, “I’m brave”. Psychologically, it made more sense. What a lot of people don't know, is that children with special needs can feel frustrated, demotivated, "different", and depleted by all the efforts they make. We sometimes forget all the challenges they face since those are internal. It is so important to constantly encourage and praise kids as they accomplish new tasks. And it's important to remind them that they are wonderful even when things sometimes don't work out. We, as parents, are so busy trying to figure out what's best for our child, that we sometimes forget to talk to our children instead of talking at them. Myself included. No one is perfect.
Back to design.
So, I pretty much changed everything in the room, except for the carpet. I even got him new bedding. A softer pattern with cars on it.
The effect of color and pattern has a huge impact on our well-being.
I also added string lights above his bed because he's very scared of the dark and a night light isn't enough. It also adds to the mood of the room, and makes him feel safe.
Keep in mind that these are pictures taken by me in order to describe the changes that I am making.
What a lot of people don’t know is that the entire home of special needs children needs to be catered to the child. Not just in a therapeutic way. But certain furniture placements, certain objects just wouldn’t work in those homes.
Whether a person has special needs or not, certain colors trigger us and we might not realize it. Why would someone prefer the color blue over other colors? There's an emotional reason behind all of those color choices. The way your home is designed can either have a positive affect on our life, or it can feel cold and uncomfortable and we’re not sure why. Colors have emotion. I design rooms with emotion.
Now, for the last part of Ashi's room. The reason I've been procrastinating to post this chapter. The sensory board. My nemesis. I finally figured out what would be appropriate for my child. He loves turning on lights. So I put lots of light switches. I also added different types of locks, since his fine motor skills are weak. If he fidgets with this board when he gets upset, he might become engrossed in it and calm down while doing it.
I started with a plain piece of plywood, which I then painted the same color as the wall.
I then procrastinated for several weeks because I knew I'd have to drill holes for the light switches and it would be very labor intensive. I had a friend lend me a tool to trim baseboards, but when I tried to drill through the board, it would send chills down my spine. I knew it wasn't the right tool, so I had another friend take the board home and drill the slits on a woodworking table.
I then took it back home and used a hand piece to even out the slits and make sure that the light switch toggles fit in passively.
I had a little assistant supervising me:
Here is the almost final product. I'll have to paint a second time, and gloss it. I will be hanging it on the wall so that Ashi can use it while kneeling or standing up, this way he will be using his core as well, and it can help with his posture.
This was as hard as I had imagined. I'm glad this part is done. But I am glad I did it. When Ashi saw it, he loved it and was excited for me to put it in his room. I would definitely do this differently next time. But there's a first time for everything.
So that's it. It's the end of this room. But just the beginning of this sensory well-being design journey.
Will it all work? Maybe not. It's a working progress. There was a lot of back and forth communication between me, the designer, and the occupational therapist. Every case is different. Every child responds to a different stimuli.
What I'm discovering as well is that children without any special needs can also benefit from an appropriate space. Children who are frustrated, angry and explosive need a special place to calm down. They need a safe space that is theirs and feels comforting to them when they need to retreat. Some children need to unwind in their room after school, or after an overstimulating event. What if they don't have that space? Think about yourself as an adult. Where do you unwind and relax when you want to take a break from your kids? When you're done with work? When you have a stressful life situation? Most parents end up in the bathroom, on their phones (haha) - but wouldn't you want a place in your home that is comfortable and cozy? We all need our safe space. That's where interior design comes in.
It's all psychology driven. The better we feel in our home, the more we are able to get back to our 'normal' state.
Stay tuned for the final pictures of the room!
And stay tuned for my next adventure, it's just the beginning, but it's oh so exciting!