Sensory Areas & Rooms
By: Carmen Willings
Updated November 4, 2017
For the student with visual impairments such as Cortical Visual Impairment, highly controlled environments may be needed to help the student learn to look and use their vision. A sensory room is appropriate for students who need a place to go where they can have minimal visual and auditory distractions.
If you are planning to set up a sensory area in your room, be sure that it is a quiet area away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the classroom. Some schools may have the luxury of having a sensory room, but space is typically limited in schools and creating a space within the classroom may be your only option. When setting up a darkened area for viewing lights and also providing tactual experiences, try to think about ways to encourage active involvement for the student. This could include using a power link device to connect electrical lights so when the student activates a switch, the lights (or other materials) turn on.
The Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) can assist in setting up an area that will minimize auditory and visual distracters and encourage the student to attend visually to materials presented. The goal is to work on vision skills in the controlled environment and gradually introduce distracters until the student does not require such a controlled environment and goals can be addressed in the classroom under normal conditions.
Position the student with their hands and object in the preferred visual field; use appropriate or prescribed adaptive seating to achieve this. Determine the student’s preferred positioning for best visual function (sitting, supine, side-lying, etc).
For some students with significant disabilities, it can be helpful to place several objects around the student’s body that touch the student or are very close so that any movement will cause contact with a toy. Allow the student time to discover and rediscover the same toys in the same places so that his play environment becomes more predictable. It may be necessary to find ways to stabilize toys for students, particularly for students that are in wheelchairs of standers. Use Velcro, Dycem, shelf liner or rubber pads under the toy to prevent it from sliding off a surface while the student is playing with it.
I have constructed toy bars using cut pieces of PVC pipe and elbow and "T" connectors to form a stand. Depending on the students color or light preference, I have then wrapped Christmas lights around the toy bar. I then plug the lights into the Power Select switch from APH and encourage the student to activate the switch to turn on the lights. Another option is to suspend metallic materials from the toy bar and have the student activate the switch that is connected to a small fan (set on low) directed toward the materials. If the student is able to visually attend when there are auditory distractions, you may also want to connect the switch to a radio or CD player to play music or a story when activated. Alternatively, I have drilled holes in a Sterilite, or similar, clear plastic storage box and attached miniature lights and suspended reflective materials that can be activated through a switch.
Adaptable Stick Switch, available from APH, is available in the Sensory Learning Kit and is also available as a replacement item.
Adaptable Tactile Switch, available from APH, is available in the Sensory Learning Kit and is also available as a replacement item.
Power Select, available from APH, is available in the Sensory Learning Kit and is also available as a replacement item.
Resources to Support You in Teaching Students with Visual Impairments
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Strategies & Activities for Students with Severe & Profound Disabilities (SIDPID) Recorded Presentation
This presentation provides instructional and communication strategies for working with students with severe and profound disabilities (SIDPID) who are functioning between a birth to two-year-old level. It also provides suggestions for setting up sensory environments and creating adapted materials, so the student has activities to interact with no matter what position or area of the room they are in. I share lightbox activities and how to use iPads and computers as instructional tools. Finally, I share functional literacy activities that embed sensory experiences that you can create with your students. The activities are appropriate for the classroom but can also be used during distance learning. This presentation is packed full of activities you can begin using immediately with your students!
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