My son has HIGH sensory needs. He is in constant movement. He runs, spins, jumps, climbs, crashes. Sounds normal for a boy, right? Well, only if it is normal for a 6 year old to walk the edge of the couch and take a flying leap head first to the floor…. All the time. It doesn’t matter if it is 3 am or 4pm, if he is awake, he seeks movement. His little nervous system just gets itself so wound up that it needs a release. We already had a small exercise trampoline, but it just wasn’t enough. Going outside is great during the nice weather. He plays in the sand, runs in the yard, climbs his playset, swings, slides, you name it. He comes in from an afternoon of play, relxed, calm, and able to focus. The problem is it is just not practical to play outside off and on all day, everyday. There are times that I have work that I need to get done and days when it is rainy or too cold. That left us with a void trying to figure out what to do to keep our son safe, protecting our furninshings, and still meeting his sensory needs. A home therapy/sensory room was suggested. The problem? Special needs products are EXPENSIVE! You could buy a car with what it costs to buy some of those items. So, time to get creative, think outside the box, and make it work. There are so many products out there, it is hard to know what to choose. I am sharing some of the things we did in hopes of inspiring you to create your own therapy room/space. Each child is different in their needs and what they like or don’t, but hopefully by sharing what worked and didn’t for us, it will spark some ideas for you.
My son spends most of his time in one of two rooms…his bedroom or the living room. Those were the rooms that made the most sense for us. His bedroom did not have a lot of extra space, but it was able to accommodate a swing. We skipped the expensive swings that were targeted at special needs kids and opted instead for a less expensive IKEA version. It is tear drop shaped, partially encloses him, and has an air cushion seat that fits inside of it. Don’t have an IKEA nearby? No problem. We found one online at Amazon.com. They start at $50 and include the hardware needed. Basically two hooks that can be installed into a beam in the ceiling in a few minutes. From those hooks, you can really hang just about any swing you choose. There are hammock type, net swings, disc swings, you can even just use a regular old backyard swing. Don’t think it has to come from a special needs store to fit the needs of your child. You will save a lot of money by looking around. My son loves his. He is in it off and on all day. The only downside is that he can swing it pretty far out, so it does require a good bit of cleared space in the room. Well worth any inconvenience that might cause.
For the rest of the items, we needed more space. Our living room is a good size, so there was enough room to simply divide it in half. To the front half, we pushed up the couch, chair, end table, and television, and left the back half all for therapy space. Granted, this is probably not ideal for most homes to have a therapy area in their living room, but it works for us. For the largest piece of equipment, we wanted a climbing structure. Again, if you look at the special needs products, you will probably spend anywhere from $600-$1500. We just needed something for him to climb on. There are many outdoor climbing structures that can easily be set up indoors(some of them are much cheaper than the “special needs” version). There are many to choose from depending on the age of the child, the amount of space you have, and what your child needs. We chose the Little Tikes Endless Adventures Mountain Climber at Walmart.com for $269.00. It is large enough for him to be able to enjoy it (he is large for the age of 6) and yet still small enough to work in the space we needed it to fit. It has a mock rock wall on one side and a rope type climbing net on the other as well as a slide and even an area to play under the set. The only drawback for us was that he LOVES to jump off of it (which will bring us to the next item below) so, we removed the top bar on one side to keep him from getting that high up to jump. Otherwise, it is perfect. It was easy to put together and is very sturdy. We bought it almost a year ago and it still looks like brand new (that is a miracle in our house since my son is known as the “destroyer”).
We needed something for him to “crash” into though. The climbing wasn’t enough. He wanted to jump off the playset. Although the couch cushions can work in a pinch, we needed something a little more practical to use. This time we did turn to a special needs product that we found at Discount School Supply. We purchased a “Moon Launch” for $171.00. It is 5ftx5ft and filled with large pieces of foam. It did require a large shipping fee ($25), but it is well worth it. We sat ours right beside the climbing structure for a two fold purpose, one being if he falls, he won’t get hurt and two, he can jump off the playset and land into the crash pad. It is great! I must admit to giving it a try myself. He loves to jump, crash, and even just lay on it. It does take up a lot of room, but it suits my son’s needs very well. The one drawback is that the material does seem to stain easily, so I am not sure how “pretty” it will look a year from now, but it is meeting the need. I would imagine if you have the time and ability, you could probably try to make something similar to this, but the materials alone would cost you a good bit. For us, it was a worthwhile purchase.
The rest of the items we have been working on a little at a time. Some weighted bean bags, different kinds of balls, stepping stones, crawl thru tunnel, etc (you will be able to read about these items in upcoming reviews). Some have worked, some have been a total bust. However the area is coming together nicely. It makes life much safer and easier for us with far less meltdowns(and less wear and tear on the furniture).
If you want to put together a sensory area for your child with autism, but are short on cash, check around to see if there is available funding to help cover the costs. Check with your child’s doctor or your local County Board of Developmental Disabilities (I think some areas may have ARC). There are places out there that will provide grants for such things as this. We were able to get some funding to help us cover many of the items. You will probably need to fill out paperwork and provide a doctor’s letter with the diagnosis and the reason why the items are needed, but it is well worth the effort. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid to ask. Raising a child with any special needs is expensive and if there are resources to help you help your child, take advantage of them.