You may not be aware of this, even if you often visit Body & Soul, but we have a magic room. It’s a room full of mystery and sparkle that has a transformative effect on everyone who enters. It is a room that stimulates, inspires, empowers and motivates, yet at the same time relaxes and soothes. The room in question has been dubbed ‘the magic room’ by one of our younger children but is more commonly known as the sensory room.
The sensory room plays an essential and extremely valuable role in Body & Soul’s children’s service. It is immensely popular across all ages, from babies through to 12 year olds and is in constant use throughout Tuesday evening services. One advantage of the room is that, unlike normal spaces, children are able to control the environment, gaining a sense of security for themselves. Over time, from this feeling of safety they are able to gradually explore and feel in control of feelings that are intense and often frightening.
We have observed many benefits for the children after spending time in the sensory room. For example, we have found better eye contact amongst many of the autistic children after a number of sessions in the room. For those that are non verbal, the sensory room allows pleasurable stimulation without the need for verbal abilities. Younger children are able to concentrate and focus for longer periods and often vocalize far more than other environments. It successfully facilitates relaxation in both babies and older children and provides an excellent opportunity for one to one interaction between adults and children as well as building relationships amongst children. The mirrors and atmospheric lighting promote valuable discussions with the older children about how they look and feel about themselves.
The term ‘magic room’ may have been a child’s response to a sense of wonder on first experiencing the sounds, textures and lighting effects of the room and yet it feels apt because of the ‘magically’ transformative effect this room can have on children who are facing emotional, behavioural, developmental or educational challenges.
To give you an idea of the transformations the sensory room has played a part in I’d like to share some quotes from volunteers who support the children and have seen those changes at first hand.
‘Over the last 6 months we’ve watched one child grow from being a very quiet and scared girl to being someone who is open, chatty, happy and friendly, playing and talking to everyone in the kid’s centre.’
‘I took an autistic boy into the sensory room for his very first time. Tears came to my eyes as I watched him gaze at the neon fish tank, play with fur patches, make a tune from a wall xylophone then proceed to touch his face in the mirror. The rest of the evening was absolute bliss as he was incredibly calm.’
‘She is very quiet amongst the other children in the room, but when she is taken to the sensory room she becomes totally different, chatting and singing and participating in all the sensory elements available. Her positive response to the sensory room has been a revelation of her character to volunteers.’
‘She has a very troubled home life with a great deal of uncertainty and instability. When she arrives at the children’s centre her behaviour is often erratic, attention seeking and unsettled. She thrives on one to one support with a particular adult but finds it difficult to settle. Often she is unable to share a story in the normal environment but once in the sensory room enjoys looking at books in the sensory room that glow under the UV. Using the lights to create different atmospheres and the instruments to express pent up emotions she often shows a different side to her personality and can be more open about her feelings. Once she has had this opportunity to release these feelings when she returns to the Children’s Centre her interactions are far more positive.’