Creating a safe space

A sensory safe space may be a whole room, or a corner in a classroom but if done with care, you can ensure the space meets the needs of the individuals and community it serves, whatever it’s size.

Getting started

Before creating a sensory space, you should ask and answer the following questions: 

1 – Who will use the space? All students or just specific pupils?

2 – Will it be a school-wide or classroom only space? 

3 – Will it be used for therapy sessions such as occupational, speech or music therapy? 

4 – How many users there will be at a time? 

5 – Will it be open to the community?

A blue character in a wheelchair is looking confused, with question and exclamation marks hovering over his head.

When designing a sensory safe space, it should be flexible and adaptable to all users’ different needs. The answers to the questions above will guide your planning and budget, as well as the actual organisation and use of the space.

Students’ voices must be always considered when creating and using the sensory space. Talk to and observe your students so you can make their safe space safe for them.

Location

It may be that your school has a whole room you can use for a safe space. However, often you may only have a corner or small space within their classroom, or even outside (see next section). The following questions will help when planning the location of a sensory safe space:

a – Is it a safe place? Free of obstacles and hazards, ease of entrance and exit.

b – Does the space feel private? If not, can screens be installed? Elements such as see-through curtains, screens or furniture, such as bookcases, that set clear boundaries but also allow supervision.

c – Are there clear observation points for staff and pupils? Can you see the pupils clearly? Can they see you for reassurance?

d – Is the space easily accessible for all users? For example, is it step-free with a wide enough entrance?

e – Can students easily fit in the space? Can they lie down, stretch out or fidget if they need to? 

f – Does the space have enough room for a comfortable place to rest? It could be a chair, a bean bag, a pile of cushions or even a fluffy blanket or rug.

g – Does it allow for a sense of calm and order?  For example, if located near the entrance of the classroom, the space would probably be continually disrupted by students and staff coming in and out.

 h – Is it possible to regulate the light and sound? Could noise-cancelling headphones be used? Are there curtains or blinds?

i – How easily can you adapt the space for different people’s sensory safe needs? Is there space to store different resources or move furniture around?

Auditory environment

It is important to evaluate the impact noise has on the sensory space. The acoustic environment can be controlled to reduce background noise, echo, and vibrations. It is important to consider the following questions:

a – Is it near to a noisy corridor, room or space?

b – Can noise be reduced by soundproofing the space or using background music?

c- Could noise-cancelling headphones be used?

Lighting

It is important to consider visual stimuli in the sensory space. Students can be hyper or hypo sensitive to visual stimuli. Therefore, it is important to provide lighting control, to reduce or increase brightness.

a – Is it possible to introduce curtains or blinds to reduce or increase natural light as needed? This might be as simple as a blanket thrown over a tent.

b – Is it possible to create both a calming and stimulating environment when needed?

c – is there Fluorescent lighting? Fluorescent lighting pulses very rapidly, too fast for us to see consciously. However, our eyes, and then our brains, still receive the pulsing signals, and these may cause sensory overload and a negative reaction. Can you create a space that is away from fluorescent lights?

Spatial sequencing

A sensory space should flow in as seamlessly as possible. For this, it needs to be organised in a logical order understandable for all users, and have clearly delineated areas.

a – Is the space accessible for all students?

b – Is it clear what the space should be used for?

Calm quiet space

Sensory safe spaces are not complete without a space which provides a neutral sensory environment, with reduced sensory input. It can be achieved by introducing a cosy corner or escape space. 

a – Is there space enough to subdivide the sensory space into stations?

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