Why do people need sensory safe spaces?

We all get tired if we spend too long in some environments, but if you have a sensory impairment you can get more tired, much more quickly. Some people who may particularly benefit from a sensory safe space include those who are:

Neurodiverse – refers to people who experience learning, socialisation, emotions and environment in different ways. You may hear people with neurological conditions such as autism, ADHD and dyspraxia described as neurodiverse. People may process the world differently and be more sensitive to touch, light, sound, taste and smell. You may find that a neurodiverse person is particularly sensitive to bright lights, they may be ‘fussy eaters’, they may ‘overreact’ to certain smells or sounds, they may refuse to wear certain types of material. Daily life can be like living in a world that is not designed for you, and that is hard and tiring.

Autistic – People who have autism are likely to have sensory issues. A noises, lighting, smells, textures, tastes and the amount of people and objects might be be over whelming with the condition and this may places a strain on an individual. Daily life can be tiring, social and emotional exhausting leading to and that is hard and tiring potentially leading to a meltdown.

Blind – People with visual impairments need a quiet environment so they can better hear what is going on around them. A noisy place can make it difficult to understand what is being said or the direction that a sound is coming from. Poor lighting and flashing displays can also create confusion and place further strain on an individual.

Deaf – loss of hearing can be a huge challenge in day to day life. Not being able to hear properly means you are constantly straining and having to concentrate hard on what someone is saying. You may have to focus your eyes on their face to read expressions and lips to help you understand. If you break concentration, you may lose the conversation. It is easy to miss crucial information. If you use sign language to communicate, you may have to wait for a translation or for someone to write something down. Even a simple chat can be exhausting. It is very common for deaf students to be exhausted by the end of the day.

Have a sensory processing disorder (SPD)– People with SPD struggle to process the sensory information and can feel overwhelmed by this. Things they may struggle with is different quality of light, sound, taste of food or the texture of food and material. In some extreme cases they might find it hard to identify the temperature which means that in extreme cases they can dress the wrong clothes and either over or under heat. It is therefore important and in some cases vital to understand the SPD of the person and check if the place they are in are safe.

Have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – People with PTSD relive the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, these can be triggered by many things including seeing, hearing or smelling something that makes them recall the event. It is not only important for people to seek help with this but also to where possible avoid environments which trigger the negative memories.

Stressed and anxious – People can become stressed and/or anxious for many reasons. The environment can add to their stress and/or anxiety levels as it can mean they have to not only process more information but the sights, sounds and smells could be physically painful for them to process and or as with PTSD trigger negative memories.

Imagine every time you are amongst other people you are struggling to hear or understand what people are saying. Imagine you are desperately trying to avoid bumping into or being touched by other people. Imagine you are in a place where you feel like you are being bombarded with noise and light. Imagine you are going about your daily life when you are suddenly overwhelmed by emotions. It is exhausting, isn’t it? These things can be hugely amplified for someone with conditions such as those listed above. Sensory safe spaces can provide a refuge and a place to recover.

A blue character lies on a long black bed. They have their hand up to their forehead as though they are stressed.
Being atypical can be exhausting

Useful for all

 Although safe spaces are usually designed for students whose reactions to the sensory environment are considered as “atypical”, all students can benefit from a quiet space. An opportunity to ‘take some time out’ can give any student a chance to reflect, calm and regroup. Moreover, sensory rooms and sensory safe spaces are not only aimed at students and children. They can also be designed to aid the needs of adults.

Point to ponder

When do you get most tired?

Which of your senses has been most stimulated when you feel this tired?

What do you need to do to recover?

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