Organising a sensory space on a budget

A small child peeking out from a playtent and smiling

This blog is part of a three-part series about sensory overload and sensory regulation. The first part discussed sensory overload: what it is, why it occurs, and what it can look like. The second blog was a video with my assistant: my youngest daughter ‘Monkey’, who helped me demonstrate some sensory play which can aid in sensory self-regulation. In this third part I wanted to look at how you can organise a sensory space on a tighter budget. I have included some links to some of the items I have bought. I do receive a small affiliate payment if you decide to buy any of these for your own use but am only linking to products I have bought for myself and which are suitable for setting up a space on a budget.

When fidget spinners hit the news a few years back as a mainstream toy, I can recall a few people whose accounts I followed in the neurodiversity community being quite annoyed; they felt that items that were needed for neurodiverse people to self regulate had been appropriated and treated as a toy. I have to say I didn’t actually agree; the sad truth of the matter is that as soon as you mark a product as ‘sensory’ or ‘autism’ or ‘special needs’, or indeed any of these specialist labels, you immediately hike the price up by a good amount. Since I don’t think that items like these, that a lot of neurodiverse people need to help live their every-day lives, should be sold at a premium, I was personally more than happy to see them on the mainstream market, in order to make it easier for everybody to access them. Besides, fidget spinners are now passé as far as the original hype went, so are now available fairly inexpensively or in more interesting forms. This means the price for people who still use them for self-regulation has lowered even more, plus there are lots of different designs available to make them appealing to a wide range of tastes or needs. As far as I can see everyone is a winner.

These days there are more possibilities to set up a sensory space on a lower budget. We are currently reorganising Monkey’s bedroom to use as a sensory room as well. In order to keep our costs down we are utilising mainstream resources, as well as making the room renovation a part of her birthday present with family assisting us by purchasing some of the items she can open, as presents for her. We have used a few of the bigger bargain stores like B&M, as well as online marketplaces or shops such as EBay or Amazon to source items that will mean we can do her room up for her at a cost affordable to us. Where I can support small business I do, and looking around you may find some of these items in smaller places as well.
To give you an idea of what you can put in a sensory room we have looked at the following

• A soft fluffy rug such as a faux sheepskin, we found for £12.99 online with free delivery
• Blackout curtains, we found online for £15.99
• A soft fluffy bed-throw in a local large bargain store for £6
• A soft furry pillow in a local large bargain store for £8
• A couple of soft bedding sets at a local large bargain store for £5 each
• Window LED lights, which you can find online for about £11 with a small remote
This forms the basic bare bones of your sensory room, with soothing fabrics and soft textures for sensory calming and some lights. In our case Monkey already had a bubble lamp, music box, and a few sensory toys.
You can find the bubble lamps online for under £30 and music boxes for less than £10 at online marketplaces such as E-bay or Amazon. Some of the other things we are adding to Monkey’s room are
• A bubble machine, we found online for £7.95 with free shipping
• An LCD writing tablet found online for £5.25 with free shipping
• Massage roller less than £10
• Now she has a phone with access to music it seemed a great idea to buy a wireless blue tooth speaker, we found one that also has a light and water show in a local bargain store for £20 but for children with phones or tablets you can find ones for even less if you look around, depending on whether you want lights and water or just a plain speaker.
• Monkey already has an electrical wax burner but for your older children or adults these can be found in the £20-£25 region
• We also are making an emotions card for her bedroom door with a series of faces and word descriptors, such as Happy, Angry etc, that she sticks an arrow on. We can then see where her head is at before even knocking on the door. You can find these online for as little as £6 but if you have a laminator and blue tack you can even make one yourself.
• Speaking of blu-tack….Great sensory toy with a pack costing less than 2 pound

A lot of fidget toys online now come in the £2-8 range; as I said earlier this is the benefit of them being mainstream, but to reduce your costs further you can usually buy sets that come with a mix of toys ranging from about £15 and up. You aren’t confined to spinners nowadays, there are fidget cubes or remotes, bike chain style flip rings or rollers, sticky or squishy balls, infinity cubes, pop tubes, stretchy tubes, floam, slime, and more. There are bubble sheets made of silicon that work the same way as bubble wrap but are re-useable again and again. You can also get toys or cushions with reversible sequins, these are often available in supermarkets and are very soothing; I managed to pick up a sequin dog in Asda for £3 in a sale so it is well worth keeping your eyes open.

As well as buying specific items you can make or adapt a lot of items yourself. Yoga balance cushions and stretch bands are available in lots of supermarkets or fitness shops at a low cost and are great for movement seekers. You can also make ‘smell pots’ quite inexpensively using small pots or jars where the lid is able to have small holes bored in it. We made ours with some cut up kitchen sponge soaked in some nice scents then glued the lids on. They lasted a really long time. But make sure you are in a well-ventilated area at the time of making them.

But the question has to be asked ‘What if you don’t have space to dedicate an entire room to being a sensory space’. Well you don’t have to completely abandon the idea; a few years ago we didn’t have the option to do an entire room for sleeping and sensory use, at that time she was also reluctant to spend time in her room on her own, something she now loves. So we organised a sensory space for Monkey instead; with a bit of work we rearranged our sitting-room to make room for a small child’s tent, of the kind sold in shops or places like Argos. It’s wasn’t ideal having a tee-pee in the communal space, but was worth it for Monkey to be able to make use of the space and have an enclosed area to decompress, whilst still having that closeness she craves.

It contained a soft blanket that was microfleece on one side and fluffy on the other so she could have either side on her skin. Along with a furry pillow and a stuffed toy (a Monkey obviously), it was somewhere with soft, calming textures for her to feel safe when was stressed. It also had a selection of fiddle toys along with squishies, squeezy toys and a tub of floam. We have also always had a way to carry sensory soothing objects on the move, such as her handbag where she keeps her spare sequin bracelets, fiddle toys and her ‘denders’ (ear defenders) in for sensory relief on the move so we kept the bag in her tent so she had somewhere to store them. The tent also had two flaps that could be tied back or kept down for seclusion.
Sensory spaces don’t always require a complete fortune to be spent on them, have specialist equipment or take up lots of room. Hopefully this has provided a few ideas for anybody on a tight budget who wants to provide an area dedicated to sensory soothing.

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