Today we’re answering the question, “What is sensory regulation?” I’m talking to two occupational therapists who, together with their partner, have created the first interior design company that specializes in sensory-informed environments! I am so excited to welcome Robbie Levy and Ingrid Smith.
Occupational therapy is one of the most underutilized resources out there for parents of neurodivergent child and neurodivergent adults themselves, so I am so thrilled to offer this podcast episode today. We’re discussing:
- what occupational therapists like Robbie and Ingrid do
- what sensory regulation is and isn’t
- what our 8 senses are, and how they work
- how Robbie, Ingrid and co-founder Leigh developed a company offering sensory-friendly interior design based on their decades of experience as occupational therapists
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? Want to listen? This post is based off of Episode 44 of the Neurodiverging Podcast! Listen on Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Youtube
- Learn more about SensaRooms: http://www.sensarooms.com/
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As a leading Pediatric Occupational Therapist for almost four decades, Robbie Levy has devoted her career to families with children of all abilities. She is the Owner and Founder of Dynamic Kids, a group of over 20 therapists which provides services in two private offices, public/parochial schools and preschools throughout Westchester County and the surrounding area. She has been a direct therapist, practice owner, mentor, university professor, author and national lecturer. Her passion and expertise in the field of sensory processing and integration, play, motor development and parenting has led her to this new venture. Robbie is always developing new programs, designing equipment and aiding in improved regulation at home, school and in the community. She is very excited to bring her expertise to SensaRooms.
Ingrid Smith is an Occupational Therapist with over 30 years of experience. She treats children in their homes and at schools and facilities Westchester County, Greenwich and Stamford CT. Ingrid has special training in Sensory Integration, motor function in infants and children, sensory and motor feeding, hand function, and organizational skills. She supervises occupational therapy students and leads specialized groups to help children with developmental skills. Using innovative methods, she is able to help children develop adaptive skills needed for playing and working independently. Ingrid works in collaboration with teams of therapists, and values parents as vital members of the team. In her spare time Ingrid loves to develop and create sensory-based activities and learning aids for the children under her care. Outside her profession, Ingrid has applied her creativity in the design of several private and public spaces. The SensaRooms collaboration utilizes Ingrid’s interpersonal skills, her therapeutic abilities, and her love of art and design.
Transcript: What Is Sensory Regulation? with Occupational Therapists Robbie Levy and Ingrid Smith of SensaRooms
(Thank you to Justice Ross for their beautiful transcription of this episode!)
SULLIVAN: Welcome to the podcast, Robbie and Ingrid, it’s so nice to have you here on Neurodiverging! How are you doing today?
SMITH: We’re great! Thank you.
SULLIVAN: “Super,” that’s a good answer. I like that. So, you are both occupational therapists for many years, and you have a really cool new project with SensaRooms where you’re working with interior designers to make sensory-friendly spaces. So I think today we’re talking a lot about: What does occupational therapy look like? What can we get from it? And then you’re gonna tell us about your project, I hope, right, at the end.
SULLIVAN: So, can we start with, just— I don’t know which order you’d like to go in, but could you give us a little bit about yourselves, and who you are and what you do?
All About Ingrid Smith and Robbie Levy of SensaRooms
SMITH: Sure. I’m Ingrid Smith. I— We live in New York, and I’ve been working as a pediatric occupational therapist for over 30 years, probably 34 or something like that. I’ve done home care in New York and Connecticut for probably 25-30 years, and then I’ve been working with Robbie at Dynamic Kids in Hartsdale, New York, for… 14 years? (Levy nods.) About 14 years, I would say, as a senior therapist.
SULLIVAN: Good run.
SMITH: And it’s really— I love the combination of being able to be in people’s homes and help them with the day-to-day adjustments that they have when they have a child with some special needs, and then also the opportunity to use all the wonderful equipment in Dynamic Kids, and work as a community together, and have our team there as well. So yeah, it’s wonderful. And I have training in sensory integration, and, you know, developmental treatment and fine motor coordination, splinting… (Turns to Levy.) What else do I have training in?
SMITH: Feeding, yes, I do a lot of specialized feeding.
SULLIVAN: Oh, that’s great. Yeah.
SMITH: And I work with 0-5 primarily, but I do see some older kids also.
SMITH: So yeah. I’m big with the 2-year-old set.
SULLIVAN: That’s a cute age, isn’t it? Yeah. And you can see a lot of—
SMITH: Mm-hm! Busy.
SULLIVAN: Oh gosh, so busy. And also, I just always liked how— Well, my kids were in OT when they were toddlers, preschoolers, and you could see changes, so dramatically, in a very short period. And so it is very—
SMITH: One of the reasons I love it [is] because that they change so much in such a short period of time; they all do. You know, they all come out better for it. So it’s a great career to be involved in, for sure.
SULLIVAN: It’s a great age. Yeah.
SMITH: Yeah, absolutely.
SULLIVAN: And how about you, Robbie?
LEVY: So, I’m Robbie Levy. I’ve been a pediatric occupational therapist for over 40 years, and right now I’m the owner and director of Dynamic Kids, which is a multidisciplinary OT/PT/speech program in Westchester County, New York. We see kids in the office as well as in local preschools and school districts, private schools, in our area. My specialties are like Ingrid’s; I also have a lot of advanced training in DIRFloortime, I’m SI certified, Therapeutic Listening, Interactive Metronomes, splinting, Kinesio Taping, fine motor, so. If you’re in this field long enough, you kind of get to all those advanced certifications. And I also love the little ones, but I do love the older ones as well. And right now, I’ve been seeing kids that are slightly older than I had for a while. That’s kind of exciting too.
LEVY: And so, we are very busy now, post-pandemic—
LEVY: Which, I’m calling it “post” because I’m trying to be optimistic. And we’re seeing a lot of kids with self-regulation, co-regulation issues, sensory issues, that have expanded because of the situation the last 2 years.
LEVY: And then, Ingrid and I started our SensaRooms— Even though we were in the planning stages, we actually launched in February of 2020, and then COVID hit. So it was a very interesting time, and we were finding that people really need to think about their whole environment, especially their home if they’re gonna be there as often as they have been, and the role that that plays in their regulation and their organizational skills and focus.
LEVY: So we have a lot to talk about today, so we’re excited to be here.
SULLIVAN: Yes! I’m so excited. When you both reached out, I was so excited, because listeners know: I love occupational therapy. It is, like, my favorite thing to recommend to everybody, for better or worse. And I think there’s so much value—
SMITH: Ours too.
What is occupational therapy, and what does regulation mean?
SULLIVAN: I bet. (All laugh.) And I think there’s so much value in that kind of work, so I’m very excited to talk to you. So, could we— There were a couple things that I think maybe listeners could use definitions for, if you don’t mind. One is, I know you could write papers and books and books about this, but could you briefly tell us what occupational therapy does or is for? Or a little bit about what it is? Which I know is hard.
And then, we want to talk about regulation, right? And emotional and co-regulation strategies, which you mentioned. Can we talk about what regulation means?
LEVY: I think that people tend to over-use the word “self-regulation.” So, in our field, we work with much younger students and clients, so we really are often starting out in the co-regulation period. Right? So, one of the things that you need for co-regulation is you need a warm and responsive interaction or environment.
And, you know, there’s a lot of parenting blogs out there, and parenting strategies, and things like that. And some of them, lately, I’ve noticed, have gotten a little harsh with how they respond or talk about what you should do with kids in terms of picking them up, and there’s one group now that says you shouldn’t sing.
That is the opposite of what we do in occupational therapy. We are very responsive, and help parents to be very responsive to their babies from the get-go, because each child has to be understood in what their neurology is, and what their responses are, and what helps to soothe them. So we’re providing a supportive coaching and modeling experience for them, so if it’s not intuitive to the parent or caregiver what to do, you know, we help provide that.
So you might have one kid where they’re gonna soothe with sucking. So that provides the tactile and the proprioceptive input into the mouth and the jaw. But another child might self-soothe with gentle rocking and light holding.
SMITH: Or music, or singing.
LEVY: Yeah, all sorts of different kinds of things. So really, that beautiful period when you first come home from birthing your child, whether at the hospital or home— Those first few weeks is really to get to know your child. And what their temperament is, what their sensory status [is]. (Unintelligible)* Know that there’s no right or wrong with that. It is what it is. So if you have multiple children, you know that they’re different.
SULLIVAN: They’re very different.
LEVY: Right? You’re the same person, but your kids come out differently, and we have to respond to them that way. So, we also help families to read the cues, right? We want to look at our kids, and we want to say, “Ok, are they getting underaroused? What can we do to increase their arousal? Are they getting overwhelmed, and what could we do before there is a meltdown, to get them back into a more regulated state?” But they’re not doing it independently, because they don’t have the ability yet, cognitively.
SMITH: Also how they’re responding to you.
SMITH: What are they doing when they are responding? How are they responding? Everybody’s different in how they react to other people in their lives.
SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. Yeah.
LEVY: So that’s what we try to do. We try to really look, as occupational therapists, differently than maybe some other professions that might be looking at behavior as an end product. We’re looking at what causes a child to act a certain way.
SMITH: What are they trying to tell us?
SULLIVAN: Yeah, the communication.
LEVY: Because they’re not speaking to us, so they’re telling us through their bodies what they need, what they don’t need, that they need some time to just decompress, do they need some time to be stimulated, and what system is best to do that in. But the underlying piece for those early months, and really years, is that they need to feel safe and in a warm and trusting environment. Because otherwise, that input comes with baggage. And they can’t trust that that input is going to work for them—
LEVY: —and that could lead to some kind of trauma. So we want them to, you know, really feel safe and comfortable so they can be in a co-regulated situation.
SULLIVAN: Thank you so much, Robbie.
LEVY: Yeah. And then when they’re older, Ingrid’s gonna tell you about more regulation!
SMITH: Well, but also, I mean, we have to keep in mind that there are kids that start out that are not able to be in that type of situation with their family, either due to medical conditions, or feeding conditions, or something that makes their early first few days or weeks very difficult.
SMITH: And that everything that they’re not exposed to my necessarily be comfortable, and may not always be the breast, and the body, and the skin, and the bottle. It’s often too (Unintelligible)*, or loud sounds, or something that’s going to make it difficult for Obviously, lifesaving.
SULLIVAN: Yes, but—
SMITH: But also dysregulating to them. So they sort of have to start back at the beginning, and we have to look at that carefully when we’re working with a child, is: what— how did everything start? You know, what was going on at the very beginning? And, you know, sometimes there is a significant history, sometimes not, but it’s always important to keep that in mind when we’re working with kids and helping them regulate.
What are our 8 senses and what do they do?
SULLIVAN: Yeah. Thank you. Ok! And Robbie, you mentioned proprioception. And I know some folks might not be familiar with that, but we have 8 senses, and I think you’re gonna help us understand: What are our 8 senses and what do they do?
LEVY: Ok, so. I think that most people think there’s 5. Because, you know, we talk about “our 5 senses, our 5 senses.” And the teachers in a classroom, and also most people in the world, tend to use vision and hearing, so visual and auditory. And that’s how most kids are taught in school, right? Through their vision (Unintelligible)*.
SMITH: Sometimes touch.
LEVY: Sometimes touch. Sometimes a little of that.
SULLIVAN: The little ones, yeah.
LEVY: But— Yeah, the little ones. If they go to the right preschool. Or have the right family situation. But, you know, like, they’re not little adults. So they need to use all their senses. They need to use all 8. And so the newest one that’s out there, the 8th one—because there had been 7 for a very, very long time—is called interoception, and that’s the feedback you get internally from your organs. You know, when someone says I feel my heart racing, that’s interoception.
LEVY: Hunger! I feel that hunger. Or going to the bathroom, I feel that I have to go to the bathroom or not go to the bathroom.
LEVY: Most of our interoception we’re not supposed to pay much attention to, because if we paid attention to the blood rushing through our veins and arteries, and all that kind of stuff, and our neurons moving around, we really wouldn’t be able to pay attention to anything else.
SULLIVAN: (Laughs.) Yes.
LEVY: Right? But you want to have a little bit of good interoception in terms of, you know, not holding your bladder until it’s too late. We see a lot of that with our kids. Or every time they feel something, they feel like they have to go to the bathroom, that’s not great either. So we want it to be, you know, like, the right amount of responsiveness in interoception.
But the other 2 that OTs work with a lot that we don’t think about all the time are proprioceptive and vestibular.
So, vestibular is your movement system. And how that plays into your learning is really important for your motor systems, but it’s also important in terms of your relationship to space and gravity. So that plays a role in all your early spatial development when you’re a little kid and crawling around, and going over and under. How you feel about being off the ground; is it scary to you? It’s not supposed to be. So we work with a lot of kids where that’s a scary thing for them.
LEVY: And so, they don’t want to be picked up. So let’s say, you know, grandma and grandpa come over and they pick you up and throw you up in the air… If your vestibular system’s off, that could be really, really upsetting to you.
LEVY: And you could get very dysregulated. And when people don’t understand that, you misinterpret it in a way that it’s not meant to be. Like, oh, the child doesn’t like me, or why is your child misbehaving; we hear a lot of parent-shaming. You know, for those kinds of things.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
SMITH: And these poor kids. How difficult is your life when you can’t even trust gravity?
SMITH: You know. This is a huge thing, and they don’t even— The kids don’t realize it, the families don’t realize it, but if it affects every move you make and everything you do, and you’re not doing it sufficiently or in a regulated way, and nobody can understand why you’re having trouble, that’s really hard for everybody involved.
SULLIVAN: It creates a lot of stress, yeah. Yeah. That’s a lot of my family’s experience and my own experience—with having different senses or not getting that intervention early enough, and then having people not understand why it’s hard. So I have a lot of empathy for kids going through that, yeah. Yeah.
LEVY: I think unders— I’ll tell you about proprioception in one second.
LEVY: But I think having outside people— You know, during COVID, we didn’t see a lot of people, so we didn’t have to explain a lot of things to our extended families and our extended friends groups. But hopefully, now, we’re getting back into that, and that’s gonna be, like, really important. For you to understand, as the caregiver, what your child’s— you know, where they are on the continuum with each sensory system, so that you can explain it.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. Mm-hm.
LEVY: But if no one knows that, then you really can’t, right? So when people come to us, a lot of times— You know, OTs used to be known as handwriting ladies.
LEVY: That was what we were called, right? “Let’s send them to the handwriting ladies.” But the area that we really specialize in is that sensory, behavioral, and motor development, and how all those things kind of tie in together to make us who we are.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. Yeah. It’s really interesting stuff. I didn’t know about interoception until I was an adult. And I have, I don’t know how you would frame it in OT language, but I don’t get hunger cues very well, and I don’t get thirst cues very well, so I guess I’m very under-responsive to a lot of those things.
LEVY: Right, yeah.
SULLIVAN: And it caused so much trouble as a young adult! Just because I didn’t— Now I know, so I have timers set up, and things to remind me to eat, or drink, or go to the bathroom, or whatever. But when I was younger, I didn’t have any of those methods set up. And I didn’t understand why basic things, like remembering to drink water, were so difficult for me compared to other people. And so just being aware that these senses exist, I feel like, can make a huge difference.
SMITH: You’re not the only one, yeah.
SULLIVAN: Yeah! Because it’s— You know, like you said, the traditional 5 senses. Like, vision, everybody sort of understands what information you’re supposed to get from that sense and how you’re supposed to use it. But the kind of “newer,” quote-unquote, 3 that are not taught in kindergarten… I think there’s still a lot of misunderstanding or poor understanding that they even exist, so then how are you supposed to know how to use them properly?
SULLIVAN: So I just think it’s so interesting. So I really appreciate you coming on and explaining this for us.
So, what did we miss?
LEVY: And then the prop— We missed proprioception.
LEVY: You wanted to talk a little bit about that one?
SMITH: Yeah. Proprioception has to do with getting input into your joints of your body, and getting increased sensory input can help make you much calmer. Having heavy work and hard things to do, difficult things to do, can be actually very calming for kids—
SMITH: —so we will do a movement activity, and then we’ll follow it by a heavy deep pressure activity, where— We have people that think that, if a kid is running around all over the place, that they need to be moving more and moving more. But that’s not always the case. They could be running around because they’re super disorganized, and they’re not getting the right input and knowing where their body is by getting that heavy work into their joints.
SMITH: Or having some type of heaviness or pressure put on them. So it’s sort of like, you know, getting a big hug. You know, a big hug is really comforting, and it makes you feel safer, and having that type of work in a more functional, movable situation can help kids a lot with feeling more grounded, and help with their attention, and get them from a place of overstimulation to regulation.
SULLIVAN: Thank you.
LEVY: And the other interesting thing about sensory is, even if you aren’t a sensory kid, you know, or having sensory issues, sensory techniques—which is part of why we started SensaRooms—can help you anyway. So the sensory isn’t just for people who are over or under registered, but it’s also for everyone, because no one’s static.
SULLIVAN: Yes. (Laughs)
LEVY: So even, you know, we don’t stay in one spot on a continuum, we’re always going up and down, so. You know, I always think of the example of, you know, someone cutting you off on the highway, right? And if you’re in more regulated state at that moment, you’re gonna react one way. But if you got into the car and you were upset about something, or you hadn’t slept well, or you’re not feeling well, and you’re not as regulated as you could be, and then somebody cuts you off on the road, you could have an outrageous response, right?
LEVY: And I think that we forget how important understanding where we are throughout the day can be helpful in managing our focus, our attention, our behavior, our reactions. Yeah, even our thinking. So, I think it’s important. That’s, you know— And then the flipside is that OT is just so much fun.
SULLIVAN: It is. It is! Even just bringing my kids.
LEVY: Like, it’s just so much fun.
SULLIVAN: I was always just like, I want to do that! Yeah.
SMITH: Well, I think— (To Sullivan) I know.
Well, you know, even adults also have their own form of sensory regulation that we don’t even realize we’re doing. I mean, even in a classroom or a board meeting, or something, people are straightening out paper clips, they’re flicking rubber bands, they’re doodling. If they’re starting to fall asleep, they might start drinking ice water or chewing gum.
The temperature of the room affects their learning style. The style of the person who’s talking can affect how they’re regulating. If the person’s speaking fast, it may, you know, wake them up, and if they’re low and droning, it can, you know, cause them to sort of get a little distracted. So everybody’s doing it all the time. And everybody’s also doing it— In SensaRooms, [we asked] like, what can we do to make that more productive for everybody?
SMITH: How can we make this more— because we’re all doing it. We all have our own sensitive being, we’re all sensitive beings, and we need to figure out what’s the best environment for us.
SULLIVAN: I work with late-diagnosed autistics and ADHDers, mostly, so people who got to adulthood without getting identified. And a lot of us have sensory differences and—until it’s pointed out to us that the way we respond to, say, auditory stimuli or tactile input, is different—a lot of us just don’t even think about it.
I think that we’re so used to thinking, “Oh, your senses just perceive information.” And we don’t think about what happens after that in our brain, in terms of how we regulate ourselves, or co-regulate with other people.
But I used to have massive meltdowns, just because I would get… not… like, emotionally overwhelmed, and other things were going on, but a lot of it was sensory overwhelm, just having it be too noisy and getting overwhelmed from that, and not being able to filter through that. Or being required by work, or by housekeeping or children, to touch stuff that made me like “Aah!” And then not knowing how to de-escalate that feeling before it kind of went into overwhelm.
And so I just think, even though it might seem obvious that we’re all sensory beings, it was something I really hadn’t thought of until I got my identification. Because it just seemed like something that should run itself, like your body should just do it. And it’s like, no, actually, I have to think about this quite a lot.
SMITH: Yeah. Yeah. I know. It’s definitely— Bringing it back to yourself, I think, makes it easier for you to understand the children that we’re working with, or that you may know in your lives, or your own children, when you see how it affects yourself.
At the office, we have a large therapy gym, a large treatment room, and last year we decided to put up a whole bunch of glow-in-the-dark stars. And a lot of times when the kids are overwhelmed, for a couple minutes at the end of our time in there, we’ll dim the lights, set them in a nice safe place, and have them just look at the stars. And everyone’s quiet, and they’re counting them, and they’re looking; we have 2 moons, so they’re looking at the moons. And I tell you, I love it as much as the kids love it. Because I’ve had a very long day, and things are really busy, and just those 2 minutes to just take a deep breath, and wind down, and just look at the stars, is just so healing, and so refreshing to do.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. That sounds beautiful.
SMITH: But I— Right, it is great.
LEVY: And also, the sensory— We don’t talk as much about being under-responsive. We talk a lot about being over-responsive.
LEVY: I think it’s [that] we don’t think about it as much. When people talk about being overstimulated, it’s usually that they’re over-responsive, but you can be overstimulated when you’re under-responsive with a sensory system as well.
So that’s sort of an interesting point that we forget, and we also forget about how different manifestations in people don’t always come from an emotional place or a behavioral place. A lot of times they, at least from our point of view, come from a sensory base. So you can see a child who looks really tired a lot, and lethargic, and you’re brought in to consult, and sometimes, obviously, you have to rule out anything biological or physiological— you know, that there’s something wrong with them medically—
LEVY: But sometimes, not always, sometimes they’re really under-responsive, and it manifests itself as decreased arousal and this sort of low-affect, lethargic, tired-looking person. And sometimes, with just the right sensory input, they kind of perk up.
LEVY: You know? Sometimes for short periods of time, and sometimes, if you give them the right sensory lifestyle—we’re not big on “sensory diet,” we call it a sensory lifestyle—if you give somebody the right sensory lifestyle throughout the week, not just in OT, you can see some really big changes in people. Like, really big. So we really believe in what we do, and we have amazing outcomes in our kids, and so we wanted to bring that into that SensaRooms project that we did. So it’s exciting.
What is SensaRooms and how does it work?
SULLIVAN Yeah. Yeah! Can we talk about that for a little bit? So— Explain it to me. We talked about it a little bit.
SMITH: So— I’ll say how it came to be.*
SULLIVAN: Yes! Beautiful.
SMITH: Robbie and I have talked about doing a project together for a long time and have actually come up with some physical things that we eventually want to put out, but we’ve talked about doing a number of different things, apps and projects and things, right.
SULLIVAN: There’s so many cool ideas in the world.
SMITH: There’s so many different ways we can go, yeah.
SMITH: And then our co-founder, Leigh Fludd-Smith, is an interior designer, and I’ve known her for a long time, probably almost 20 years or so. She and I had been talking about doing something together as well. We got together, and I forget how the idea originally came to us, but the 3 of us got together and realized that nobody is doing this, and people don’t understand how impactful this can be in your life. To have somebody who is a professional OT, who can help meet all the sensory needs, and a designer, who can help meet all the aesthetic needs, work together. As far as we researched for the idea, nobody was doing that. (Unintelligible)*
We use a lot of questionnaires with them, interviews, and things that we provided ourselves, and have consultations, and then we also can provide a full gamut of purchasing products and re-doing an entire space as an interior designer would, working with Leigh, also. So far we’re the only ones that have done that. We have done office space, we have done children’s bedrooms, play places, and we are now branching out into a day treatment facility.
SULLIVAN: Oh, wonderful.
SMITH: We’ve actually done 2 day treatment facilities. So it’s looking at what a whole group would benefit from sensory-wise. And we had said before: You can get OTs that can put up a whole bunch of equipment in a room, and say “Ok, this is your space,” and it ends up looking like a therapy room. Or you can have an interior designer who puts in a lot of textured fabric and muted colors, and says “Here, this is our sensory-friendly space,” where we are looking at all 8 aspects of your sensory system, and how it’s going to help you meet the goals that you’re trying to meet in your day. Whether it be trying to get to sleep at night, or trying to get your child to sleep, trying to get you to focus in your classroom, trying to get a number of people to work together cooperatively without having any breaks or meltdowns, or having as few as possible.
LEVY: Especially with the pandemic, we’ve noticed a lot of people advertising services that are very different from ours. That “sensory” is such a buzz word now that you see a lot of interior designers saying that they’re doing sensory-friendly places, but they have no OT on staff.
LEVY: And then, you see a lot of OTs developing, or at least offering to develop, spaces, but they’re not living spaces, they’re more developing rooms that are like treatment rooms. Whether you live in an apartment and it’s your living room, or you live in a house and it’s your basement, doesn’t matter. But we’re looking at living spaces, and doing things that are aesthetically pleasing throughout your senses to sort of maintain your regulation, and also to meet the goals of that room.
So, what Ingrid said about sleeping: We did this one bedroom where the child couldn’t fall asleep at night. And, you know, there were legitimate reasons. But by designing the room in a certain way, using the family’s aesthetics—you know, some people like mid-century, and some people like farm, and some—
SMITH: The little girl, she wanted purple and pink, and—
SMITH: One [part] of it included carving out literally an attic space within the room, where we had a lot of cozy things in there for her—things to look at, and things to touch, and things to play with—that was a little bit closed off from the rest of her room. So when she did become overwhelmed, and became dysregulated, she had a space to go into within her own room.
SMITH: Also includes specifically what helped with her tactile system, and the lighting, and the colors, and the arrangement of the furniture, and the—
LEVY: And the smells.
SMITH: And the smells—
SULLIVAN: Oh yeah.
SMITH: —and the scent (Unintelligible)*, you know, what used to get her to sleep at night. And it’s been really successful. That’s the type of thing we’re [doing].
SULLIVAN: That’s so exciting.
SMITH: And we did a nursery also, right, for (Unintelligible)*.
LEVY: And we took into consideration what the family wanted in terms of color scheme. Now, if they pick a color scheme that doesn’t meet the needs of, of—
SULLIVAN: The kiddo.
LEVY: —of their kiddo, then we have to work with them to…
SMITH: Plaid, and stripes, and bright colors, you know, doesn’t really work.
LEVY: Yeah, doesn’t always work for how we actually… Like, it’s pretty.
LEVY: And it’s great in a playroom, but a lot of people don’t realize that a baby’s nursery needs to be calmer for sleeping. So it’s sort of the opposite of what people sometimes want to do to decorate. It’s (not?*) always what your sensory system needs to (Unintelligible)* needs in that room. Now, when a baby gets bigger and they’re playing more in their room, versus just sleeping in their room, then you can do something a little bit different. So we take the age, we take the developmental stage they’re in, we look at all the sensory systems. And if it’s a shared room, we have to kind of meet the mean of everyone, like we did in the 2 group spaces that we did.
SULLIVAN: Yeah, yeah!
LEVY: But also provide alternatives. And sometimes, you need to put those noise-canceling headphones on, while the other person in the room wants louder music to stay regulated.
LEVY: Everybody needs something different, and we try, as occupational therapists with a sensory background, to analyze that and then make the recommendations. And hopefully they follow through on them.
SMITH: We’ve also been incorporating a lot of nature—a lot of plants, a lot of water features—in spaces that we’re using, because it’s really very calming to people. If you spend a lot of time indoors, it’s nice to have a little bit of the outdoors with you. And then we can play around with the scents, and the textures, and the positioning of them, of those features in there. So that’s another great thing that we love to do.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. It’s all so nice! I feel like people—
SMITH: And sensory art! We also do sensory art. Sorry.
SMITH: Like, we do textured art, and textured fabrics, and—yeah. That’s actually one of the things that we’re starting to make, is textured wall hangings, and quilts that are according to texture, not necessarily… it’s colored too, but the texture is something that is pleasing to them. And it works for young adults and older adults. I made one for a senior citizen who has had limited vision and she absolutely loved it, because it was something that she could engage with at the level that she really needed. She could see it, but not in detail, but the way it felt was wonderful. And then you can weight it or not weight it to give them proprioceptive input.
SULLIVAN: I love that idea. I am very texture-oriented, personally—
SMITH: Us too.
SULLIVAN: —and spend a lot of time kind of, like… If I need to ground myself, or I’m getting overwhelmed, I’m always going to, “What can I touch to make me feel more comfortable, and safe, and confident?”
SMITH: For sure!
SULLIVAN: And it’s really hard sometimes, to find non-ugly things that feel nice! And so I like that there are—
SMITH: Right? We work very hard on making not-ugly things.
SULLIVAN: Yeah, I bet!
SULLIVAN: Yeah. Yeah, it’s—
LEVY: Non-ugly-things OT.
LEVY: I have to say that Ingrid is extraordinarily creative. She loves making things.
SMITH: I do.
LEVY: She comes from a mother who loves to make things. And, you know, we try to design things as much as we can, but on the other hand there’s a lot of cool things out there that we know about that maybe a lot of other people don’t, so we use that expertise to guide us. But, you know, it is interesting because I think, with sensory being so popular now, there’s a little over-generalization of what people should do and what people should use. So there’s things out there, and not everybody should have them. It doesn’t always work for you.
LEVY: And I think that one-size-fits-all… It’s nice to tell people that things are out there, that’s great, but we bring a much more personalized service to people of what works for you, or mainly works for you.
LEVY: And also to know that maybe you have different things that work with you depending on what state you’re in, and getting to understand that. Maybe sometimes you need smooth, but then sometimes you need textured. And, you know, when is that, and how do you learn about yourself?
So it’s a way to grow for yourself as well. I think that’s one of the biggest things that I love about being an OT, especially with younger kids, is that aha moment you have with families where you give them sort of an explanation of something that they just don’t understand and then some strategies on what to do about it. And—
SMITH: And they work.
LEVY: And they work.
SULLIVAN: And they work!
LEVY: Yeah. And they work. Most of the time, most of the time.
SULLIVAN: That was certainly our experience, yeah.
LEVY: Yeah! And I think that that’s so rewarding, which is why I think I’ll never retire, because it’s just such a rewarding thing to do, to provide that. Because a lot of times, parents come in, and they’re overwhelmed, and they’re angry, and they’re frustrated—
SMITH: And scared.
LEVY: And scared. Yeah!
SULLIVAN: “And scared” was me. It’s like, my kid was doing things that were not intentionally self-harming but causing self-harm. And it was just like, I need to figure out how to make her not jump off of high things, and how to not run away in parking lots, and—yeah.
LEVY: Right. Yeah, safety awareness is a big issue for kids who have sensory issues.
SULLIVAN: Oh my gosh, yeah.
LEVY: And there are things that you can do to help, and they’re not one-size-fits-all. And that’s why going to a skilled therapist is really critical.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. No, it was nothing I could have done by myself.
LEVY: And then designing your space!
SULLIVAN: And then designing space! And that’s been actually huge for my children too, on our side. Because we do have the sort of, how did you phrase it, the therapy room our basement has been turned into. Which is fine for us. But it’s got a climbing wall, and there’s a swing, and there’s all this stuff happening. But in the future, when they’re a little older, it would be nice to integrate some of that into the space in a way that’s more fluid, and doesn’t just look like a jungle gym in one room.
LEVY: Right, right.
SULLIVAN: But figuring out their— It took me so long, and it’s still not perfect, to figure out what colors their room had to be, what kind of white noise we needed, did they even want white noise, did we need a fan, is it too hot or too cold? All that sort of stuff, where a professional can come in and you have all those resources from years and years of experience, and you just say, “Oh, I know right away.” That’s so valuable.
SMITH: Yeah. And we’ve created certain questions that we can choose from for our families and the professionals, about not just your favorite colors, but what your routine is. How are you when you wake up in the morning? Is it difficult to go to sleep at night? What do you like to eat? You know, just to give us a whole picture of the person, not just “I like blue” or “I like soft things.” Which, you know, great, that’s part of it too! But, you know, getting a whole, general picture of this person, so that you can help design what’s gonna work for them in different ways, too.
Where Can I Find Out More About SensaRooms?
SULLIVAN: Thank you! Where can people learn more about SensaRooms and find you?
SMITH: Well, the best information about what we’re all about can be found on sensarooms.com, which is our website.
SMITH: We are also on Instagram, @sensarooms, where we also have some products that we sell, we have some descriptors in there, and we share ideas on Instagram. And then, if you want to reach us, you can reach us at email@example.com. So we’ve kind of cornered the market on the word, and we’re using it for everything.
SULLIVAN: It makes it a lot easier!
SMITH: And Facebook! I’m on Facebook. We’re also SensaRooms on Facebook as well.
SULLIVAN: Oh, good! Ok!
SMITH: So definitely, you can email us, you can reach out on Instagram, you can check out our site and see what’s— So, we do everything from small consultations to the whole gamut of designing a whole room with the vendors and everything else; we’re working on one of those right now. And it’s, I think, reasonable for families to do the consultation; certainly as far as a designer price point it’s very reasonable. And you’re getting the expertise of 3 people that are working really well together on this, so.
SULLIVAN: And have been doing it for a very long time. That’s wonderful.
SULLIVAN: I’ll put links in the description, folks, so please check them out.
SMITH: Oh, also, Robbie is the head of Dynamic Kids. That’s the therapy facility in Hartsdale, New York. And then I also have a link to my Etsy site, where I do have some of my sensory art, and that’s ShiningOnTheSea, Etsy.
SMITH: Yeah! And I’ll be re-doing some of the stuff that’s on Instagram, I’ll be putting on ShiningOnTheSea. And then, our co-founder Leigh is a founder of Hudson Smith Interiors.
SMITH: And she has some great stuff. And she does a lot of hands-on things as well, so she’s great.
LEVY: We are 3 busy women.
SULLIVAN: Yeah, it sounds like it! You’ve got a lot going on. So I’ll put all of those links in the show notes, then.
SULLIVAN: So come check them out.
LEVY: Great, thank you.
SULLIVAN: Thank you so much, Ingrid and Robbie, for being here. I really appreciate your expertise, and—
SMITH: Thank you, Danielle!
LEVY: Thanks for having us; it was a pleasure.
SMITH: I hope we can stay in touch, because it’s great talking to you. And hold on, we were— (Turns camera down toward the side of Levy’s chair, revealing a dog.) Meeko, come say hi.
SULLIVAN: (Gasp) Hey, pupper!
SMITH: There! Meeko! Come say hi.
LEVY: Hi! Now you’re gonna be shy?
SULLIVAN: Meeko, you did wonderfully. You did such a good job.
(Levy offers Meeko a treat.)