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Sensory overload occurs when something in our environment overstimulates one or more of our senses. One of the first experiences of sensory overload for many children can be on playgrounds. The bright colours, loud noises, crowds and lots of activity and movement can all suddenly create an overwhelming sense of too much information coming in.

This doesn’t mean that children prone to sensory overload don’t enjoy playgrounds. They love playing on all the fun equipment like any other kid. The only difference is that certain preventative measures and design approaches are required to make playgrounds accessible and enjoyable for these children. In this blog, we look at some of these design considerations and how we apply them in Australian playgrounds.

Managing Triggers in Design

Everyone has different triggers and coping strategies when it comes to sensory overload. It can, however, be helpful to understand some of the common triggers. This includes:

  • Bright colours
  • Decorative displays
  • Busy decor
  • Clutter
  • Big crowds
  • Loud noises
  • Being touched or bumped into
  • Certain textures, e.g. sand

Being aware of these common triggers when designing a playground is one of the best ways of managing sensory overload. For example, limit the colour palette and ensure play equipment is adequately spaced out to reduce overcrowding and bottlenecks.

Sensory Relief Spaces

Playgrounds also need to offer activities that help provide sensory relief, such as rest areas or soothing sensory activities. When children start feeling overwhelmed or showing signs of sensory overload, their guardian will often guide them away from busy areas of the playground towards activities that are soothing.

When these activities are available to children in playgrounds, they learn self-regulation and build their own confidence. For example, placing swings, cubbies and other play equipment a bit further away from the main area of the playground so they can be used as a retreat.  Or simply including landscape elements including flat lawn spaces or bushes that separate the play areas will help give children space.

Preventing sensory overload - playground design - Henley Brook
Cubbies – Henley Brook

Equipment to Include in Your Playground

Some play equipment to include to accommodate children with sensory issues include:

  • Cubbies: Cubbies can offer a quiet, safe retreat away from busy playground areas with lots of noise and movement. Children can enjoy the slower pace of imaginative play.
  • Swings, Carousels and Rockers: The gentle back and forth motion of vestibular equipment such as swings and rockers can assist children to become comfortable with motion.
  • Play Panels: Musical and play panels can provide gentle activities for children to explore at their own pace while engaging the mind and fine motor skills.

Rope structures, tunnels, picnic tables and other furniture can all serve as other spaces for children with sensory issues to relax, unwind, reset and enjoy play in a way that’s comfortable for them.

Preventing sensory overload - playground design3

Contact adventure+ for Accessible Playgrounds

At adventure+, we have extensive experience designing accessible, inclusive, high-quality playgrounds that cater to children with a variety of abilities and sensory needs.

Explore our range of playground projects to see some of our previous work. Together, we can discuss what play elements to include in your custom playground design to ensure it caters to children prone to sensory overload. Call us today on 1300 237 587 or contact us online to get started.

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