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Sensory Modulation can be used to change how a person feels through using their senses. This includes any items, activities, environments or that use sensory input. To give you some ideas, these are some examples:

  • using a rocking chair with an agitated person with dementia to assist them to calm.
  • sitting a pet on your lap when feeling sad
  • splashing  face with cold water when angry
  • walking in the bush to feel less stressed

As there are so many possible options, it is useful to ensure that Sensory Modulation is:

  • Safe: emotionally and physically
  • Appropriate: age, gender, culture, identity, environment, and affordability
  • Individualised: tailored to unique preferences
  • Meaningful: does the person know why it is being offered? Does it make sense to them?

A way to remember this guideline is SAIM.


Sensory modulation needs to be beneficial for the person using it and this includes being emotionally and physically safe.

Emotional safety means that clients need to feel that using sensory modulation is not traumatising, triggering, demeaning or punitive. A sensation may be ‘safe’ for one person but ‘noxious’ for another. Many people are aware of the sensations they find aversive.

Physical safety considerations including not causing injury or allergy to the person or other people.


Considerations for whether sensory modulation is appropriate, include the following


An appropriate sensory item for an adolescent is different to an appropriate sensory item for an adult or an elderly person. Some sensory modulation items are childish looking and can result in a person feeling embarrassed or insulted.


Some clients may feel that an item should only be used by a particular gender.

Culture and identity

Cultural considerations include religious, political, race and other belief systems.


Consider privacy, noise levels, sunlight, insects and access. What is appropriate in one environment may not necessarily be appropriate in another: for example, a lounge room versus a workplace.


In a hospital or medical environment, sensory modulation equipment may need to be durable and therefore more expensive. However, cheaper and more affordable substitutions should be available. It is important that a person can afford a sensory item if they find that it works for them, particularly so they can use such items at home. A range of low-cost options should be considered, including items found at dollar shops and op shops, and items that can be made. Sensory modulation can also occur without purchasing any equipment, through using everyday household items, natural settings and free parks and gym equipment.Innovative and inexpensive ways of making your own sensory modulation equipment are also available, with many great ideas available on the internet, Pinterest and you tube. (For example,


Each person will have different sensory modulation strategies that work for them. This is due to differences in the following:

  • sensory processing
  • past experiences
  • individual meaning attached to a particular item
  • current mood.


Orientation to the purpose of sensory items is crucial for them to be meaningful. Without context, asking someone to put a weighted pillow on their lap or dunk their head in icy water could be perceived as quite strange!

Sensory modulation is more effective when incorporated into daily occupations such as work, study, leisure, housekeeping, and self-care. A person is more likely to use sensory modulation if it becomes a routine in daily life, or if they use it while engaging in another activity.

We hope that using the SAIM guideline assists you with using Sensory Modulation. There are more details on using Sensory Modulation and SAIM in the book "Sensory Modulation Resource Manual"(2018).