Fiber Optic Comb Project

Benefits of Fiber Optics in a Sensory Space

Fiber optic lights are essentially LED lights and are silent, compact and stimulate different senses making them a must have in your sensory room. When creating your sensory room or environment it’s important to consider what equipment you require as space can usually prove to be an issue. Utilizing every inch of your room is key to achieving the best possible experience for children and adults alike.

Fiber optics provide a stimulating, yet safe, interaction without electricity or heat, offering a number of benefits of fiber optic light for children. The interaction is relaxing, bright, and colorful, and it encourages cause and effect education. Additionally, sensory fiber optics can be used to entice individuals to interact with their sensory room environment. Tristan was already engaged with his sensory zen den but with this new addition, he has gone back to playing in his room much more.

Sensory Rooms
A sensory room is a specially designed room that stimulates sight, touch, taste, smell, sound, and movement senses. By stimulating the senses, the development of thought, intelligence, and social skills are encouraged. Equipment such as bubble columns, projectors casting images, colored optic fibers to touch and see, sound, aroma distributors, vibrating furniture, and equipment switches for interaction can be used to create the multisensory environment that engages and calms those who enter. 

Sensory Room Benefits
Cognitive and mobility limitations create obstacles to enjoyment of life. Not only does a sensory room bring about a calming effect on users, but it also produces basal stimulation for the neurologically impaired. Other effects are increased concentration and attention, relief from pain, and improved communication. Awareness is heightened and the senses can be reactivated. Improved coordination and motor development and increased brain function and cognitive development are also realized in a multisensory environment. Users of sensory rooms will notice that they feel happier and have fun while in an environment that stimulates the senses, and this produces an effect that improves creativity and leads to communication. 

Using LEDs in a Sensory Environment
Sensory rooms should be places of warmth, comfort, and security that is free from distraction. Since over-head lighting can be a source of distraction, LEDs are recommended for lighting because they are safe, able to be touched, and provide ambience. Wall mounted lights are ideal for providing an extra source of light along with visual and tactile stimulation. Changing colored lights on the walls immerse the space in soft colored light that help promote relaxation, creating an atmospheric ambience. 

The sensory benefits

Touch 🖐️

  • Feel the different strands of the fiber optics, either bunched up or individually.
  • Users can hold and drape the strands around themselves, the touching sense may work better in different places for users. Make sure you try the arms, back and hands to get an idea of what is enjoyed by the user.
  • The user can feel each strand individually, this could prove to be a much more calming experience as sensory overload may occur when too many strands are presented.
  • Using a cascading fiber optic chandelier, the user has the benefit of immersing themselves under the strands by laying on soft-play or a bean bag or in our case, a bed frame!

Hear 👂

  • Rustling the strands together creates a unique noise.
  • Lightly stroking the strands over the user’s clothes will amplify rustling sound noises.

See 👁️

  • The different colors of the lights can stimulate the senses. The user can call out colors and match them to other objects or equipment in the room.
  • Remember using one strand can be just as effective in stimulating the seeing sense. Depending on the user, a bunch of strands together may produce a sensory overload.
  • The strands can be separated or “fanned” out on the floor. This encourages the user to create different shapes and swirls, the fiber optic lights are robust enough to handle heavy pulling and grabbing.

The Inspiration

We received these amazing UV Reactive Sensory Side Sparkle Fiber Optics from eSpecial Needs as a Christmas or birthday gift for Tristan! They are the 200 tails, 78″ long plus the light source and remote. I wanted to hang it up on the wall like the pictures I found on Google etc. However, because I didn’t feel like spending $600 minimum for just a piece of wood with 200 holes in it, I decided to explore DIY projects instead.

What You Will Need

Arc Design

I didn’t like how the wood would block part of the light coming from these amazing fiber optics, so I went for a clear design instead.

We used a 4 foot by 4 foot 1/2″ thick polycarbonate sheet to carve our 4′ half circle out of. We then laid out a polyethylene tube used to make the curve and traced it onto the sheet for the outer and inner arcs while still maintaining the width for the half circle (you could also probably use a thin garden hose). We then used a rotary zip cutting tool to cut along the arc design we drew. You could probably use a jigsaw (maybe even a handsaw with a keyhole saw but it would be a lot of work that way!) – or even a router if you have one. Then we sanded the edges with a sanded sponge – just to keep the edges smooth enough to not get cut on.

Arc Dimensions: 4 foot half circle; 1/2″ thick; 2 1/2″ inches wide

Hole Drilling

Given the fact that we had to drill 200 holes (!!!!), we took the dimensions of the arc (which was close to 75.5″ in its circumference), we then divided it by 200 and reached the conclusion that there would be 3/8″ inch between each hole. Given that the fiber optic strands were 4mm in diameter, we deduced that each hole would be 3/16″ diameter for each strand. Using the polyethylene tubing again, we traced where the center line for the holes would be placed knowing that we didn’t want the shelf brackets we would use to block the fiber optics. We then used a compass to mark lines at each drill point – we both worked from each end to meet in the middle.

Then began the drilling part. I highly recommend using a plastic drill bit (60 degree tip)!! This was amazingly helpful and didn’t crack the plastic one bit! After the holes are drilled into the plastic, we used a countersink drill bit on top of each already drilled hole and on the bottom of each hole to create a tapered effect. This way the fiber optics aren’t hitting a sharp edge from the top or the bottom so they wouldn’t become damaged over time and play. Karl basically drilled these holes 600 times!! A drill press was used for this process but a hand drill could also work (however with this many holes it was easier and more consistent to use the drill press).

Wall Preparation

We chose shelf brackets that were going to fit within the half circle without obstructing any of the holes for the fiber optics (that’s why we made it as wide as we did – for strength but keeping in mind that we needed a shelf bracket there). The shelf brackets were 8″ by 10″ and we used the 10″ inch side on the wall. We chose to drill and tap the holes for the shelf brackets to avoid nuts, bolts, and washers. First, drill a pilot hole using a plastic drill bit where the brackets will attach to the arc. After drilling, tap each hole with the 8-32 tap (since we will be using 8-32 machine screws). When you tap the hole, you are making the polycarbonate the nut basically (it gives the machine screw something to attach to). Make sure you use machine screws and not sheet metal or wood screws because they might split the polycarbonate.

I then measured where I wanted the shelf to go (which was above his headboard). I used plastic anchors to attach it as I wasn’t lucky in finding a stud in the location I wanted it. Then I hung the fiber optic light source and attached the power cord. I placed a wire cover on top of the cord to blend it in better (why don’t they just create white cords?). These fiber optics are 78″ long and I wanted them to hang not all the way to the bed because of safety concerns but decided to hang them just long enough where he could play with them without bothering his sleep.

Small note: a worry we had was that if Tristan began to hang from the arc, we thought about installing a center support that would basically extend from the ceiling onto the arc for additional support (not there yet however!). A threaded rod and threaded rod plate would help if you were also worried about it falling.

Threading 200 Fiber Optics

After installing the arc and the brackets onto the wall, I began the hour long process of threading 200 fiber optic strands. Depending on your specific project design this could vary, but I tried not to thread more than three of the same color strands next to each other. We have many sensory items that require power in Tristan’s sensory zen den, so I use smart outlets which means I can remotely turn them off via my phone instead of turning off each one individually or finding the remote for the items as Tristan tends to collect them!

Turn It On & Enjoy!

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