YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne: Sensory Room Provides a Calming Space

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The Redwoods Group

Posted by The Redwoods Group on July 11, 2017

In a darkened, quiet room at the Jackson R. Lehman Family YMCA— part of the YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne—children and adults alike can immerse themselves in a sensory experience involving lights, textures, sounds and voice-activated effects. This specially designed “sensory room” is used as both an informal resource for calming children, as well as a more formal setting for therapy. Kyle Brunn, Sports and Youth Director, describes the impact the room is already having in community members' lives:

“We had one young lady who was screaming, flailing and in distress before she entered the room. Once we got her situated, it was like a night-and-day difference. She just loved all the colors, textures and sounds. Her mom said she'd never seen her daughter react so calmly or positively before.”

Lydia Morris, Director of Adaptive Services, says the Y is working closely with recreational therapists to make sure it is utilized by the community:

“Sensory rooms are great for kids with autism, adults with head trauma or emotional issues, or seniors with Alzheimers or dementia. It helps calm dissonances down, and allows the individual to draw their focus away from negative stimuli.”

Besides making sure that the room is designed effectively (The Fort Wayne Y worked with a specialist equipment manufacturer from England), Morris cautions that it's important to ensure that activities in the room are open, observable and transparent:

“We have areas of the room that can be curtained off, and the lights are generally kept low—but we have a rule that staff need to peek in regularly to make sure people using the room are safe, and there's no one-on-one time between staff and children. It's also important to pay attention to participants reactions, making sure they don't get overstimulated, which can be counterproductive.”

Brunn also advises anyone planning a similar facility to research the needs of the populations likely to use the room, and to set up systems to manage access and demand:

“We've only had the room open a couple of months, but we've been blown away by the demand. The folks using it will come out raving about the impact, and asking when they can come back and use it again—so we're moving to a more robust system of reservations and open hours to make sure it gets fully used.”

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