Throop Elementary Special Education Teacher Laura Pulliam has a new tool to help her students thanks to the generosity of WHAS Crusade for Children grant for $20,000. Pulliam converted the corner of her classroom into a sensory space to help children relax into a state of mind for learning.

“It’s wonderful for the kids,” said Pulliam.

The objects in the sensory room are selected for meeting sensory integration needs. There are interactive tactile objects, items with visual cause and effect and calming lights. Pulliam even selected some glow-in-the-dark fish. One of the highlights is a chair that encloses the occupant while classical music plays via bluetooth while the seat rumbles and vibrates.

Pulliam uses the sensory space as part of her students’ daily routine to help ready them for lessons. If a teacher sees a child getting anxious, they can have them spend some time in the sensory space for some calming activities.

The space can be especially helpful to children with autism spectrum disorders or with sensory processing disorders, but is beneficial to a wide range of kids regardless of their age or ability. It can have positive effects on both verbal and non-verbal students. Students can to explore the parts of the room that will benefit them the most. Some may be anxious and need calming. Others may want stimulation by interacting with objects.

Pulliam explained that sensory integration is an innate neurobiological process and refers to the integration and interpretation of sensory stimulation from the environment in the brain. Sensory integration dysfunction is a disorder in which sensory input is not integrated or organized appropriately in the brain and may produce varying degrees of problems in development, information processing and behavior. A multi-sensory approach for supporting children experiencing a sensory processing disorder can improve their comfort and quality of life. A person’s senses are not only interconnected, but are also connected with other systems in the brain. That inter-relationship is complex and allows people to experience, interpret and respond to different stimuli in their environment.

If a student has a dysfunction within these systems, it may manifest itself in many ways. The child may be either over- or under-responsive to sensory input. They may have gross and/or fine motor coordination problems and may result in speech/language delays and academic under-achievement. Students may become impulsive and easily distractible and some may have difficulty adjusting to new situations and react with frustration, aggression, withdrawal or even experience a total meltdown.

Children with special needs may find many of the world’s day-to-day objects and even learning equipment to be inaccessible, which can significantly impact their development. Sensory rooms can help calm or stimulate a child in order to improve their concentration and general alertness. This helps them get more out of their lessons outside of the sensory room.

Children will try to self-regulate their sensory needs and the sensory space helps them, by providing a variety of productive means to meet those needs. The objects are also designed to help students develop skills such as switching, cause and and effect and hand-eye coordination. Each of the items are specifically designed to develop the user’s senses. Since students are productively meeting their sensory needs, they also engage less in behaviors that may distract their peers.

That is why students in Pulliam’s class take a couple of breaks each day for the class to go over to the sensory space and interact with the objects that can improve their state of mind, which leads to improved learning in the rest of the classroom.

“The kids absolutely love it,” said Pulliam. “If somebody new comes in, they are excited to show them how everything works. The kids have a lot of pride in the sensory space.”

The sensory space has bubble tubes that aid in developing auditory awareness and social interaction. Sensory lighting can help students in color recognition and cause and effect. The students can control what color is in the room, which affects each of the different objects.

Fiber optics that can change colors and students can touch or drape over themselves for both visual and tactile interactions. There is a tactile wall to develop their tactile senses.

Pulliam ordered the items and Throop Elementary’s maintenance staff was able to put it all together. Pulliam said they did a wonderful job.

WHAS Crusade for Children has helped Pulliam’s class in the past. They helped fund a kitchen where her students can learn life skills. Not only do they learn how to cook, they also learn the importance of following directions and sanitation.

WHAS Crusade for Children also recently purchased Language Acquisition through Motor Planning Words for Life Language System app and products for the iPad. The LAMP-enabled tablets allow nonverbal or limited verbal students to be able to independently and spontaneously express themselves. The kids can use the tablet to choose words and string them together into sentences that the tablet will speak aloud for the student.