Soothing students on the spectrum
North County News-Tribune - 6/21/2018
Sunset Lane Elementary School teacher Amy Jahn saw a need.
Jahn, a special day classes teacher who works with children on the autism spectrum, said she noticed that while children frolicked on playground equipment on campus, many of her students stood unengaged to the side.
"They just weren't getting the feedback they needed," Jahn said.
Sunset Lane's recently unveiled sensory room is changing that.
Constructed inside a regular classroom, the sensory room consists of eight stations, each designed to engage the senses in a different way.
There is a touch wall for tactile input; multiple sensory bins filled with materials of varying textures; a squishy corner, which is akin to a giant pillow; medicine balls; light-up bubble tubes; and an outdoor garden area.
Some stations have a calming effect and others provide stimulation.
"The majority of children on the spectrum have sensory processing disorders," said Summer Dabbs, director of Fullerton Cares, a nonprofit that raises awareness and helps fund a variety of special needs programs within the Fullerton School District. "They can't process the information they take in through their senses. The brain doesn't process it the way it should."
As a result, they can become upset, anxious, aggressive or withdraw, especially in crowded and noisy environments, Dabbs said.
After spending some time in the sensory room, the children are calm, organizers said.
"When they go back in the
classroom, they are ready to learn" said Larry Howser, founder of Fullerton Cares, whose son Boyd is on the autism spectrum.
Sunset Lane's sensory room is a smaller version of the sensory zone designed a few years ago by Fullerton School District autism special day class teacher Susan Pettinichio.
A featured attraction at Fullerton Cares' annual Mardi Gras for Autism and other community events, the sensory zone includes 12 tubs filled with rice, beans, shaving cream, bubbles, foam and other materials designed to engage the senses.
Construction of the Sunset Lane sensory room was funded by Fullerton Cares, along with a Disney VoluntEars Community Grant and contributions from the Woman's Club of Fullerton, Raincross Escrow and the Fullerton School District.
Having a sensory room on a general education campus fosters inclusion for students on the spectrum, Sunset Lane Principal Tracy Gyurina said.
"If we can do things that are helping our students get the sensory input that they need, that will help them be in the classroom learning more and using that instructional time to its full capacity," Gyurina said, "I'm onboard for that."