Center gets new sensory room

YOUNGSTOWN – The Rich Center for Autism, which provides educational and other services to children, has a new sensory room that was made possible with a $7,800 grant from the Italian Education Foundation.

The grant made completion of the room possible with equipment able to be purchased with the funds.

Tia Johnson, supervisor of special programs at the center, said the room is beneficial for children with autism and provides a place for students to relax and regroup.

She said students can use their senses and explore the different items in the room mostly through sight, touch and hearing with a few items for smell, including a small machine that has different scents.

Johnson said the room provides a calming atmosphere and reduces stress for children. Items in the room include crash mats, bubble tubes, and fiber optic sensory lights.

Brendan Considine, classroom supervisor, said the room is important for children with autism because touching and exploring the objects allows them to focus their energy.

“Children with autism often have sensory needs, and those needs can be addressed through touching, feeling, and seeing. Engaging them in this way helps them to be more focused during other activities.” Considine said.

Also helping the center were Austintown Fitch High School shop students, who constructed the special walls that feature objects safe to touch, move and explore.

“The sensory room integrates all the senses in learning for the students who can find the room educational, relaxing and therapeutic,” Johnson said.

The room was completed late last fall. A plaque has been placed outside the room recognizing the Italian Education Foundation.

Johnson said teachers at the center helped by painting the room.

She said that before the room was created, many of the classrooms had their own small sensory area.

Renee McConnell, associate director of programming at the center, said there are so many items the children can use to have fun and relax. About 40 children use the room.

Johnson and McConnell both said a teacher researched sensory rooms and their effect on children with autism. The room is geared to children age 7 and younger.

“When the room was done the children loved it. It was a nice addition and is very calming for the students,” Johnson said.

Staff member Lita Townsend applied for the grant.

Since 1981, the Italian Education Foundation has supported education through scholarships for individuals based on need and through programs.

The center is located in Fedor Hall on the Youngstown State University campus.