Sensory room helps students escape from overload

By Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 10/10/18

FLEMING ISLAND – Students living with intellectual disabilities at Fleming Island Elementary now have a place they can escape from sensory overload.

A portable classroom at the school was …

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Sensory room helps students escape from overload


FLEMING ISLAND – Students living with intellectual disabilities at Fleming Island Elementary now have a place they can escape from sensory overload.

A portable classroom at the school was officially dedicated Oct. 4 as the one-of-a-kind “Flaming Island Sensory Room” for students living with such aspects as Autism Spectrum Disorder, who can often need time to get away from too much lighting or too much sound.

While the sensory room has been open since the start of this school year, the ribbon cutting ceremony served as a welcome party for the Clay County School Board, the Superintendent, district staff and students.

“It’s so exciting because it gives students an opportunity to step away for a few minutes and have their sensory needs met and I’m so happy we [FIE] are able to have this for students,” Collins said. “Sometimes students get busy and feel the pressures of the classroom and this room gives them an opportunity to take a break,” said Jennifer Collins, school principal.

While any student at FIE is free to use the special room, its primary goal is to serve as a safe place for exceptional education students to go to when the pressures of academics become too much to handle in any one moment.

While the school and community donors – Fleming Island Walmart, Hall’s Nursery and Flamingo Lake RV Resort – helped the room come to fruition, the project was spearheaded by a FIE parent who has a student with the types of needs the room addresses.

Katherine Findlay’s son, Steven, 9, is a third-grader at FIE who has autism. Steven has sensory needs that have to be managed during the school day, needs can’t be met in a regular classroom. After what started as a simple Facebook fundraiser, Findlay secured funding from area partners on behalf of FIE. Months later, the room is filled with dozens of sensory-specific activities and utilities.

Findlay was honored to be a part of the team that made this sensory room happen and touched that the district cared for children like hers just as much as she does.

“This is exceptional for me,” Findlay said. “I know that he’ll be able to get the proper therapy. He does have sensory issues and now he has a place that he can come to, a place to take a break from, a place to release.”

While Findlay helped the FIE team secure funds from Fleming Island-area businesses, money also came from those who would be using the sensory room – the children. Collins said the school held a Unity Fence fundraiser where students could spend one dollar to place a ribbon on the school fence, a fundraiser that raised $1,000 of the project which cost $6,000 total.

“It’s a show of solidarity really,” Collins said. “It was a way to show that we were all working to make this happen.”

Collins said some students require the pressure of a hold or a hug. For this, the room has many areas for students to lay or sit that can apply this pressure. One fourth-grader, Aiden Harris, 9, climbed into a cloth hammock to help him disconnect from the outside world and regain his focus.

When the environment gets too loud, or the lights get too bright, or anything that Harris needs to get away from, he can climb into the hammock, lay down and relax as the hammock closes in around him.

According to Harris’ teacher, Stephanie Ross, the hammock’s swaddling effect calms him down and makes him feel better.

“Sometimes they just need a break,” Ross said. “Academic work can put a lot of pressure on Aiden, but anytime he needs it, this room is here for him.”

While some of the room’s tools are strictly meant for sitting or splaying on the floor, other tools can be used to refocus a student, or give them something else to do when academic work becomes overbearing. There are light-based puzzles, a bouncy stationary bike, vibrating tubes with fake fish inside and bubbles within, and more. There’s a tool for every sensory need students at FIE might have.

Students who don’t have special needs are asked to schedule a time to go to the new sensory room, but students with sensory needs can access the space at any time.

School Superintendent Addison Davis praised the school’s and community’s efforts to create such a special place for students who are often simply misunderstood.

“We know that this type of environment will allow our students to engage and interact with a number of their surroundings and really get to a point where they can interact and react to a much larger world within and outside of the classroom,” Davis said. “We know that sensory rooms will allow our students to have greater access to different parts of their brains, so they can really interact and react with different learning modalities every day.”


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