It may be the middle of the school year, but that does not mean that the Langdon Area Elementary School (LAES) and some dedicated community members can’t help students get the most out of it. Brittany Farris has been working with LAES Principal Todd Hetler since this past August on how to help students with sensory processing disorder and related issues better handle the school environment.
By Melissa Anderson
“I first became familiar with [this] when my oldest son, Kyler, was receiving occupational therapy last winter. I had never heard of sensory processing disorder until it was something that directly affected our family. I started doing a lot of research on ways that we could help Kyler to regulate his senses and cope better in a variety of situations,” Farris explained.
As she read about the issues that face children like her son, one option that came up frequently was the use of “sensory rooms” in schools to help kids and not only those with sensory processing disorder but also ADD, ADHD, autism or emotional issues.
“I started thinking about how beneficial it would be to have something like this at the school in Langdon. Obviously, it would benefit my own son, but I knew it would help a lot of other kids as well,” Farris said.
Farris found out the types of equipment that other schools had in their sensory rooms and looked up prices for similar equipment. When she presented her findings to Hetler, he was very excited to help her move the project forward. Farris already had donors that were very willing to help with the creation of the sensory room. Christie Motors committed $2,000 to the project, and FM Bank added another $500 in funding. Adam and Austin LaFrenz from Schroeder’s Furniture also donated carpet for use in the sensory room.
“Once we decided to go forward with the project, there was a whole team involved with ordering all of the equipment and getting it set up,” Farris explained. “We had several meetings to discuss the location of the sensory room, what equipment we needed, and how the room should be utilized.”
The group consisted of Mykal Morstad, Rachelle Romfo, Danielle Hawn, Brittany Feil, Todd Hetler, Jacy Bata and Farris. They worked together to create a “wish list” of items for the room. Once they had a final list compiled, Farris ordered all of the items.
“Mykal and Rachelle have done a great job of getting the room up and running,” Farris shared.
The room was ready by October, and students began to utilize the room almost immediately after all of the equipment was received and placed in the room. After Christmas break, Farris stated that there was an in-service for school staff to better understand how to utilize the room.
What kind of things can be found in the sensory room? A variety of things. The equipment that helps students with sensory needs varies from some that are very inexpensive to items that were a lot more costly to purchase.
“We have two swings, a ‘steam roller’, scooters, theraputty, therapy balls, rocker boards, kinetic sand, and a weighted blanket,among many other items. The equipment works well for kids who have different sensory needs,” Farris said.
These items work in many different ways to assist the students. For example, some students may need help to calm their senses down, and they might find the repetitive motion of a swing calming. Some kids need intense pressure in order to regulate themselves, so they enjoy wiggling through the steam roller machine or being covered with a weighted blanket.
“The students in the elementary school from Pre-K to 6th grade are able to utilize the room with an aide or other adult supervisor in order to meet their unique needs. It fills such a huge void in our school system because a lot of kids need these ‘sensory breaks’ in order to regulate themselves and be able to get the most out of their education,” Farris stated.
These breaks serve as a way to help the students get back on track and be better able to focus so that when they return to their classroom, they are able to get the most benefit out of the instruction they are receiving. Many of the students have an IEP or 504 plan that specifies their need for these specific types of sensory breaks.
“This room just provides a dedicated space and equipment for them to utilize,” Farris said.
As research finds more and more ways to help students reach their education goals, it is important for the communities in which those students live to be aware that this resource is available.
“I have seen estimates that sensory processing disorder alone affects up to 5% of school-age children. Combine that with all of the other students who utilize the room, and the room is already being heavily utilized. I’m just excited that we are able to provide such a great resource to all of the students at LAES, especially after seeing first-hand the benefit that similar equipment and exercises have had in my own child’s life,” Farris explained.
Farris stated that donations will always be accepted for the room, as the amount of equipment that could potentially be utilized in the space is vast. Anyone wishing to make a donation or with further questions is welcome to contact Farris.