We’re proud to share an article by Mike Hyland, President and CEO, that appeared in the most recent edition of The Provider. This newspaper is the flagship publication for the Providers’ Council and is widely considered the voice of the private provider industry in Massachusetts. With a combined hard copy and electronic circulation estimated at over 5,000, it is the most widely read — and respected — publication of its kind in the state.
Technology has vastly changed the way most of us live. We send e-mail instead of letters, we scan documents rather than fax them, we talk to each other through our cars, and we watch television on 46 inch screens at home and 8 inch screens on trains and park benches. Technology has also brought many tools to the human services industry, from iPads to alternative communication devices. One of the best advances in supporting people living with autism has come in the proliferation of sensory rooms.
Sensory rooms have been in use in Europe since the 1970s and are now becoming increasingly common in the U.S. They are safe places for many populations including those with dementia and people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury. The sensory room is now a vital tool in supporting children and adults on the autism spectrum who typically do not perceive their surroundings in the same way that most of us do. At Venture Community Services we use sensory rooms to give a person control of sensory experiences in a way that is not possible in public spaces.
Our two most recently built homes were both constructed with space for sensory rooms. In fact, all future Venture programs will be designed with sensory rooms in mind. Currently, the agency is finishing construction on a sensory room in our Sturbridge Day Hab program. This space is the result of a generous donation from the Hoyt Foundation and it creates specialized programming opportunities for several populations.
Like all sensory rooms, the agency’s newest one is being built with careful attention to detail around lighting, flooring, colors, sound, and tactile options. The room is equipped with tools that allow for safe exploration while also helping individuals de-escalate away from the larger group. It is also a space where staff members can work directly with individuals to develop coping techniques as well as to experience sensory stimulation in a way that is meaningful to the individual. Although many people will use the sensory room, each person will experience the environment in a unique way.
Perhaps the most exciting element in our new sensory room is the Smart Board. It opens the door to countless options that encourage an individual to express creativity, feelings, and ideas in a soothing way. The technology keeps evolving but the board itself essentially becomes a large touch pad that allows a person to manipulate words, pictures, or environments to either express feelings or to simply relax through an active process. The work station allows staff members to present the people we support with highly individualized opportunities to experience sensory stimulation on a spectrum that is non-threatening and actually controlled by the individual. We see the Smart Board as an essential tool in helping individuals to experience sensory stimulation in an affirmative way.
In addition to the Smart Board, Venture’s latest sensory room is equipped with other tools that both soothe and stimulate anyone struggling with sensory processing. A marble board allows an individual to work quietly with his hands, special lighting allows an individual to control the way the room looks visually, special carpeting controls sound amplification, and special furniture creates a space of comfort. We encourage participants to touch because everything in the room is safe. We also encourage participants to tell us what helps them to relax so that we can help them maximize the benefits of the sensory room. In this context, our sensory rooms are truly a space where collaborative treatment occurs.
The vital treatment that is provided by the human services workforce in this state is certainly as challenging as it has ever been, probably even more so. However, the more that we as providers are able to do with technology, the better treatment centers and workplaces we can create.