Sensing a need for a sensory room
Published 3:44 pm Wednesday, October 12, 2022
Editor’s note: This article originally published in “Chilton County Wellness: September 2022.” Copies are available at 1109 Seventh St. N in Clanton.
BY ELISABETH ALTAMIRANO-SMITH
PHOTOS BY CHRISTI MITCHELL
When Dennis Mitchell became aware of the growing need in Chilton County for sensory rooms for special needs children and adults, he decided to help fill this need through his Eagle Scout Project.
A sensory room is a therapeutic space with a variety of equipment that provides personalized sensory input. The specialized equipment helps the individual calm down and center themselves, so they can focus and interact better with others.
Mitchell, a Chilton County High School sophomore, is a member of Clanton Boy Scout Troop 57. To achieve the rank of Eagle, he had to earn at least 21 merit badges and plan, develop and lead a service project that demonstrates both leadership and a commitment to duty.
Last autumn, Mitchell realized the need for a sensory room, and began fundraising to see his project realized.
“I researched and read forums about which items are most recommended for sensory rooms,” said Mitchell. “I wrote to people in the community and family members asking for donations to help fund the project.”
Mitchell also visited sensory rooms and spoke to educators about which tools work best when a person is having an emotional crisis.
Through his fundraising of $2,200, Mitchell was able to purchase a wide variety of Slumberkins stuffed animals, a sensory swing, a bubble tower that lights up and shoots bubbles, a crash pad, weighed blankets, weighted stuffed animals, a hexagon that changes colors when touched, special lighting and black out curtains, a rolling white board for drawing, Care Bears and several other items.
“Some of my favorite items the room are the Slumberkins and the sensory swing,” said Mitchell. “Slumberkins are stuffed animals. Each of them comes with a book that describe a different emotion. It’s kind of like Care Bears but more detailed. They help you process your emotions. The sensory swing is free hanging and when you sit on it, it provides pressure to your body. It is essentially a hug.”
Mitchell found a designated space at Clanton First United Methodist Church where the items are accessible to those in the community that need to use them.
The project was completed in mid- August. So far several Sunday School classes have met there and the youth group and week-day preschool program have both used the room.
“I hope that this brings awareness to our community that there is a real need to help people experiencing sensory issues,” said Mitchell. “There are all kinds of things that can trigger a person such as loud noises or flashing lights. They need a safe place and a solution. This is a problem that we might need to mitigate.”
With additional funds left over from his project, Mitchell was able to connect with Kulture City, a nonprofit organization
located in Birmingham that educates people on sensory needs and how to better engage with individuals with sensory needs.
Although Mitchell’s Eagle Scout Project is complete, he hopes that a giant steam-roller can be added to the room one day where individuals can “be rolled and squeezed through the equipment.”
Mitchell is set to meet with the Eagle Scout Board of Review this fall for his final approval.