INDIANAPOLIS — Students with autism and other special needs often benefit from a distraction or calming space that engages their senses to help them refocus on learning.
This week, children at Clinton Young Elementary School in Perry Township enjoyed the grand opening of a multi-sensory room designed and donated through an Eagle Scout project.
"They have all this stuff for stress,” said fourth grader Tyree Rice. “So if I get stressed in school, I can come in here."
Southport High School junior Cameron Schonegg raised about $6,000, almost twice his goal, and spent 400 hours researching, designing, and furnishing the jungle-themed room as his Eagle Scout project. Schonegg has two brothers with autism who attended Clinton Young Elementary School.
The room features fidget toys, a cocoon hammock, light up wallboards, floor scooters, and an assortment of other gadgets that engage the eyes, ears, and touch. The centerpiece may be a bubble tower that changes colors.
The room also includes a large mural of a tree on one wall where the leaves are handprints in a rainbow of colors.
"A sensory room is a place where kids can relax and just let all their emotions loose, all their feelings,” said Schonegg. "If they're having a rough family life, or school life, or friends - they could just come in here and relax."
“There's a lot of things and stuff to do in here,” said third grader Savannah Marr.
Schonegg decided the color green gave the room a calming atmosphere. But when the lights go out, the room becomes even more peaceful, the bubble towers more soothing.
Clinton Young is the host school for Perry Township's elementary autism program. The multi-sensory room just opened after students returned from spring break.
"It's really hard to focus when we're distracted,” said principal David Henriott. “We can be distracted by things that have happened at home. We can be distracted by friends, social things, on the bus. So, when we are distracted like that, it's very hard to think about academics."
The room can be used for instruction for students with autism or other special needs, and as therapy for students experiencing trauma or anxiety.
"I feel like kids would really like it when they would come in here and be, like, sad,” said fifth grader Arrianna Finn. “It would be better for them to be able to have more like fun."
Schonegg started planning about a year ago and began work in the room last August. He raised enough money to also build a mobile sensory cart that can travel to classrooms throughout the school. His family and Scout troop helped complete the project.
"I'm very satisfied with my final project,” said Schonegg. “The support with the community, and support with the kids and like everything is just amazing."