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San Rafael, CA: Middle school sensory room is place 'to take a break/calm down'

Apr 13, 2023, San Rafael, Ca, Your Observer: Nolan Middle sensory room provides solace for disabled students

The new sensory room, funded by the school's parent-teacher organization, helps relieve students' anxiety and provides a calming environment.

…Students with disabilities, such as autistic students or students with intellectually disabilities, have access to the new sensory room to help calm them when they are overstimulated, relieve anxiety and meet students' sensory needs. Eventually, the room could be open to all students.

"We can see a difference when they leave here," Guerra said about the sensory room. "What we are teaching our students to do is recognize when they're starting to get to feel either frustration or when they need to take a break. This could be one of the areas they go to take a break, to calm down, to get away, to get that input they need."

When Guerra and the Exceptional Student Education teachers bring students into the sensory room and give each student a color so they know at which station to start. After about 5 minutes at each station, the students will rotate so they can have access to different sensory equipment. …

The sensory room, which opened at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, was made possible with the help of the school's Parent-Teacher Organization, which paid for some of the equipment. The Exceptional Student Education department also received a grant, which the teachers used to purchase the lights, crash pad and other items.

Because the school already owned some of the equipment, like the squeeze machine, it cost the school $1,500 to bring the rest of the room together.

With input from the Exceptional Student Education teachers, the school's occupational therapist and behavior specialist, Guerra and her team were able to find the equipment that would best meet students needs and make a successful sensory room.

"That population of students is so unique," Guerra said. "They're so fun. I love working with that population of students. You never know what you're going to get when you walk in there or when you leave. Just to see the smiles on their faces and having them happy and loving their time in here is the best. It's very rewarding." …

"If you start to see behaviors in the classroom, it could look like anything," Guerra said. "It could be that some students rock, it could be students making noises. (The sensory room) is a positive thing in helping them with their behavior and getting them what they need. It's all about these students, their needs and how we can best meet their needs. This is one room that regardless of what they need, we can find it in here."

Guerra said the room is still a work in progress as they find ways to improve the room and new things to add. For example, she would like to create a sensory path, which is a series of guided movements based on markings on the ground, such as a square that tells a student to twirl or hop to the next square. She also wants to add more string lights around the room.

Eighth grader Hope Li finds comfort in the crash pad.


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