In a darkened room illuminated by fiber optic lights that stream from the ceiling and line the walls, 10-year old James Potts sat in his wheelchair, remote in hand, controlling the shifting colors of round light fixtures placed on the floor — changing them from bright blue to green and pink.
“Do you think I could make them turn brown?” he asked excitedly.
James was taking advantage of some of the options in Cerebral Palsy of Westchester’s new sensory room set within the nonprofit’s Rye Brook space. The room allows clients like him to receive physical and psychological benefits, while at the same time, have fun. Launched earlier this year, the 472-square-foot room helps users to explore their senses in a controlled environment through various lighting effects, music and textures that range from wall panels that shift color when pressed to devices that make sounds when squeezed. The sensory room can also increase concentration and focus attention, along with improving motor skills and communication.
“The main goal of the sensory room is to help integrate that sensory (experience) into their everyday life, so they can then feel the outside world,” said Karen O’Brien, a product specialist at Enabling Devices, the Hawthorne-based company that designed and installed the room’s equipment.
Though sensory rooms are used in an array of settings for a variety of users, this space was created specifically for the children and adults served here.
“It took a lot of designing,” said Bozena Mazurek, associate executive director at Cerebral Palsy of Westchester. “It’s not just, ‘OK, let’s hang this here and hang this there.’”
Because the room is used by clients of various ages, many of whom have profound or multiple disabilities, O’Brien said incorporating more sensory tools, such as weighted blankets, music and textured devices, was important. The design also allows enough space for those in wheelchairs to move freely from station to station, and all wall-mounted devices are positioned low enough to be accessible to those who are unable to stand.
“Just because they can’t walk, they’ve (still) got to be able to access every part of that room,” O’Brien said, adding that “the goal in that room is to hit every sense in an economical and an easy-to-install way.”
Still, a major part of establishing the sensory room at Cerebral Palsy of Westchester came from securing adequate funds to create the space. Without assistance from the state, the roughly $13,000 cost of the room was made possible by fundraising efforts, a process that took more than a year.
“The fiber optics may not look like much, but they’re very, very expensive,” said Joan Colangelo, director of development at Cerebral Palsy of Westchester.
But for clients like James, that investment in the sensory room was certainly worth the price tag.
“It’s awesome,” he said with a grin.