CHILDREN with autism now have access to a sensory gym where, working with trained staff, they can develop their sensory, communication and motor skills.
The Prestige Holdings Ltd Sensory Gym at Right Start Early Intervention Programme for Children with Autism (Right Start), formally opened on March 20, is the newest addition to the range of services provided to children enrolled at Right Start.
Speech language pathologist and co-founder of the Right Start Sirlon George explained, “When your sensory system is not properly regulated, you’re not calm and focused enough to attend to people/what’s going on around you. Children with autism, their sensory system is not regulated, so it’s difficult for them to pay attention to a teacher. The sensory gym equipment is used by the therapist/s to help regulate a child’s sensory system to get them up to an optimal level to be able to learn and attend better to people and things around them.” George co-founded Right Start in 2011 with fellow speech therapist Donnella Rodriguez-Laird.
Right Start’s Woodbrook facility houses a classroom for eight children and the sensory gym is the newest addition to its “therapeutic programme”.
George reminded that many autistic children “have what we call stims – stimulations – such as hand-slapping and rocking themselves, which they do to calm their sensory systems. Our applied behaviour analysis therapist, Srishti Jain will sit one-on-one with that child, using specific techniques to respond to her while our occupational therapist, Latasha Winford helps our kids better regulate their sensory systems. (Winford) will also pull them out (of class when needed) and that’s where the sensory gym comes in. The occupational therapist will use the equipment, such as the swings, to help the child regulate their senses better.”
Special education advocate Wayne Rock in his Benefits of a Sensory Gym post on his site (www.waynerock.org), said sensory gyms “provide a wonderful opportunity for (children) to learn to process information in a fun, non-threatening way. (A) sensory gym acts as a form of physical therapy that will help alleviate the symptoms of his disorder...The more sensory integration skills a child can master, the easier it will be for him to learn new information and grow.”
There are an increasing presence of sensory gyms in hospitals, therapy clinics and therapy rooms in schools. Locally however, the cost of outfitting and staffing such gyms can make them prohibitive. George thanked Prestige Holdings for their making it possible to add a sensory gym to their facility.
“Prestige Holdings has been one of our main sponsors for the last four years. They granted some money to us last year which we used to get equipment for the gym. We had it up and running early this year but the official opening was late last month.”
Asked how the gym works, Right Start co-founder Rodriguez-Laird told Sunday Newsday, “We have swings to help with that (repetitive) motion, a rock climbing wall to help with their core strength, they’re on mats doing bear crawls, they’re in a ball pit where they can feel the sensation of the balls around them – deep compression and there are cocoon swings in which they can wrap their bodies tight (among other things).”
And as it regards the benefits she’s observed since the gym was put into use, George said, “We have one young boy who used to rock himself a lot. The occupational therapist puts him on the swings to help calm him. At first he was afraid, so (Winford) started him on the smallest one and as he got accustomed to them, gradually moved him up to the bigger swings. Now you’ll likely see this boy singing a song or looking at you better while he’s on the swing because his sensory system is more regulated by its motion.”
You can contact Right Start on Facebook page – Right Start for Autism, Instagram – @rightstart4autism – and on their website www.rightstarttt.com