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ISBVI Students Find Serenity in School’s New Sensory Room

By: Seth Johnson

For Jenna Malson and her second and third grade students, the newly constructed sensory room at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) has truly become a sanctuary of sorts.

“If the kids are having a bad day or are stressed out, it brings them calm,” Malson says.

A young child sits inside of a white, 3D cube in the middle of a room with gray, carpeted floor.A sensory room is a therapeutic space with a variety of equipment that provides students with special needs a personalized sensory input to help them calm and focus themselves so they can be better prepared for learning and interacting with others. In recent years, ISBVI has experienced a growth in its population of visually impaired students with additional sensory and mobility challenges such as autism, ADHD and other sensory processing disorders. Due to this population shift, it became apparent through numerous discussions with ISBVI leadership that the creation of a sensory room for children ages 3-11 was necessary to meet the diverse learning needs of students in the pre-school and elementary grades at the school.

Upon learning of this need, the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation assembled a small committee made up of ISBVI education staff and IBCF board members who started meeting monthly in late 2019 to figure out ways to make the sensory room a reality. Through this process, IBCF eventually connected with design-build firm Custom Living, who graciously volunteered to help devise and execute a renovation plan, select the appropriate equipment based on students' needs and assist in IBCF’s fundraising efforts. Thanks to Custom Living and their network of community partners, ISBVI’s sensory room came to fruition in 2020.

Now that COVID-19 restrictions have lessened and ISBVI students are back to in-person learning, the sensory room is utilized on a daily basis by elementary students at ISBVI. For Jenna Malson’s students, the sensory room is now a crucial part of each school day.

“They know the routine,” Malson says of her students when they come to the sensory room each day. “They walk in, and they can choose whatever they want to do. It’s quiet. It’s serenity.”

In the comfort of this serene setting, Malson says she can teach her students in ways she never could before.

“They talk and they laugh,” Malson says. “Sometimes they’re not even aware that they’re learning. We’ll do math problems and things like that, but they just think it’s so fun because they’re in here. So I love it. It’s just peaceful.”