Sensory Room Offers Children With Autism Safe Space At Winter Haven Library
by James Coulter
April was Autism Awareness Month. Even though the Winter Haven Public Library remains closed until June, the current COVID-19 crisis hasn’t stopped the facility from facilitating its youngest patrons on the Autism spectrum.
Prior to closing to the public in March, the library opened a sensory room to make their overall experience more accessible and inclusive for guardians and their children on the Autism spectrum or with other developmental disorders or disabilities such as ADHD.
The space is no bigger than a small office, yet the room provides a safe, comfortable environment where children and their families can enjoy the library without fear of experiencing “sensory overload”, a condition often afflicted on young people with Autism when overstimulated by certain sights and sounds.
The new room, created through a generous private donation from an anonymous donor, includes technological features and innovations that allow it to be customized to suit the specific needs of children.
As such, the room is designed similarly to Snoezelen Rooms, which, according to Wikipedia, provide a “controlled multisensory environment” as to place “the person in a soothing and stimulating environment” which are “specially designed to deliver stimuli to various senses, using lighting effects, color, sounds, music, scents.”
“A few libraries around the USA were starting to create them and library staff thought it is a unique and innovative way to offer a welcoming space for children with sensory issues,” explained Jane Martin, City Librarian with the Winter Haven Public Library.
The rooms includes such toys and features as “a bubble tube, infinity tube, fiber optic lights, a tactile toy wall and a screen which plays calming scenes. All the toys or equipment are customizable, can change colors or play sounds,” as reported by ABC Action News.
“The room is designed it to be very customizable – because some users will need more sensory stimulation and others less,” said Martin. “We have the user pick what equipment they want on or off to meet their individual needs. We use Amazon Alexa to help us make the selections easy to turn on and off. There is a piece of equipment for every sense – whether it is lights, sounds, vibrations, textures, or scents.”
The room is currently unavailable to the public, as the library remains closed until June 1. However, during the short time the room was open, it proved to be popular among children and adults alike, as it allowed families the opportunity to visit the library safely and comfortably without feeling overstimulated, Martin explained.
“It helps further the goal of being an inclusive space for everyone in our community,” Martin said. “We’ve only had a few weeks with it up and running, but the feedback was all very encouraging – that the equipment and space were what was needed. We had a child as young as 18 months up through middle school kids use the room and the reaction from the children and the caregivers has been all positive.”
The Winter Haven Public Library is located at 325 Avenue A NW, Winter Haven, FL 33881. For on-line booking and a full list of equipment at the sensory room: https://www.mywinterhaven.com/library/sensory-room/