By Nicolas Rontanini
When the pandemic first hit, it created problems that everyone had to contend with. Neurodiverse students especially had several pandemic-related issues to overcome, like sensory overload, increased anxiety and feeling burnt out. These issues can be difficult to face alone. However, due to campus programs like Bridges to Adelphi, neurodiverse students receive help in dealing with these situations. One method comes from the updated sensory room, opened in 2018 as the first of its kind on a college or university campus. It's a calming refuge for students and others in the campus community with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other sensory special needs.
Bridges to Adelphi is a campus program that offers social, academic and vocational support services to neurodivergent students. In an effort to accommodate the needs of its students, Bridges has evolved and grown the sensory room, a quiet place in their office where students can go to decompress and utilize the environment that has a soft, textured floor, a sensory wall, a suspended pouch swing, oversized bean bag chairs and low lighting.
“Our program is all about highlighting and supporting those who think differently, so the pandemic wound up being another reason to think outside the box and find solutions with a different perspective,” said Stephanie Grindell, associate director of the Bridges program. “With that said, one of the aspects students did miss most was getting to utilize our sensory room.”
This semester, the Bridges program has returned to an in-person format, allowing students to visit the sensory room again.
“We were able to reopen our sensory room once we understood more about Covid and were able to consult with Health and Wellness at Adelphi to keep our room sanitized,” said Diana Damilatis-Kull, Bridges director.
Some of the new additions featured include a light-up pegboard, which allows students to play around with different patterns, and the hurricane tube, which changes colors. Other features include stuffed animals, bean bags, pillows, kinetic gel pads and a projector that displays calming shapes and colors. According to program leaders, these newly incorporated placements help students with emotional regulation and sensory stimulation.
The room is also supposed to be a quiet space for students, asking no one to play music out loud or talk on the phone. Students who need noise reduced further are offered noise-cancelling headphones for use while in the room itself or in the greater Bridges lounge.
“The sensory room has many different facets where students can engage in hypo or hyper stimulation,” said Amanda Ashe, Bridges social coordinator. “This can help individuals self soothe and even better their sensory integration.”
With the introduction of these changes, the room allows students to cope with the stresses brought about by the pandemic. As such, students have been responding positively.
“We have received a lot of positive feedback from students that not only is the room calming, but stimulating in a soothing way with features such as the light-up pegboard or hurricane tube,” Grindell said.
The pandemic created many stressful situations students had to navigate. Doing so can be difficult, especially with unfamiliar circumstances like Covid. However, Bridges to Adelphi has tried to lessen the anxiety students can feel from this.
When facing academic and pandemic pressures, it’s useful to have a place to relax.
“With our sensory room being open once again, we are able to offer our students a safe place to relax and be mindful,” said Damilatis-Kull.