Sensory break room on campus a haven for those with autism

For Immediate Release:
January 7, 2019

Primary Media Contact:
Sally Voth
Public Relations Specialist
svoth@lfcc.edu
Phone: 540-868-7134

LFCC students on the autism spectrum or with sensory processing issues now have a special place on the Middletown Campus where they can get some respite.

A sensory break room opened this past semester in Fairfax Hall. The small space is stocked with a rocking chair, bean bag chairs, weighted blankets, a stability cushion, noise-canceling headphones, a white noise machine, a cushioned mat, and numerous tactile manipulatives. The soft lighting in the room can be further dimmed.

Input for what the room needed came from Anatomy and Physiology Professor Ramon Selove, who is on the autism spectrum, and the student club he advises – the Bureau of Neuro-Diversity (BOND), which nurtures and supports students who are neuro-diverse, which can be anything from autism, to attention-deficit disorder, to obsessive-compulsive disorder, to post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Most of it was like what sort of sensory toys would we need, what sort of environment are we looking for, and how is it going to operate, is a big room better or a small room,” BOND member Daniel Rioux says.

“I think the size is good,” he adds. “Sometimes a big room can have kind of an opposite effect to providing a break. Smaller spaces help to sort of cocoon you and make you feel a little bit more grounded.”

Professor Selove says the weighted blankets and white noise machine have proven especially popular.

“For me, a weighted blanket feels really good,” he says. “I talked about it so much that my wife went out and got me one for my birthday.”

The tactile manipulatives include fidget spinners, and objects that can be squished, pulled, twisted and rubbed.

“People can use these sensory objects to kind of stim with,” Rioux says.

Stim is short for self-stimulation, according to Selove, and is something people with autism do to try to control the often-overwhelming level of sensory input they receive. The conscious part of the brain often has difficulty filtering out this input and focusing on what needs attention.

Examples of stimming include hand flapping, finger snapping, rocking and vocalizing.

“I consider it a neuro-technology, a way of controlling your own ability to focus,” Selove says.

Someone with autism might have a service dog that can be petted as a form of stimming that is more socially-acceptable, he says.

Rioux sometimes stims by leg shaking, but also carries a bracelet with beads he can move back and forth, which is less distracting to others.

“Most people exist in their body without being aware of it,” he explains. “When you’re aware of every little itch, or muscle discomfort, it can be overbearing.”

Selove,who has taught at LFCC for 28 years, passes out cards with the break room’s number and door code to students he thinks can benefit from it.

LFCC disability services coordinator Viviane Meder has shared the sensory room information with dozens of students she serves.

“The room is visited every day,” she says. “We have some students who use it every time they come to campus. I think it is a wonderful resource, and I’m so pleased that LFCC was open to the idea of making such a space available for our students.

“We are ordering additional items to make the room even more inviting and innovative – some of our students are using these items for the first time in their academic careers.”

The feedback from students has been positive, according to Meder, who adds the college is moving towards making both the testing and tutoring centers more sensory-friendly by adding tactile manipulators and stability cushions.

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Founded in 1970, Lord Fairfax Community College is a multi-campus public institution of higher education. With four locations — Middletown, Warrenton, Luray-Page County and most recently, Vint Hill— the College serves eight localities in the Shenandoah Valley and northern Piedmont regions. The localities are the counties of Clarke, Fauquier, Frederick, Page, Rappahannock, Shenandoah and Warren and the city of Winchester. LFCC offers more than 75 associate degree and certificate programs in a wide variety of disciplines, in addition to providing access to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs offered on site by a four-year institution. LFCC also serves the business community by offering workforce preparation programs for employees and employers. LFCC serves more than 9,000 unduplicated credit students and more than 11,000 individuals in professional development and business and industry courses annually.

Lord Fairfax Community College (LFCC) is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award associate degrees. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of Lord Fairfax Community College. Lord Fairfax Community College is an equal opportunity institution providing educational and employment opportunities, programs, services, and activities and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, age, religion, disability, national origin, marital status, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or other non-merit factors. LFCC also prohibits sexual misconduct including sexual violence or harassment.

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