News Article Details

North Star's multi-sensory room promotes sense of well-being

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier - 7/2/2018

July 02--WATERLOO -- For people of a certain age, the cozy, all-enveloping chair resembles Mork from Ork's egg from the TV show "Mork and Mindy." Actually, the chair is designed to reduce extraneous noise and promote a feeling of safety and well-being, particularly for people on the autism spectrum.

The "egg" has become a favorite with people being served at North Star Community Services in the newly created multi-sensory room.

Jodie Muller, director of development and public relations, says the space could just as easily be called "the calming, coping, comfort room. That really describes the main purpose for this room. It's an added feature for North Star. We always want to do what's best for the people we serve," she says.

The room is an immersive environment, explains Haley Krall, day habilitation services manager. "For many of our consumers, it is a place where they can come and get ready for the day and learn to self-regulate -- use the space to reduce stress and control certain types of behavior.'"

Krall says the space is particularly helpful for people with autism, as well as people with Down syndrome, chronic mental health issues, traumatic brain injury and dementia. The room is designed to develop the user's senses through specialized sensory equipment.

There are two distinct sections in the large room. One area is painted bright yellow with multiple mirrors and one wall devoted to a colorful wall mural filled with flying fish, giant flowers and a rainbow painted by New Hartford artist Bill Close. It is meant to stimulate, says Krall. Bins are filled with games, bean bags, squishy balls, a pop-eyed green frog and other objects that provide tactile stimulation.

In the second area, subdued lighting and a calming blue and green color scheme are meant to soothe and encourage relaxation and decompression. Although the egg chair is popular, a rocking chair and glider also lull the senses, while a bubble tube is almost hypnotic.

The multi-sensory environment also focuses on lighting, sound, smell and temperature to stimulate the senses, as well as promote a sense of well-being, Krall explains. "The staff is trained to be observant and to encourage someone to come into the room before some behaviors can escalate. It makes a better day for everyone."

Muller agrees. "And the people we serve think it's a pretty cool place, too."

The average length of stay in the room is 15 to 20 minutes, allowing a user to return to activities feeling rejuvenated and relaxed.

Multi-sensory rooms were first developed by psychologists in the late 1970s in the Netherlands as therapy for people with severe disabilities, according to Wikipedia. Spending time in such an environment can stimulate the ability to concentrate, improve coordination, promote cognitive development, and encourage creativity and calmness.

Muller credits the room's success to a collaborative effort between North Star and the Allen College Occupational Therapy program, particularly recommendations from Denise Dermody, MAOT, OTD, OTR/L, professor at Allen College. Funding was provided by the Black Hawk County Gaming Association and the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa.

An open house recently took place, which included viewing of a photo exhibit, "See Through Our Eyes." The exhibit features the work of about 80 individuals served from the day habilitation program. Many photos were taken during field trips to such locations as Heartland Farms, National Cattle Congress, the University of Northern Iowa Botanical Center, George Wyth State Park, the Cedar Bend Humane Society and Hansen's Dairy.


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