The bubbles float up towards the roof. The lights swirl. The room is serene, a true sanctuary to those who enter.
This type of soothing therapy room, also known as a sensory room or a snoezelen, is a specially designed place to develop an individual’s senses through lighting, music and objects. Rooms like what’s described above can be used as therapy for children with limited communication skills, autism and other disabilities.
For Amanda Maclean’s eight-year-old son Ian Ladouceur, these types of rooms are a huge benefit to his development and physical state. Which is why Maclean and her family are working to build a sensory room in their Lacombe home.
“It would change his life,” said Maclean of the sensory room.
Ian was born having seizures and not breathing. Quickly after, it was noticed that Ian had bilateral coloboma in his iris, retina and optic nerve. Because of this rare condition, Ian is considered legally blind and has only a small amount of peripheral vision in one eye.
By the time Ian was three-years-old, he was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism and a sensory processing disorder, which is also another rare condition.
“With the sensory processing disorder, things in his brain just aren’t connecting properly,” said Maclean.
The average person is able to process multiple sounds at one time. Due to his brain development, Ian does not have this ability and it often leads to him going into ‘sensory overload.’
“At home, when we are sitting down and the TV is on and two people are discussing something, it is really overwhelming for Ian,” she said. “It’s too much. He is greatly affected by noise, too much movement around him, people being in his space and due to the coloboma. He also is really sensitive to light. As a result, he has severe outbursts many times a day and often becomes violent at no fault of his own of course.”
Sensory rooms are showing that they are extremely therapeutic and have also been shown to decrease aggressive behaviour in those who frequently use them. They are used in many schools and other facilities across the province.
“Ian needs a space where he can be safe and which will meet all his sensory needs,” explained Maclean. “He needs a sensory room where he can just be on his own or with his family and be happy. Really for him, it could be a multi-sensory room with different things to activate his core, or other things like a bean bag chair for him to just relax and hang out.
“What really drew me to do this was that I have a child that would gain so much from these sensory tools at home,” she said. “I want to be able to give that to him.”
The closest sensory room open to the public during night hours and weekends is located in Red Deer, which is not a possibility for Ian, as he doesn’t travel well. Ian spends many hours in a sensory room in his school, which he really enjoys and benefits from.
“We know that when things do get overwhelming for him, or just for him to be able to learn basic skills and really process things properly, it’s the sensory room that helps. We want to be able to offer that at home as well as at school, just to bring a balance to his life.”
She has already spent several thousands on renovations on their home to create a new space for the sensory room.
“After the $25,000 we’ve spent to renovate our home in order to give everyone their own room, we were tapped out at that point,” she said.
So, in order make the sensory room a reality for Ian, Maclean created a gofundme page, a way to crowd source funds within the community and beyond.
“I decided to start doing some fundraising to be able to give him that,” she said. “I watch him everyday and watch his struggles, his heartache and how hard things are for him. I just want to do everything I can to make that better at home for him.”
She is aiming to raise $5,000 to make the sensory room a reality. Even with that targeted amount, Maclean, along with the assistance of a therapist who is designing the sensory room, will only be able to purchase some of the key items for the room like a bubble tube, projector, smart board, light table and trampoline. The items must be quality grade as they, along with the room itself, will be available to Ian well into adulthood.
“The community has been so engaged so far which has really been a blessing.”
Members of the community have already donated around $3,000 to the gofundme page. Others have donated items like a hand-crafted weighted blanket, specifically made for Ian’s needs. Offers of labour to help create structures inside the sensory room, like a bench, could also be of assistance.
For more information about the project, visit the gofundme page at https://www.gofundme.com/SerenityforIan.