The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 1 in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder. While that number continues to grow, so does the demand for classrooms meeting sensory needs of students.
The Jeremiah School in Johnson City is described as a therapeutic day school for children with neurological delays in relating and communicating, including autism.
There, an individualized curriculum and small classroom settings are used to help guide students.
“Everything is tailor-made for students with autism,” said Joanna Cullen, Jeremiah School principal.
In May, Keller Williams helped build a sensory classroom for students as part of the group’s “Red Day” of community service.
Now, you can find students taking “sensory breaks” throughout the day.
“Students with autism have a variety of sensory needs,” said Cullen, “so some need quiet time to sort of calm the senses and others need a lot of movement.”
Occupational Therapist Dr. Christy Isbell with Milligan College said nearly all children and young adults with autism also have a sensory processing disorder.
Because of this, those students need more stimulation to put their brain at ease, but Dr. Isbell said some schools do not address the issue.
While the number of these children with autism and sensory processing disorder are on the increase, it is still unclear why that is the case.
“There is a disconnect there between how many children that have been diagnosed or identified with autism and how many children are receiving appropriate services,” said Isbell.
Academic Program Director and lead teacher at the Jeremiah School Andrew Baxter said sensory classrooms provide a safe haven for students who are over-stimulated, stressed or emotionally distraught.
“I think there reaction is very positive,” said Baxter, “Sometimes a student may need 5 minutes, they may just need 2 minutes, I think it’s just to help regulate emotions so they can get back into the classroom and start learning again at a faster pace.”
The school is currently at capacity of 15 students. Principal Cullen said since March 2018, she’s had more than 43 inquiries about education for children with autism and those with sensory processing disorders.
“You don’t have to have autism to have a sensory processing disorder,” she said, “there’s a lot of children in the school systems that benefit from this kind of environment and more and more schools are getting on board with that.”
In Johnson City Schools, five campuses have sensory rooms or sensory features.
Washington County schools do not have any sensory specific rooms, but have some equipment to help with sensory learning.
Cullen said she hopes more schools will add sensory classrooms in the future.