TEMPLE, Texas — Temple Independent School District’s Jefferson Elementary School is now officially home to a one-of-a-kind learning experience for students with autism. The school held a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony for its “Zen Den” multisensory lab Thursday evening (September 14).
The multisensory lab is the first of its kind in the United States and features lightning, audio and other controls that allow students to independently control their sensory experience. Teachers are also able to include classroom learning in the multisensory lab to allow students with autism to use all their senses while learning educational content. All of the stations in the multisensory lab are interactive and programmable so students can create their own uniquely individual experience. The multisensory immersive experience was built using money from a Texas Education Agency (TEA) Innovation Services for Students with Autism grant. The grant also helped the school redesign a classroom into a simulated home environment to teach daily living skills and add a large-scale motor lab. The simulated home environment includes a simulated kitchen, bedroom, laundry room and living area with visual supports to help students complete tasks. The motor lab features hands-on equipment like a step bridge, ball pits and crawl or walk on apparatuses that give students an opportunity to exercise large muscle sensory input. The addition of the three labs, provides students, staff, and families with unique educational experiences in a program that serves nearly 120 students.
“The staff at Jefferson are truly amazing. They have worked diligently to put this resource in place for our students and we are so thankful to have a sensory room of this caliber accessible to our students” said Jennie Mathesen, Special Education Director for Temple schools. “We all use sensory experiences and activities to help us regulate emotions, ground our nervous systems, and improve focus and learning. The fact that the ‘Zen Den’ has a variety of options will help us meet student needs on a broader level.”
“Our Sensory Showtime (Zen Den) and the motor lab give our students opportunities they would not otherwise receive,” added Pamela Demny, Principal of Jefferson Elementary. “They love interacting with all of our multisensory equipment, especially our Omni projection system, which allows them to use their bodies to activate the learning programs. We are so lucky to be able to offer these experiences to our students.”The TEA grant, totaling just over $422,500, funded the design, development and equipping of both the multisensory lab and the simulated home environment classroom. It also helped fund professional development for staff, paraprofessionals and administrators working with the program. That additional training also allows Jefferson’s program to collaborate with students and programs at the middle schools and high school, as well as hosting sensory nights to educate parents on techniques to develop each student’s sensory and social interactions.