MIDDLETOWN — Lord Fairfax Community College has opened a sensory room for students with autism, or other sensory conditions, so that they have a place to retreat when a break from the world is needed.
The small space, opened this semester, has several kinds of seating including a rocking chair, bean bag chairs, and a stability cushion. The room has weighted blankets, noise-canceling headphones, a white noise machine, a cushioned mat and numerous other items. The soft lighting in the room can be dimmed; light can be a trigger for some students.
One of the students who had a say in what he would like to see in the room is Daniel Rioux.
Rioux, 32, asked for weighted blankets in the sensory room.
“Each person with autism has different ways of coping,” Rioux said. “A lot of people like this room.”
Rioux admits his first time attending Lord Fairfax Community College was difficult. He had not been diagnosed, and it was difficult to excel in his classes.
He had trouble with the social aspects of school, communication in class and connecting with people.
Rioux was diagnosed as a high-functioning autistic person at the age of 23.
“I wish this was here the first time,” Rioux said, sitting in a rocking chair wrapped up in a weighted blanket.
The room is the result of a partnership with Ramon Selove, an anatomy and physiology professor who is on the autism spectrum and also the faculty adviser for the Bureau of Neuro-Diversity (BOND) and the Disability Services department at the college, whose members gave input for the room.
BOND formed two years ago as a social group for students to come together in a safe environment and talk about issues, troubles or recent experiences. Others in the group listen and offer advice.
Selove explained that neuro-diversity means they are a social group, not just for people with autism but for those with attention-deficit disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“There has been a lot of growth on campus, and so because of that growth there is more need,” Selove said.
Vivi Meder, disability services coordinator, said the room was funded out of the Disability Services department’s budget at a cost of less than $1,000.
She said it is used every day and not just by people on the spectrum. It has been used to help with a variety of issues, including overwhelmed students having anxiety attacks from the stress of school. Faculty members have even inquired if they can use it, she said.
“It’s been a very valuable space,” Meder said.