St. John’s University in Philadelphia’s recent opening of their very own “sensory break room” could perhaps be the start of a great new trend. The Washington Post shared the story of Erin and Kevin O’Donnell, as well as their oldest child Declan, documenting their experience with this new room.

The O’Donnell’s are both former St. John’s University students and had made a tradition out of attending the school’s basketball games. This was a tradition that they intended to continue with their children. Their oldest son, Declan, was diagnosed with autism when he was four years old. The O’Donnell’s noticed that Declan would often struggle to make it through the game, typically having trouble dealing with all the noise and sounds as well as staying in his seat.

The family was excited to hear about the opening of the new sensory break room, and when Declan was having trouble making it to half-time during their most recent basketball game outing, they decided to give the room a try. The article describes how upon visiting the room, Declan was immediately drawn to a large yellow bouncing ball, and used it as a way to relieve himself of the stress that was building up from all the game time excitement.

Joseph McCleery, the executive director of academic programs at St. John’s University, described the opening of the sensory break room as a natural next step due to their goal to “have created a campus climate that is very open to including people with autism as friends, colleagues and individuals with meaning in the community.”  

One of the big advantages of the space, as mentioned by Zoe Gross, the director of for the Autistic Self-advocacy Group, is that it appeals to all ages. She points out how “Too often, people who are setting up this kind of quiet space unintentionally limit the positive impact they can have because they forget that adults can be autistic, and promote these kind of break rooms only as resources for parents with autistic children.” This sort of recognition of the need to create spaces that are helpful for individual with autism of all ages is a great step towards ensuring a more inclusive society. The article also takes times to note that professional sports teams such as the Utah Jazz and the Philadelphia Eagles have similar rooms in their stadium.

We at the American Autism Association hope that this trend is one that is here to stay.

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