SOUTH RIVER – Lack of transportation is standing between elementary school students and the high school’s Snoezelen Room.
Angus McLaren took a dig in a pool of colourful balls at the Snoezelen room grand opening on April 25.
“I believe it’s a failing of the Ministry of Education,” said Near North District School Board Trustee Al Bottomley. “If you listen to all of the propaganda coming out of the Ministry about mental health and Special Ed. kids you would think that if a community came up with the resources to build a room like this that they could come up with a few hundred or thousands of dollars a year to get the kids there…”
The community rallied together to raise the funds needed to create the room, which officially opened at Almaguin Highlands Secondary School on April 26, 2012.
Snoezelen rooms are specialized multi-sensory environments designed to deliver stimuli to various senses through lighting effects, colour, sounds, and other techniques, which are known to be effective tools for people with developmental disabilities.
The room, complete with a ball pit, vibrating beds, soft music, disco ball, beanbag chairs and other equipment, has been an investment of between $46,000 and $50,000 so far.
Bottomley said the response to the room has been phenomenal.
“Everyone who has had students go in there has been pleased by how much good it has done them,” he said.
The intent was for the room to be made available for treatment of AHSS students, as well as members of the local Community Living program, which holds a client base of about 100 people, and students at the area feeder schools.
But kids at the feeder schools are having difficulty getting there.
“There is no budget from the elementary schools to bring the kids on a weekly basis, which we really need,” said Bottomley. “The board just does not have a transportation section for that.”
Bottomley said ACCESS 2011, the community group responsible for the initial fundraising, is likely going to begin raising funds to help cover transportation costs for those who need it.
Bottomley said it’s unfortunate the Ministry has fallen short and kids are the ones who suffer because of it.
“… We don’t have many doctors that can handle these kids. We don’t have any mental health facilities in Almaguin. It’s hard-pressed even in North Bay to get in,” he said. “It would be nice if we could have weekly visits by autistic kids for sure and some of the more severe attention deficit kids. It just seems to reboot them so they can handle the next week. That would be ideal for them.”
Bottomley said the room could be beneficial for preschoolers as well.
“It will be a very good tool to maybe modify their behavior before they get too old and it becomes hard-wired,” he said.
Bottomley said staff members of area feeder schools do their best to get their students to the high school as often as possible.
“If their school is coming to the school for some reason, those students come with them and they can use the room,” he said.
But he said sporadic trips don’t compare to the therapy provided by ongoing visits.
“It’s nice if you have it on-call, which the kids at the school do,” explained Bottomley. “Sometimes (the staff) can read the kids and know they are going to head for a meltdown, so they can put them in the room and just ease them back… Many of the kids don’t know what is bugging them, it could start at home could be something that happened on the bus, or could be some kid that’s bugging them… You need to go and see one of these kids coming through (the room). It’s amazing.”
Donations toward the on-going costs associated with the room are still being accepted. Funding can be donated online using a credit card at http://www.almaguinauction.org/snoezelen-room.html or by cheque made out to the Near North District School Board can be mailed to Box 912, Sundridge Ont., P0A 1Z0 with Snoezelen room funding indicated in the memo line. Tax receipts are available upon request.