ARNOLD AFB, Tenn. – After doing her research and realizing there are limited activities locally for children with special needs, Taryn Sjostrom, a Tullahoma mother, reached out to individuals at the Hands-On Science Center about creating a sensory-friendly room.
“The idea started with a family vacation to Dollywood,” Sjostrom said. “It was such an amazing experience to be able to go and have what is considered ‘normal’ family fun. Having a child with autism, I know how hard it can be sometimes to do these things.”
“When we got home, I looked for a place closer that offered a sensory-friendly space, and when I discovered there wasn’t anything available, I started looking for the perfect place to make one.”
Leadership with National Aerospace Solutions, LLC, the Test Operations and Sustainment contractor at Arnold Air Force Base, heard about Sjostrom’s effort to create such a space at the Hands-On Science Center in Tullahoma and decided to assist in bringing the idea to life. A check of $2,000 was recently donated to the cause on behalf of NAS.
“We thought this was a fantastic idea and were eager to support the development of a sensory room at the Hands-On Science Center,” said Dr. Rich Tighe, NAS General Manager. “We envision a sensory room that will definitely benefit many families. At NAS, we are committed to being an integral part of the local community, and a project like this fits in perfectly with our Community Commitment Plan.”
While geared toward children, Sjostrom added the sensory room includes a variety of equipment and activities to accommodate individuals of all ages with sensory issues.
“The room includes two sensory swings, a ball pit, sensory bins, chalkboard, dry erase boards, a magnetic wall and a bubble machine,” she said.
Another important item is the guest book.
“We have a guest book in the room to gather feedback and to know how many people are using the room.”
The use of the sensory room is included in the general admission to the HOSC, but the room stays locked until it’s requested as a way to keep too many people from using the room at one time.
“A key is kept at the front desk and can be checked out when needed,” Sjostrom said.
With funding from NAS, the sensory room at the HOSC is now open, and Sjostrom is hopeful that the room will get frequent use and continue to grow.
“The room will benefit HOSC by opening the doors to a wider variety of people, and it benefits the community by offering parents and caregivers a safe, calm place to come and have fun,” she said. “A place without the worry of meltdowns and sensory overload. This is just phase 1 and we are looking to improve and do more.
“Further funding is the main thing that is needed. Future plans include a lift to allow wheelchair access for those with less mobility to also enjoy the space.”