ShareThis Page

Multisensory room aids students at Latrobe

| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 8:20 a.m.
Owen Wege, 9, of Baggaley in Unity Township, a student in Baggaley Elementary School's Autistic Support Room, checks out the school's new multi-sensory environment during an open house on Wednesday, October 10, 2012. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Caleb Spiller, 9, of Lawson Heights in Unity Township, a student in Baggaley Elementary School's Autistic Support Room, checks out the school's new Multi-Sensory Environment during an open house on Wednesday, October 10, 2012. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review

Owen Wege was getting his dose of sensory stimulation on Wednesday at Baggaley Elementary School, absorbing the sights of the colorful bubble tubes and a waterfall of lighted fiber-optic strands combined with the clashing sounds of cymbals, tambourines and soothing mood music.

The 9-year-old was joined by other youngsters participating in the open house for the Greater Latrobe School District's new multisensory room that is specially designed to help children with autism deal with their anxieties and struggles during the school day.

“We treat it as part of their ‘sensory diet,' said Kara Stenger, an autistic support teacher at Baggaley Elementary School in Unity. “For a student who is overstimulated, we can bring them in for calming,”

Autism is a complex developmental disability that causes problems with social interaction and communication, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Different people with autism can have very different symptoms.

Stenger, who was a driving force behind the development of the room, said the teachers in the school's autistic support classroom can bring their eight students in for 20-to-30-minute sessions in the multisensory room, which had been converted from a small conference room last month.

While some of her students were initially hesitant about playing in the room, that changed after they started using it, Stenger said.

“The kids are real excited, They're kind of soaking it all in,” Stenger said.

The students are monitored by their teachers and a log is kept to see what works for each individual child — whether it is using a remote control to change colors of lights, laying on a water-filled pad or wrapping themselves in strands of the fiber optics, said Shelly Stillwagon, an assistant teacher in the autistic support classroom.

In some cases, students who are lethargic on a particular day can use the room to lift their spirits and energy, Stillwagon said.

Wege's parents, Jen and Chris Wege of Baggaley, said their third-grade son really likes the room.

“It helps him calm down,” said Chris Wege.

The room got the stamp of approval from another student, Mies Chiang, 8, said his mother, Elizabeth Spaar.

“He loves it. He talks about it all the time,” Spaar said.

It cost about $24,000 to equip the room with the features needed to make it an ideal setting for the students with autism. Money was raised through contributions from nonprofit foundations and school fundraising efforts, Stenger said.

“It fills a need for this level of student. We would not be able to offer this room without the contributions,” said Judith Swigart, Greater Latrobe superintendent.

The features of the multisensory environment can help to reduce an autistic child's anxiety by giving them the sensory input they need, said Kristin Gallagher of Jefferson Hills, the director of family support for the nonprofit Autism Center of Pittsburgh.

Having a room where the children can experience the sensory stimulation is so much better than trying to calm an autistic child by merely walking them down the hall, which won't work, Gallagher said.

“This is absolutely a beautiful thing that the school district has done. I hope other schools will follow their lead,” said Gallagher, a Greensburg Salem graduate with three children who have the autism disorder.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.