NEW YORK (FOX 5 NY) - The sights and sounds of school can be overwhelming for kids with special needs, but now some schools are offering sensory gyms designed with hands-on activities for kids to engage their senses. The sensory rooms are helping students overcome obstacles.
AT PS 15 in Red Hook, Brooklyn students can bounce, climb, and swing their way into learning.
"It's almost like learning in 3D, would be a way you could describe it," Sarah Baloch, an Occupational Therapist with the New York City Department of Education explains.
"They have all these opportunities to be in varieties in planes of movement, they can be high, they can be low, they have to go over obstacles," Baloch said.
Each hands-on activity, from a colorful ball pit, to a swing just inches off the ground, allow kids to work on movement and speech by engaging their senses.
"We have kids that maybe came in really uncoordinated, difficulty with stairs. just to put it in a real-life setting. Interacting with this material, it helps them develop the skill of walking, the skill of stair climbing, stair descending," Baloch said.
Medical research on the effectiveness of sensory rooms on children with special needs is limited, but small-scale trials show they help children, especially those with autism.
"A lot of children in this program come from disadvantaged backgrounds where they don't have access to a lot of enriching experiences, on top of which they have a delay or intellectual disability. By engaging with this material here they can have the opportunity to become stronger, to become more coordinated," Baloch added.
Baloch says the kids we met are reaching major milestones, one of the kids who was non-verbal is now speaking.
"He's saying full sentences. All of the adults in this program are just blown away. It's amazing to see," Baloch said.
A program for kids with special needs called Extreme Kids and Crew partnered with the City Department of Education to create the space at PS 15.
"It just felt like we could be here and just in building this space provide the PTs and the OTs with a facility that they would never be able to get on their own," said Extreme Kids and Crew Executive Director Caitlin Cassaro.
Cassaro says her son is autistic, and her experience raising him inspired her to create the non-profit.
"We felt very alone, and finding that community was the most wonderful thing that happened to me and I know for a lot of people who come in our doors," Cassaro said.
Extreme Kids and Crew has another sensory gym at PS 71 in Queens and they're looking to expand into the Bronx as well.