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Therapist in The News: A Little Wiggle Room

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How would YOU spend $5000.00 if it were given to you for the sole purpose of helping others?

That was the question for entry to the “Oprah’s Big Give Indiana” Contest in February 2008. Cindy Price, mother of a special needs student at Pleasant Grove Elementary, immediately entered with the idea to provide on-site multi-sensory equipment for the special needs students at her son’s school. Her personal experiences sighting a lack of much needed on site sensory tools in school to help her own child who is autistic was the initial motivation. She quickly realized this problem had to be affecting many other families in the same circumstance in her community as well. But she needed a 501 C3 to qualify for entry. Her son’s school principal recommended she contact the Center Grove Education Foundation. She did. Her entry succeeded in becoming one (1) of five (5) finalists from over five hundred (500) applications submitted to the contest. After a final pitch of the idea to producers she was disappointed to find that she did not make the final cut. So the story should end there.

But it did not…….

The Center Grove Education Foundation saw merit in what Mrs. Price was trying to accomplish and chose to join as an advocate for our special needs student population. Networking to produce leads and donations to help others in need is a practice that the foundation is already well acquainted with. With that, “A Little Wiggle Room” was created. Since its inception, A Little Wiggle Room fund has helped raise awareness about the challenges that face students with sensory integration needs and the tools that can help meet those needs.

Special Services of Johnson County has been the entity serving most of the county’s special needs population consisting of six (6) school districts. They have the common obstacle of mounting local funding cuts and tight spending limits. But even a federal mandate established since 1975 promising to fund 40% of special needs programs has at best fulfilled its annual obligation by only 17%. Add to that the increasing number of enrollments of autistic and other “sensory needs” students and you create a very tall order to serve all of those districts effectively. Rather than wait for government funding forecasts to change, A Little Wiggle Room is reaching out to the community to help privately fund the needs that will serve so many. With their first Wiggle Room opened in April 2009 at Pleasant Grove Elementary, thirty (30) students and staff are now getting new help in meeting those needs.

It is true that some schools have started sensory rooms already. But A Little Wiggle Room wants to go one step further. Through collaborative efforts with the Center Grove Education Foundation and dedicated therapists from Johnson County Special Services, Cindy Webb and Debbie Hussey, as leaders of our design team, this fund is seeking to create a standard for which all other sensory rooms will aspire to. Not only having equipment in this room for a student needing a “sensory break”, but a lending library for general classroom teachers to use as well. This will give teachers a new resource to help integrate students with sensory needs by a more proactive approach. They can borrow items from these Wiggle Rooms to keep in the general classroom setting. Their purpose will be to help regulate a student’s sensory impulses before they become overwhelmed. This seeks to diminish the risk of outbursts that can interrupt a student’s learning along with the learning of his or her peers. Our therapists are also holding in service training sessions in the Wiggle Room to not only education staff about sensory integration, but also giving them live demonstrations on how to use the equipment with a student. The success of this will result in a better learning environment and more opportunities for academic success for all.

A Little Wiggle Room has succeeded in establishing one of what it hopes will be many more Wiggle Rooms in the Center Grove community. The tools in these rooms will belong to the individual schools that they service. And the benefit to therapists working in our schools is that they should no longer have to make the decision to borrow equipment away from one school to service another.

There is still much work to be done. Over $6,000.00 was raised over the past year and much more is still needed. With help from our community the hope is that Center Grove School District will become a blueprint of what other school districts will aspire to. With the gains that this fund has made already, the Center Grove Education Foundation’s goal of enriching education opportunities for our community is again achieving success.

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Tags: Autism News of the Week Article June 2009