College has resumed on America’s campuses, and most students can work through their start-of-semester stress with a trip to the gym, a comforting call with a parent or a late-night binge.
But for some students, normal days are a challenge – let alone high-stress exam periods and the beginning of a new term. That’s why a small but growing number of schools offer special rooms where students with anxiety, autism, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder or sensory challenges can go to decompress.
Adelphi University in New York appears to have started the trend. Since January 2018, the university has had a sensory room set aside for students who need downtime with or without stimulation. For some, the bubble lights and gentle white noise help bring calm; for others, peace comes with a heavy blanket and noise-cancelling headphones. Such sensory rooms aim to appeal to people with a range of needs, allowing them to choose for themselves what will help.
Ms Morse, Mr Colena and Ms Samojedny attend Stony Brook University, part of the State University of New York, on Long Island. Last summer, Wendi Mathews, who directs the school’s Student Accessibility Support Centre, turned a waiting room into a sensory room. About 30 per cent of the centres’ students used to sit in that space, killing time before taking a test or seeing a counsellor. This past fall, though, more than 75 per cent who visited the support centre reported using the sensory room while waiting; other students come specifically to sit in the room, taking advantage of the special pillows, seating and activities to regain their composure, feel better about themselves or simply catch a few minutes of peace.