Ideas can come to a person anywhere and anytime. Mary Kotek, Manager of Support Services for Adult’s Lonning Center, was having lunch with Lois Loy, Support Staff at the Lonning Center, when she came up with an idea to create a portable sensory station. “I was thinking something simple,” Mary said. “Something light weight, made from cardboard, but that was as far as I got.”
Lois took the idea to her husband, Greg Loy, owner of M-Pac Designs, and his first response was, “If we’re going to do this, it’s got to be done right.” “I immediately thought of safety,” Greg said. “It had to be well constructed in case someone tried sitting on it and if there was an electrical component it had to be intrinsically safe.”
From there the idea grew. “It metamorphosed into a much larger project than I could ever have imagined,” Mary said. “When the idea came to me, I was thinking something for Tyler (a participant at the Lonning Center). Tyler’s needs and capabilities are far different from a lot of the other participants. I wanted Tyler to have a smaller sensory area to utilize within the bigger rooms of the center. I wanted him to be able to turn things on and off by use of motion sensors or switches in order for him to have a continued learning experience while he was here.”
What came about from this one idea is a self-containing unit, with a shelf, for individuals that don’t have a lot of finger or arm dexterity. “It’s a cause and effect sensory station,” Mary said. “There’s a learning process with it — if I press this button, this turns on. To avoid overstimulation, one element is on at one time. It’s more of a calming piece.” The shelf has a ledge where a participant can place an iPad on it and use the iPad as a sensory element.
This project was being invented while in progress. “This is not like a desk or table where you have a starting point for a look,” Greg said. “We were thinking of what to build and how to build it as the project was going.”
A prototype was made out of cardboard, which gave the staff and Tyler’s mom the opportunity to give input and advice on how to make it work for everyone. “I wanted to make sure that as the station gets used and abused, it will hold up and clean up well,” Greg said.
The fun part for Greg was putting it all together. “I didn’t want to build something and in six months everyone would be bored with it,” Greg said. “There is room for expansion and the elements are all interchangeable.”
The sensory station has been successful. “The plan is to have Tyler spend time utilizing its features every day he is at the center,” Mary said. “It is also being used by other participants who have sensory stimulation needs and or limited mobility with their arms. This station has helped them work on increasing arm and hand mobility unlike what they do when completing physical therapy exercises.
Both Mary and Greg agree, it’s a one-of-a-kind design.
The project was made possible by donations — Tyler’s grandparents had an anniversary party and instead of gifts their guests were asked to make a donation to Community Living’s Support Services for Adults Lonning Center. Greg donated his time and the Loys covered the remaining cost for the project.