// LCIF FOUNDATION IMPACT Sensory Courtyard Awakens Children’s Abilities // BY CASSANDRA ROTOLO A hallway of the Fremont Public Schools administration building in Fremont, Nebraska, has been transformed into an oasis. The Sensory Courtyard is an area dedicated to engaging all five senses. Home to a hobbit house, a fossil garden, a tree swing and even a “Snoezelen Room,” the Sensory Courtyard is a sanctuary for children with a multitude of special needs who might otherwise not be able to explore their world safely and comfortably. Children, young adults and entire families enjoy the hands-on experi-ences of the courtyard. Basalt columns showcase the visual, tactile and audible properties of flowing water. Dancing lights and reflections soothe the spirit. As natural light filters through the glass ceiling, families gather at the sensory table to learn and play games together while listening to calming wind chimes. “I love taking my son to there and seeing his face light up with each new sensation and sensory element. Looking around the courtyard, I see the smiles of children and parents. It’s a beautiful experience,” says Miranda Long of Fremont. The courtyard encourages the ex-ploration of new textures, promotes positive attitudes and inclusion and enriches educational and motor skills 42 LION // LIONMAGAZINE.ORG development. The courtyard also raises awareness of special needs within the community−from visual impairment and mobility limitations to tactile de-fensiveness. Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) awarded a $75,000 grant to the Lions of District 38 0 for the courtyard. The courtyard includes Snoezelen Rooms, relaxing, multisensory envi-ronments beneficial for children with autism, those with behavioral con-cerns, people with visual impairments and even older adults with cognitive disabilities. These rooms help re-duce anxiety, stimulate reactions and encourage communication. Lights, sounds, textures and smells can be used to calm agitation or spur explo-ration. “When you are given a diagnosis of autism, developmental delay or any-thing else that places your child in the special needs category, you quickly become overwhelmed by all the things that the doctors, family, friends and society tell you they can’t do,” says Summer Mau, a board member of the Autism Center of Nebraska. “I wanted to do everything I could for my chil-dren. The Sensory Courtyard gives us a fun family experience, free of judgment of the abilities my children lack. There are not many situations in our commu-nity where we get to experience things together as a family.” Ayden Crom, 3, also has benefited from the courtyard. He is tactile defen-sive, which means that his body inter-prets the sensation of touch with fear, pain or discomfort. The pain of any-thing touching the soles of his feet was so great that he could walk only on his knees. Ayden’s involuntary responses to touch kept him from meeting many developmental milestones for his age. “ I love taking my son there and seeing his face light up with each new sensation and sensory element. ” Initially, Ayden was unable to interact with many of the courtyard experi-ences. Sitting on the edge of the ball pit in the Snoezelen Room was all he could handle. But his teachers per-sisted, taking him back regularly over the next several weeks. He got a little bit closer to the ball pit each time, ex-perimented with putting a toe in and eventually jumped in.