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Building a Safe Place for Individuals with Autism

Our new sensory room at Carver House will be a safe place for those individuals to live, learn and enjoy for years to come!

It’s been a journey in the making, but we recently put the finishing touches on our new sensory room at Carver House. Many people played a role in making this dream a reality, but let’s start at the  beginning.

Nearly two years ago, the concept began at the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol. During the 2019 Legislative Session, we worked with ARRM, our trade association, to secure funding to establish an autism program here at Carver House, including a sensory room and autism training for the staff. Led by Rep. Tou Xiong and signed by several other legislators who represented us, the bill was referred to a committee but never moved past that stage.

Despite the setback however, we still persevered in creating this peaceful space. Phoenix staff continued sharing ideas for the room throughout the planning process as they researched sensory-based activities, involving touch, movement, smell, taste, vision and hearing, instead of lights and noises, that would help calm those on the spectrum. So, while our Program Director Niki Novak and Assistant Program Director Kaylee Larson met with the Autism Society of Minnesota, our Program Manager Karen Miller and her husband James worked tirelessly at securing many of the items used in the rooms, including the personalized sensory wall panels and many storage options.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition that involves persistent challenges in social interaction, speech, nonverbal communication, and restricted/repetitive behaviors. This is why the individuals at Carver House needed a safe and comfortable environment that catered to their unique needs.

Right about this time, one of the family members of Carver House, made a generous donation to the house, which we used to towards developing the sensory room.

Transforming the Space

Once the plan was set, our maintenance team helped transform the former laundry room into the new sensory room and staff worked hard to put the finishing touches on it.

“A shout out to my husband, James,” said Program Manager Karen Miller. “He tirelessly accompanied me to various places (garage sales, thrift stores, Menards, etc.) the past two months gathering an eclectic assortment of items to fulfill my vision of the Sensory Room…I just wanted all his efforts known as I couldn’t have done it without him!”

This ended up being her favorite part of the renovation, but that didn’t come without its own setbacks. Program Manager Karen Miller said the most challenging part of this project was working with the unique footprint of the room, with a sump that needed to be covered that drastically changed the dimensions of room. After all that hard work, the individuals at Carver House are now able to thoroughly enjoy a room made just for them.

“Laurel couldn’t wait to check out the room,” said Program Manager Karen Miller. “She really loves threading wood beads and making music. And Alex is really enjoying it as well. He loves to hang out in there on the weekends listening to his piano music.”

With a majority of the individuals at Carver House on the spectrum, this room certainly will get a lot of use in the years to come!

Thank you to everyone who worked on this project!