With life as fast and as stressful as it is in this technological age, and with anxiety at an all-time high, we need a safe place to take a break from it all! This is true for us as educators, parents, and practitioners, and is no less true for children of all ages, students in general education and students in special education.
Here’s what a small crew of volunteers and a few donations can do: Turn a regular academic classroom into a much-needed soothing intervention for special education students. One forward-thinking principal at Lindsey Middle School in Long Beach, CA gave permission to the special education department of his school to go onto the premises over the Christmas holiday and make use of an underused room. As a consultant to Lindsey this, I was part of the team who went in and did just that.
The results have bumped up our morale and given us so much hope for more positive change. Instead of having nowhere to go when students find themselves unexpectedly and unintentionally in a fight or flight response, they now have a destination that is soothing, comforting and helpful to them to regain their dignity and composure. They are no longer wandering the campus looking for a target for their triggered fight instinct, they are fleeing to the sensory room where they can push their hands into the wall or squeeze handgrips to redirect and slow down their impulse with a safe amount of healthy resistance.
Sometimes, when the natural albeit challenging fight or flight response gets triggered in our struggling students, they need to move quickly. They feel biological impulses to fight or flee. These are leftover impulses that are stuck in the body from thwarted attempts to protect themselves or their loved ones from previously traumatic incidents, incidents that occur on their streets, in their neighborhoods, and in their homes.
Lindsey Middle School’s brave, modest, and powerful attempt to become trauma-sensitive and trauma-informed, is our way of making this statement: We do not want to exacerbate the cycle of pain that our families experience by shaming students for natural responses to unnatural levels of stress and trauma. Of course their defensive and self-protective brain mechanisms kick in when they perceive any kind of a threat. For them, threats appear everywhere because of how the brain is changed by their life experiences.
With the sensory room, and the help of their teachers and classroom aides, students are now learning how to identify the sensations of their bodies that let them know they are triggered and need an intervention to prevent escalation. They give their teacher a signal, or the teacher gives them one, with understanding and compassion, not judgment or shame. Off they go to get the help they need to get their school brain back from survival mode. When they get their school brain back from being stuck in fight or flight, it becomes possible for them to come back to class and learn more of what their teacher is trying to teach. That’s a win for our teachers, and a win for our students. Who doesn’t want to be part of everybody winning?