It started as a dream of a teenager with autism. On Thursday, it became a reality.
Tropic Isles Elementary School unveiled its "Blue Room," a multi-sensory environment for students, with an open house and ribbon cutting.
Members of the Lee County School System and the Fort Myers Metro-McGregor and Florida Kiwanis Foundation, who made this possible, were on hand.
The room was the idea of Matthew Parsons, a junior at Hibernian School in Fort Myers. Parsons was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism, when he was 13.
"I like giving these talks about autism. My grandmother told me to talk to Kiwanis about this (of which she is a member) and we did," Parsons said.
Harris Segel, president of the Fort Myers Metro-McGregor Kiwanis, said Parsons' speech, the first he had ever given, was so impressive, they couldn't help but to give.
"We were impressed by what he said and how he comported himself. The club, at its next board meeting, asked, 'What we can do to help,'" Segel said. "Principal Terri Miles said they needed a sensory room to help get worked-up kids to refocus and recenter themselves."
The Kiwanis donated the $1,500 needed to create the room, raised by the local Kiwanis and a matching grant, while the system donated the room.
The Blue Room was designed for use by students with special needs and any other student in need of a stimulating, but calming environment. Students can use their senses to explore, calm themselves, and practice important social skills.
The room is painted different shades of blue and features dim lighting and peaceful piano music to help calm the senses. There are items such as a tent to allow children to be by themselves, and a trampoline to allow them to burn energy.
Adams said Tropic Isles was the happy recipient as her school has a need for such a room.
"It provides another resource for our students, especially those who need additional sensory stimulation," Adams said. "It means a benefit for the school. A lot of schools would love to have a room like this."
Terri Miles, a learning resource specialist for autism and behavior with the Lee County School District, said they would like to have a multi-sensory room in all their schools.
"Kids with autism and behavioral disorders have high anxiety. Their sensory system causes them to have a problem. When that happens, they cannot learn," Miles said. "Here, they can get out their energy and have time to calm and return to the classroom."
The Blue Room takes a proactive approach to helping students before they are overwhelmed. If teachers can see the warning signs, they can bring the students there to calm.
Approximately 1,102 students with autism spectrum disorder are enrolled in the Lee County School System. Thirty-six of the 120 schools within the district offer social communication programs to serve the needs of these students.