New Zealand’s most comprehensive sensory space for neurodivergent learners is being launched by Yoobee Colleges at its 360 Queen Street campus, which houses learners studying at New Zealand School of Tourism, Cut Above Academy and Elite School of Beauty and Spa.
Yoobee Colleges is committed to ensuring all students have barrier-free access to education, which is why, in a New Zealand tertiary-first, the Learner Success Team developed the sensory space and have their sights set on implementing them across all campuses in the future.
Headed by Kelly Stevens the Learner Success Team envisioned a room that offers students with the space and tools for decompression, relaxation, privacy, and social interaction.
The space is specifically designed to accommodate neurodivergent learners, allowing them to engage in stimming activities which are repetitive movements or vocalisations and exercise different abilities using specialised support equipment.
Kelly Stevens says many learners have never had these basic needs met in an educational environment.
“I had spent time prior to the launch of the sensory space with two of our neurodivergent learners, so I witnessed their response firsthand. If I was to put their response into words, it would be tears of happiness and a sense of relief that someone had listened to their needs.”
Four key focus points to aid neurodivergent students were identified early in the process: lighting, weighted products, tactile features and the overall environment.
Bright and intense lighting has been identified as a common source of sensory discomfort and overwhelm for neurodivergent individuals.
Learner Success Coordinator Nik Weston, who is a late diagnosed autistic, says senses are tuned differently for many neurodivergent people.
“In some we can be hypersensitive, in others hyposensitive. This means that a normal classroom environment or social space can be overwhelming, too loud, or bright or busy for example. Having a space where sensory input can be managed allows dysregulated individuals a chance to regain their equanimity and equilibrium. It can also be a safe space when experiencing shutdowns or meltdowns.”
To alleviate these challenges, the sensory space incorporates soft blue light and calming features such as fibre optic and LED jellyfish lamps, promoting a soothing environment for neurodivergent learners to interact with.
The space is also equipped with weighted blankets that may assist with anxiety through deep pressure stimulation.
Additionally, students will be able to pick from a variety of tools for texture and touch such as fidget spinners, infinity cubes, Hoberman spheres, and mini stress relievers.
Nik Weston says the world is built for neurotypicals, so it is important to cater to the needs of those who are neurodivergent.
“Recognising that some brains need different environments and support gives groups of people who have traditionally been marginalised in education the opportunity to shine and to bring their unique insights and abilities to manage the challenges of the 21st Century and the workplace.”
In terms of physical design, the room has enough space for more than one learner with foam matting on the ground, a chaise-lounge and bean bags.
It’s located between classrooms in a quiet area with ear defenders available if necessary and hygiene wipes for cleanliness.
To educate students and staff on the benefits of each piece of equipment and raise awareness about neurodivergent individuals, fact cards and posters are displayed in the sensory space.
The launch of this purpose-built sensory space marks a significant milestone in the college’s commitment to inclusive education. By prioritising the needs of neurodivergent learners and fostering an environment that supports their well-being, Yoobee Colleges hopes to see every student reach their full potential.