25 Sep 2017

Otago Polytech sensory room to become permanent

From Nine To Noon, 9:38 am on 25 September 2017

From next year, Otago Polytech students will be able to de-stress in a custom-built sensory room.

Occupational Therapy students Natalie Heinz and Janine Hunter first came up with the idea.

Last month they ran a pop-up sensory room last month, which proved very popular not only with students but also staff and the public.

Currently, Otago Polytech students with anxiety only have a small sick bay in which to get a breather, Heinz says.

She and Hunter saw the need and "claimed" a simple solar-powered shed that was sitting empty in the car park.

Its location was perfect – close to but away from the campus, she says.

The pair wanted to create a space where people could go when they were feeling overwhelmed.

Many people haven't got the ability to filter unnecessary things out or perceive threat, and have a physical and mental reaction to that which can include things like sweating and shaking, Heinz says.

The pair fitted out the shed with friendly looking wooden furniture and coloured textiles, borrowed a teaching kit of sensory items from the occupational therapy school and some other stuff from The Sensory Corner in Auckland.

People's favourite items in the room were a weighted dog, a weighted blanket and a weighted vest, she says.

Weight can be calming and in turn help people manage physical sensations.

Tertiary students often lack resilience and don't have a lot of support available, she says.

"All of a sudden they become adults, a lot of them are flatting for the first time and polytech and university are quite different to school. There's a lot of new things happening."

In the future, the sensory room will be exclusively for students and managed by the polytech's wellbeing advisor.