Student Transforms Pioch 102A into Sensory-Friendly Space

May 3, 2024

Neurodivergent students at St. John Fisher University now have a space that fosters creativity, collaboration, and academic success, thanks to the work of Double Cardinal Maria Ierardi.

The sensory friendly room has a lending library, chalk wall, bean bag chair, and more.

Ierardi, who graduated in May 2023 with a degree in psychology and is a current student in the Mental Health Counseling master’s program, spent the last year converting Pioch 102A into a sensory-friendly room, fostering a stress-free environment for students who struggle with sensory stimuli.

“The original inspiration was to have a space on campus dedicated to neurodivergent individuals, particularly students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) that would allow them to feel safe and to be themselves,” Ierardi said. “Many of my friends, as well as myself, fall into these categories and I wanted to create a safe space for us and others to decompress during the day and between classes.”

The initiative was supported by the Psychology Department under the guidance of Dr. Timothy Franz and Dr. Ryan Thibodeau.

“We thought it was a great idea. Several of us pitched in to overhaul the space – remove furniture, paint the walls, obtain materials, and so on. I think it really turned out great and the students who have visited seem to respond positively to it,” said Thibodeau.

The inspiration for this project came from Ierardi’s desire to establish a dedicated space for neurodivergent individuals who have trouble focusing in conventional settings. The sensory room officially opened in March and is now accessible to all students. Although the space was designed to aid individuals with ASD and ADHD, its benefits extend to any student looking for a place to unwind.

Many individuals who identify as neurodivergent often encounter difficulties concentrating in environments with intense lighting. Ierardi’s sensory room is furnished with LED lighting, creating a gentle and soothing ambiance specifically designed to cater to the needs of students.

Upon entering the room, students are welcomed by a wall adorned with a variety of motivational posters, fostering a positive atmosphere. A sizable chalkboard and supply of chalk is available and serves as a place for students to express themselves through drawings or written reflections.

The room offers a diverse selection of fidget toys, a small reading library, and coloring books and drawing materials are provided as supplementary options. This area also features a spacious beanbag chair, cozy blankets, and a variety of pillows, all designed to provide optimal comfort for students seeking relaxation and stress relief.

Ierardi said that creating a designated space for relaxation can be highly beneficial to all students, regardless of neurodivergent status.

A suggestion box is available and students are encouraged to share their ideas and suggestions to enhance the space.  The Psychology Department values student feedback and is dedicated to making the room a welcoming and inspiring space. By actively listening to the needs and desires of the students, the department aims to continue fostering a positive and inclusive atmosphere.

While closed for the summer, the space will reopen in the fall.