The room is small, comfortable and calming. Soft lights glisten off earth-toned walls, providing a serene setting for a pair of armchairs and ottomans. It’s unlike any other room in the D120 Transition Center.
The new “Zen Den” is designed to provide a sensory space for those in need of respite from the stresses of daily life. More specifically, it was built for the participants of the Transition Center, adults 18-22 years old.
It can provide moments of peace, and clarity for overactive and or distressed individuals. The space can assist the participants to learn to self-regulate their behaviors, practice coping skills, and emotional regulation strategies; which ultimately improves focus. Similarly, the safe and controlled nature of the Zen Den can also benefit withdrawn individuals who may then feel comfortable enough to interact with their surroundings.
The Zen Den officially opened on Sept. 13 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by more than a dozen staff members. It was a long time coming, said Transition Center Occupational Therapist Julie Hupp.
“We came up with a space for the Transition Center participants to take a break,” Hupp said. “If they feel dysregulated, they can come in here and relax.”
While everyone benefits from mindfulness, the space is especially important for some of the Transition Center’s participants; many of whom have difficulty dealing with incoming sensations making it difficult to focus and learn.
“Before this they would take a walk in the hall or sit in my office. There really was no designated space like this” Hupp said.
No space until this summer when MHS Facilities Director Kevin Quinn and his staff members built a 130-square-foot space just inside the conference room in the Transition Center. They created a bump-out in a wall for aesthetic purposes, and added electrical outlets, a paneled wall and some paint. Hupp, along with Transition Coordinator Michelle Bank, finished it off with peaceful decor surrounded by the elements of nature.
It provided exactly the sort of calm environment the staff was looking for. Transition Center participants are learning how to handle their sensory differences on their own, and the Zen Den gives them a place where they can use strategies to self-regulate in order to learn and focus.
“This gives our participants an adult environment to process through their struggles, “ Hupp explained.
MHS added one other similar space in the high school this summer, but that room has not been completed with furnishings and decor to this point.
In the short time since the Zen Den has been open, staff has noticed a difference. In one case, Speech Language Pathologist Kendra Allen noticed more progress in therapy when using the Zen Den.
The room is used frequently, but because it’s only needed for 5-10 minutes at a time, it is mostly available when needed. Both staff and participants are enjoying the benefits of the Zen Den, Hupp said.
“It’s been very positive. They love it.”