SIKESTON -In one corner there are 5 to 7-foot tall columns of bubbling water that change color with the flip of a switch.
Across the room you'll find large rectangular mats of bright colors that play music or sounds when stepped on.
In another area, there is a specially adapted water bed surrounded by sheer curtains reflecting an ocean scene from a wall-mounted projector.
One room is filled with fiber optic equipment made even more vibrant with black lighting. In another area a piece of equipment responds to voices and another turns motion into music.
"Wow!" exclaimed 3 1/2-year-old Aiden Brewer, one of the children served by Kenny Rogers Children's Center. And that pretty much sums up the feelings of everyone who sees the Center's new sensory integration rooms and equipment. It opens a whole new world to youngsters with special needs.
"More than a year ago I charged our staff to develop a comprehensive plan focused on upgrades and acquisitions that would enhance our facility to better meet the needs of the children we serve," explained Chuck Martin, the Center's executive director. "With the help of Kenny Rogers, Lions Club District 26-D, the Lions Clubs International Foundation, the Sikeston Jaycees, Pullen Brothers, Pepsi and Noranda and the United Steelworkers, here we are a year later having taken our staff's hopes and aspirations from drawing board to reality. However, the real winners are the children we serve."
The rooms and equipment have been in place for a little over a month and staff members received an overall orientation in late December from TFH-USA, the company that installed the equipment. Two members of the Center's therapy staff will attend extensive sensory integration training for the next year and a half, after which they will be fully certified in sensory-based therapy. Other staff members will attend additional training in other parts of the country including Ohio and Oklahoma.
In touring the facility, it is not difficult to detect the staff's excitement over the new equipment. "Many children with special needs have tactile defensiveness, an aversive reaction to different textures. This defensiveness often manifests itself as a very real fear," occupational therapist Danielle Servais said as she described the benefits of the Center's new tactile wall. "The tactile wall is a wonderful tool that allows us to introduce and integrate new textures at a pace with which each child is comfortable."
Nikki Jines, the Center's speech and language pathologist, explained the ladder lights is a piece of equipment designed to aid in the delivery of speech therapy. "As you can see, when I talk louder the lights climb the ladder," she said as she demonstrated how it works. "This visual cue serves as instant feedback to the children as to their progress. This equipment can also be used as an aid in the development of breath control. The kids really respond well to the bright colors and the visual feedback."
There are pieces of equipment that provide feedback in practically every therapy area imaginable. The children soon learn the cause-and-effect relationship and Martin said a result has been an increase in self-esteem for many of the youngsters served.
The Center plans to set a date for an open house to give the public an opportunity to see firsthand the enhancements that have been made.
Martin explained the primary fundraiser to help the Center meets its day-to-day operating expenses is its annual telethon which will again be conducted at the Sikeston Field House on March 23-24.
"The telethon provides the Center with the much needed funds to cover the inevitable shortfall from day-to-day operations. In three short years, we've nearly doubled the number of children we are serving," he said. "It is only through the public's continued generosity that we are able to reach out and meet the needs of more than 300 children and their families from throughout Southeast Missouri.
"It's about quality of care and taking our service delivery to an even higher level. These new sensory integration rooms and this new cutting edge technology and equipment are merely tools to better equip a fantastic pediatric staff to better meet the needs of area children with special needs. However, when therapy is set in such a child-friendly environment, the result is inevitable. Now, when the therapy sessions end, many our kids don't want to go home. They want to stay because to them it's not therapy, it just a whole lot of fun."