BY KATHLEEN BOLUS
LAKE ARIEL — Life slows down in the ZENsory Zone Gym in Wayne County.
Textures are felt and sensations and colors experienced.
The new sensory gym, the first private space of its kind in the region, is set to open Feb. 4. Created by Samantha Kunz of Lake Ariel, the stimulating and calming environment in the gym is geared toward children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, sensory processing disorders, anxiety and trauma. It’s also open to any child or adult who needs to reconnect.
“ADHD and autism are superpowers; we just need to be able to have an environment where we can use our powers,” she said.
Kunz slipped off her red Vans sneakers to walk across sensory circles in different ridged patterns. Using her feet, she pressed down on different colored squares; green and red goo encapsulated in plastic swirled beneath her. She moved over to the fake but soft grass and explained that the feel of grass provides comfort. In the gym’s corner sits a pink salt box, which she said helps people combat negative energy and reconnect.
The gym also has a light therapy room, a favorite of hers. Inside, a circular swing and illuminated cloud puffs hang from the ceiling. In a tube back-lit with blue lights and filled with water, plastic fish bubble about. On a big plush pad lay iridescent lights that look like jellyfish tentacles in different shades of purple and pink.
“Light therapy is good for everybody,” she said.
Kunz said there are many different names for sensory stimulations.
“When it comes down to it, it’s getting sensory deposits, getting what our body needs,” she said.
Kunz, who has severe ADHD, has used sensory items and mindfulness to help her process how her brain works.
During meetings, Kunz said, she feels like she has to get up and walk around. However, if, during those meetings, she had access to one of the three swings that hang from the gym ceiling, she could calm herself and focus.
“Really what it’s all about is, it doesn’t matter if you have a disability, healing comes from being still and comfortable and safe. We need a safe spot to really listen to ourselves and our needs,” she said.
Sensory gyms provide three big benefits for children with autism — one of which is holistic development that develops coordination, integration and cognitive skills, said Michael E. Kelley, Ph.D., BCBA-D, University of Scranton professor in the Counseling and Human Services Department and at the university’s executive hub for the Autism Collaborative Centers of Excellence.
“It has a calming influence, almost regulatory, that almost offsets the feeling of overload,” he said.
The second benefit is that, combined with therapy, the gym can decrease stress and create a greater sense of independence and cooperation.
The third benefit is fun, he said.
“Children with autism will very oftentimes have pretty specific and unchanging interests; not always, but it provides them with a bunch of things to do,” he said, adding those new opportunities include exercise and social interaction in a fun way.
Kunz, originally from New Jersey, is an advocate for people with ADHD, autism and intellectual disabilities, those who find their brains work outside the norm and just anyone who needs to reconnect with themselves.
She has a degree in criminal justice and started her career as a caseworker in Wayne County for people with disabilities. She is now the director of Care For People Plus, which provides support services to people in Pennsylvania who live with intellectual disabilities, according to the website.
“I knew there had to be a different way than just medicating … and just deal with it,” she said. “So that’s why this is here.”
Kunz plans to keep her gym, which also offers virtual reality simulations, affordable for local families, who pay online ahead of time to avoid the chaos of exchanging payment when they arrive at the gym at 1315 Lake Ariel Highway in Lake Ariel.
When the gym opens on Feb. 4 she will offer open play time for up to four children at $10 per child, and a private play option at $35 an hour for up to two children, with each additional child costing $5. The gym will be thoroughly cleaned using Force of Nature, a nontoxic cleaner.
The ZENsory Zone’s website is scheduled to be up and running this week. For details, visit ZENsory Zone on Facebook.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5114