Utah Jazz arena adds ‘sensory room’ for kids who have autism and those who get overwhelmed
Vivint Smart Home Arena can explode with noise when Rudy Gobert slams home a thunderous dunk or when Donovan Mitchell drills a 3-pointer from just short of midcourt.
Those decibel levels can be pretty overwhelming for children who have autism or other neurodiverse conditions. So the arena sponsor’s philanthropic arm, Vivint Gives Back, installed a “sensory room,” where kids and individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities can go to cool off.
“This space is about kids and families,” said Nate Randle, Vivint Smart Home’s chief marketing officer. “To know there’s a spot where it’s quiet, and that Mom or Dad could bring a kid here for 15 to 20 minutes to settle down without having the leave the game, people are excited about that.”
(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Vaiden Price, age 3, smiles at his reflection in the new Sensory Room designed and built by Vivint Smart Home and the Utah Jazz inside the arena in Salt Lake City Wednesday March 14, 2018. The sensory room for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities opens to the public March 30.
Vivint Gives Back has developed about 60 sensory rooms for private homes and schools.
Holly Mero-Bench, the philanthropy’s program director, has been to most of those facilities and has little doubt that they make a big impression.
“One of the coolest things for me is to come in with kids for the first time and to see their faces light up,” she said, noting that the room is designed to make the kids feel included — which can be rare for people who have autism.
(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kylen Hair, age 4, from Orem, enjoys colorful columns of bubbles and water in the new Sensory Room designed and built by Vivint Smart Home and the Utah Jazz inside the arena in Salt Lake City Wednesday March 14, 2018. The sensory room for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities opens to the public March 30.
In Vivint Smart Home Arena’s upper-level room on Wednesday, Mero-Bench pointed to more than a dozen features that could be used to calm down or stimulate children. Some have marbles that kids can feel and roll. There are “storytelling trees,” medicine balls of various weights and sizes, minitrampolines, tablet computers for playing video games, and cubicles with beanbag chairs, where kids can get away by themselves and read books.
A glass tube — 4 feet tall and 6 inches in diameter, filled with water and bubbles — was a favorite for 2-year-old Silas Nielson of Springville.
“It took him a minute to touch it,” said his mom, Summer, “but once he did, he was really into it.”
That came as no surprise to Mero-Bench, who noted that the liquid changes colors periodically and that children can feel and hear bubbles moving through the tube, calming kids’ senses.
This room may make it possible for Payson resident Connie O’Hara to take her grandsons, 9-year-old Konner and 6-year-old Kamden, to a game sometime.
“Loud noises and lots of people really set them off,” she said. “We haven’t done a Jazz game, because it would be too overwhelming. A place like this would be nice to remove them from the noise so they could calm themselves and then go back out.”
(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert joins children and their families in the new Sensory Room designed and built by Vivint Smart Home and the Utah Jazz inside the arena in Salt Lake City Wednesday March 14, 2018. The sensory room for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities opens to the public March 30.
Gobert, the Jazz star, showed up at the sensory room’s debut. While his presence impressed parents of autistic children invited to the event — the grown-ups couldn’t miss a chance to photograph the interactions — only the biggest kid around bantered with the 7-foot-1 center.
And what did Bluffdale fourth-grader Max Pratt want to know?
“How tall were you in the fourth grade?”