Vivint Arena adds new sensory room for fans with autism

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SALT LAKE CITY — Kylen Hair walked into a new sensory room at the Vivint Arena and was almost immediately drawn to a large water tube of bubbles in a corner of the room.

He raced up to it and placed his face and hands on the glass tube, his eyes illuminating as the tube changed colors every few seconds. In this moment, he hardly noticed anything else in the room — the cubicles with all sorts of toys with various shapes and surfaces, video games on tablets on the other side of the room, as well as the weight balls and mini trampolines in the adjacent corner.

Each item in the room has a purpose.

Soon, Kylen and other children or adults with autism, Down syndrome or other sensory-processing disabilities will have access to this sensory room during events, such as Utah Jazz games, in the arena. The room, located on the fifth floor on the southeast corner of the arena, is just the third of its kind in the NBA and will be opened to the public beginning March 30.

“Being autistic, he’s misunderstood a lot of times,” said Kylen’s father, Andrew Hair, of Orem. “Sometimes when the game gets too crowded or too loud, a place to escape where he can be with other people, other kids who relate to him is really exciting.”

The room was built by Vivint Gives Back and is one of nearly a dozen in the state built by the charitable wing of Vivint Smart Home, said Holly Mero-Bench, director of the organization. The room took about six months to be built.

“The Jazz and Vivint teamed up to find a space that would be really conducive for them,” she said. “Every component in the room is meant to either calm or stimulate a different sense. If you go around the room, you’ll see each component of the room is labeled with which sense that it helps.”

For example, the bubble tube Kylen and other children were drawn to soothes them with visual and auditory stimulation. Children often put their hands and face on it because the sound of the water helps calm their senses.

“Outside looking in, it looks like an awesome playroom, but it actually is a space that was created to be therapeutic,” Mero-Bench added.

Vivint Gives Back hosted an event Wednesday, allowing about a dozen families with children who have autism to test out the room.

While Kylen is busy playing with bubbles and ringing a bell at a nearby music station, Max Pratt, 10, and Jackson Pratt, 9, are over by other visually-stimulating stations. Eventually, Max sat down on a bean bag chair and placed fiber optic cables on his face, getting lost in the cable’s changing colors.

“They want to participate and be active with their friends and family members, but at the same time, they have some sensory needs,” said their father, Steve Pratt of Bluffdale, who stood by the cubicles on the other side of the room. “Every once in awhile, they just need to go and decompress or go to a quiet space, and this would be perfect.”

Both Max and Jackson, who Steve Pratt described as having rather high-functioning autism, are Jazz fans who want to attend games and have before. However, Steve Pratt said they were jarred by the arena experience a few times. The family would bring headphones for them to wear if it got out of hand.

“If they’re at the game and it’s just a little too much for them, instead of just standing in the hall or getting frustrated, you can bring them here,” Steve Pratt said. “They can just come in here and play, shift gears in their head, it’s little quieter — they’ll decompress a little bit and then get back to the game and have some fun.”

As the children played around the sensory room, they were given one last surprise. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert walked into the room and all eyes immediately turned to the 7-foot-1 center, who quickly gave Kylen a high-five.

Gobert then sat down by the weighted balls, where he started speaking with Max. Max asked him all sorts of questions, like how tall Gobert was when he was 10. Max then showed him his ability to lift the heaviest weight ball, before dishing it to Gobert.

Max — like the other Jazz fans in the room — lit up with Gobert’s presence. They were mesmerized by Gobert, as their parents took photos from their phones. While he’s the star in the room for many, Kylen breezed by him, carrying a ball as the NBA center held up his hands in anticipating a pass.

Gobert shook his head and chuckled. This room, giving a sense of comfort for Kylen and the other children around him, is the real MVP.

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