Saturday, December 26, 2009

Michigan kids with autism enjoy new therapy ball pit

From The Detroit News:

MACOMB TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Wading through a pit of bright red, blue and yellow plastic balls, 8-year-old Jacob Malec buried his head underneath them. Within seconds, his whole body followed, only his hands visible above the surface.

Jacob, who is autistic and has a cognitive impairment, doesn't speak. But emerging from the pit's depths, the smile on his face said everything.

"It's very calming," said Rosanne Bartush, an occupational therapist at Sequoyah Elementary in Macomb Township.

Christmas arrived early this year at the school. The Friends of Jacob Foundation, a Macomb County nonprofit started in 2008 by Jacob's parents, donated $5,000 for a therapy ball pit to help children like Jacob who have trouble processing sensory information. The 9 1/2 -foot-square pit filled with 8,000 balls was installed Dec. 23.

"We're really happy with it," said Keith Malec, Jacob's father, who said the foundation bought the pit after learning the school had wanted one for a while but couldn't afford it. "... (The foundation) started as a dream years ago to help numerous families and this ball pit does that."

Installed in Sequoyah's sensory integration room, the ball pit will be used by about 70 kids with autism spectrum disorder. Kids with ASD can have difficulty processing smell, touch and sound, said Beth Alberti, assistant superintendent of special education for the Macomb Intermediate School District, which runs the Autistic Impaired Program at Sequoyah.

"In the ball pit, it provides a lot of sensory feedback, a steady pressure," Alberti said. "They really enjoy it and it helps calm them."

It also gives kids a chance to interact with each other. Alberti said kids on the autism spectrum tend to play on their own.

Two little boys and a girl waded through the pit Wednesday, laughing and smiling.

"It's hard to walk through!" said one boy who shouted "yes" when asked if it feels good.

Malec, who also sits on Sequoyah's parent-teacher association, calls the pit Sequoyah's "missing piece." His next project is a group trip to Disney World this spring for families with autistic children.