Auburn, Ala. (WRBL) -Auburn University has made history by becoming the first American campus to launch a mobile sanctuary designed to help families with sensory needs participate fully in community events. 

AU College of Nursing Assistant Professor Morgan Yordy is excited to include families who may otherwise not attend events. Sensory issues are not limited to children, as one in six individuals has a sensory need or an invisible disability, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, dementia, or stroke recovery. 

“We know more children and others are facing mental health challenges, beyond conditions like autism and ADHD. We have noticed over the last several years there have been so many children needing a space to decompress during these very exciting athletic events on campus. So having a space they can go to calm down and take a deep breath and relax and then maybe return to the community event with their family,” said Yordy. 

The Sensory Activation Vehicle (SAV), created in collaboration with KultureCity, a non-profit organization based in Birmingham, Alabama, provides a calming space for individuals who may be overwhelmed by the sensory stimulation of public events. KultureCity, founded by doctors Julian Maha and Michele Kong started the organization as a result of their son’s autism The organization has served 550 venues in five countries, including all major league baseball stadiums and basketball arenas in the United States.

Auburn University’s SAV is staffed by nursing faculty and student volunteers who offer assistance to visitors and provide sensory stations featuring light boards, puzzles, and bubbles. Bean bag chairs provide a comfortable place to relax and reduce anxiety, and the SAV also offers noise-canceling headphones that families can check out. AU gymnastics meets have been using the headphones for a while, and families with sensory needs are thankful to feel included and supported. Auburn Nursing occupies a portion of the first aid station of Neville Arena to provide a sensory room at meets.

“We know it’s a very exciting time in gymnastics, but we also know sometimes that overstimulation can be a little much, especially a little ears and we’ve had a lot of moms come up and say my gosh, we were able to stay the entire time, because of the headphones and the fidget toys,” said Yordy. 

The SAV will make its debut during the April A-day game at Jordan-Hare and will later travel to Alabama’s Special Olympics in Smiths Station.

Yordy explains SAV is part of Auburn’s Sensory Outreach Under Nursing Direction (SOUND) program, inspired by the university’s creed, “I believe in a sound mind, in a sound body and a spirit that is not afraid.” The program will provide sensory accessibility and inclusion for individuals with invisible disabilities, allowing them to enjoy events with their families.

“Many people are experiencing challenges in their lives, and if we can be a beacon of hope and help people just a little bit, it can make our community that much better,” said Yordy. 

KultureCity vows to “make the nevers possible by creating sensory accessibility and inclusion for those with invisible disabilities.” Its website contains videos of people who, thanks to KultureCity, can no longer say they never had a birthday party, attended a concert, or ran a marathon.