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Sensory Room at Abingdon Library helps children who have autism

When Mohammed Al Zedjali, 14, walks through the Abingdon Library in Harford County, he is unable to slow down and maintain focus to select a book to sit down and read.

Mohammed has autism and schizophrenia and has significant social and communication challenges.

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The Harford County Library System opened its first Sensory Room tucked away in a locked room off of the children’s play area on Oct. 15.

Now, Mohammed will walks confidently into the dimly lit sensory room, pick up a pile of books and sit down to read on his own.

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“It’s the highlight of his day,” said Javid Muradov, Mohammed’s legal guardian. “In facilities like this he can enjoy collaborating with society.”

Mohammed is from the Sultanate of Oman and currently lives in White Marsh with Muradov, who brought him to the United States to go to the Kennedy Krieger School through a program that helps kids abroad with autism. They travel to Abingdon at least once a week so that Mohammed can spend time in the room.

The feature is the first of its kind for the library system and one of the only public sensory rooms available in the county.

Mohammed Al Zedjali, 14, reads a book in the corner of the sensory room. The Abingdon library has opened Harford County's first sensory room for children and teens up to 14 years old. It is designed to be a low-stress, fun environment for children to explore their senses and improve focus.
Mohammed Al Zedjali, 14, reads a book in the corner of the sensory room. The Abingdon library has opened Harford County's first sensory room for children and teens up to 14 years old. It is designed to be a low-stress, fun environment for children to explore their senses and improve focus. (Ulysses Muoz / Baltimore Sun)

“We wanted a space where all children can feel safe and enjoy the library,” said Mary Hastler, CEO of Harford County Library’s 11-branch system. “We love what we do and it’s fun to see the excitement and to see people using it.”

Inside the room—designed for children up to 14 years old—are special sensory experiences that provide calming effects, stimulation, socialization, improved focus, motor skills development, cognitive development and sensory development.

The room cost $13,000 to create, with all of the installations done by the library facilities crew themselves during a major remodel of the library last year. The Harford County Beyond Limits Autism Board provided $4,500, and the library’s budget took care of the rest.

Features of the room include bubble tubes, color-changing fiber-optic lights, gel floor tiles, noise-activated nanoleaf light panels, a video projector with yoga and other programs, reflective surfaces, beanbags and stools for seating and to encourage balance as well as textured panels that make stimulating sounds.

Mary Hastler, CEO of the Harford County Public Library system, talks about some of the planning behind the sensory room.
Mary Hastler, CEO of the Harford County Public Library system, talks about some of the planning behind the sensory room. (Ulysses Muoz / Baltimore Sun)

When 2-year-old Ava Storey came bounding into the room, she was drawn to the gel tiles, looking down while stomping her feet and seeing the reaction of the gel as it squishes with her movements.

After exploring the gel tiles, Ava suddenly looked up at a disco ball hanging from the ceiling of the sensory room and said, “I want to spin it around.” One of the librarians turned it on and Ava stood there in awe.

Her mother, Anne Storey of Bel Air, said that she was thrilled that the room opened at the library. She said that her mother and sister are occupational therapists and say that the sensory rooms help children with their development by creating a low-stress environment for them to explore their senses and emotions.

“I think it’s an amazing resource for the community I feel so blessed to have something like this essentially in the backyard,” Storey said. “There are so many things for her to explore.”

From its opening in October through December, the room had more than 6,700 visitors and more than 850 appointments to use the sensory room.

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“We know through lots of experiences that children learn best through multiple modes of learning and engaging those different senses, so this is a great way for people to learn together,” said Jackie Cassidy, assistant branch manager, who first introduced the idea to the Abingdon branch. “You know you have a good idea when you see the children’s faces light up and people keep coming back. It’s great to see.”

Harford County Library Abingdon Branch, 2510 Tollgate Road, Abingdon

The room is locked at all times, with the exception of Mondays at 6 p.m. for a weekly library sensory room open house. Appointments can be made by calling the library at 410-638-3990 or visiting the customer service desk.

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