Scott Munson, 12, has extreme sensory needs. At school, he is on a sensory diet in which he is stimulated every half-hour. Scott, who has autism, has found a new place to fill those sensory needs in downtown Antioch at Special Haven's multisensory room.
"Most kids like to go to the park or go to Disneyland. Scott likes to go to this room," said his mother, Michelle, of Brentwood. "His body craves it. This is a great place where he can go and be a kid."
The Munson family -- which also includes Scott's father, Lee, and sister, Mia, 9 -- were featured in a recent documentary short. UC Berkeley students and independent filmmakers Melanie DeAnda and Cecilia Wong recently showed the film, "Making Sense," at a small, private festival.
Meanwhile, the nonprofit Special Haven, where Michelle Munson is a board member, recently received a grant for up to $15,000 to expand and finish the multisensory room. The grant comes from the Hidden Angels Foundation, which will also assist with design and construction of the expansion.
Special Haven hopes to raise the additional $4,500 necessary to complete the project in 2013 through donations and events such as a spring beer fest and fall golf tournament.
It's big news for what the documentary makers claim is one of only two publicly available multisensory rooms in the U.S.
Special Haven board member Christine Schwab said the expansion will take the multisensory room to the next level. Currently, the space features elements such as a bubble tube and a black tent on which children can write with glowing ink.
That next level might include elements such as a waterbed that vibrates in syncopation with music or a wall with touchable elements.
"Now, it's really cool," she said. "But it's going to be spectacular."
The therapy room began as a dream of Julie "Jude" Byrne, owner of Intuitive Healing Center, a downtown Antioch spa and homeopathic treatment center. Byrne is English and the mother of two special needs children who had access to multisensory rooms in Europe, where they are common.
She was surprised to find so few publicly available when she moved to the United States, so she set out to create one of her own. With the help of her board and several fundraisers, Special Haven opened its free, by-appointment room this summer in a room of the Healing Center.
The room is of personal benefit for Schwab, whose son Matthew Jr., 10, has autism. Matthew loves the room, as do the children she cares for in her business, a day care for children with special needs. Schwab makes use of the space often.
"It's a therapy, but it's also a learning experience, and it's also super fun," she said.
There's more to it than personal satisfaction, however.
Schwab said the room benefits many types of children and adults with special needs, whom recent research has proved often experience the world differently, needing both more sensory input and less than a typical person.
The Special Haven room is relatively small, but "it's something that fills this need," she said. "There's a lot going on in that room."
Perhaps most pleasing to the families who use it is the ability to affect the environment. For example, a board with push buttons allows visitors to change the colors in the bubble tube and the whole room. For some people, this is one of the few opportunities available to be in control of their experience.
"It gives them a sense of well-being," Schwab said. "If you go there and see what's going on in their faces, it's amazing."
Munson wholeheartedly agreed. "That's why this room is so important to us," she said. It offers Scott "a little bit of peace for himself, and all his sensory needs are met."
She, too, believes the room represents something more than a place for her family. For Munson, the downtown location offers every family a chance for interaction and understanding.
"We want our special kids to be included. We want them to have their place" she said. "We want the public to know who they are."