Healthwatch 16: Sensory Room at Lehigh Valley Airport for Troubled Travelers

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LEHIGH VALLEY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT -- Traveling can be stressful, under even the best circumstances.

For those with sensory issues, like autism, air travel can be impossible.

The Lehigh Valley International Airport is trying to make that a little easier. It's one of only three airports in the world to offer a sensory room.

Airports can be stressful -- there's ticketing, bag checking, loud noises, and crowds of people, not to mention getting through security.

It's enough to make 12-year-old Trey DelGrosso, from Swiftwater in Monroe County, tense and overwhelmed.

Trey was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum when he was 3. He and his mom Jennifer met us at the Lehigh Valley International Airport to show us its new sensory room.

"It's nerve-wracking enough to travel, to know that if he does get overwhelmed, there's a place he can go to be calm. It's calming for the whole family just knowing this is available," said Jennifer DelGrosso.

The sensory room, which opened just last month, was built in a room that wasn't being used, located between security and the gates. It's meant for travelers like Trey and their families.

Trey and his mom even helped build it.

"It's a great way to help travelers like me with disabilities," Trey said. "Just help me calm down before I go on a flight."

Everything in the room is specifically designed for those with sensory issues. Lots of movement, things on the floor to step on, anything that can be used to calm down in a tense situation

And items like fiber-optic lighting and something called a compression canoe. Trey has one at home.

What would be useful inside was largely up to Joe Mancini, from The Arc of Lehigh and Northampton Counties. He says he'd love to see sensory rooms in a lot of different public spaces.

"We wanted to get things that would de-stimulate all of the senses. Visual, auditory, and tactile things inside the room," Mancini explained.

And apparently, it was a hit right away.

Executive Director of the Airport Authority Thomas Stoudt says it was used by a family for the first time just moments after the ribbon cutting.

"Went into the room, unbeknownst to us, their son had autism. When they came out of the room, the mom commented how amazing the space was and how well it worked," Stoudt said.

A way to make travelers like Trey more comfortable and their families more excited to travel.

"It opens up the world to people! It really does," Mancini added.

Airport officials stress the sensory room is not a play area. It's meant only for those with a disability, children or adults.

And The Arc points out it's not just for autism. People who have PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, or even anxiety can benefit.

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