Gazebo Gazette

Many may not have ever heard of terms such as “Motor Rooms” or “Sensory Rooms,” but for the children enrolled at The Children’s Center for Communication and Development at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), having access to such things can be quite literally life changing.

The Children’s Center is a non-profit with locations on the Hattiesburg and Gulf Park campuses of USM, through which they provide cost-free therapy for children age 0-5 with complex disabilities. The Children’s Center sees first-hand the difference that motor and sensory rooms can make in a child’s life.

That is why the center is so grateful to Mississippi’s Project START (Success Through Assistive Rehabilitative Technology) for partnering with the Center and providing funding for a brand-new motor-sensory room and loan library for their Gulf Coast location.

“We are so excited to partner with Project START to create a space that promotes motor and language skill development through a variety of movement, visual, auditory, and tactile stimulation,” said Haley Rishel, Coordinator of Educational Services and Listening and Spoken Language Therapist at The Children’s Center’s Gulf Park location. “And we can’t stress enough the value of having therapy items available to loan to our families. Therapy does not end when the child leaves the Center or when the therapist leaves his/her home, and the existence of a loan library helps our families continue meeting their child’s specific needs far beyond when the session ends.”

For individuals with a developmental disorder, such as autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome, the way the brain processes certain sensory experiences can be a major source of stress and discomfort. One effective way to treat and overcome these issues is through the use of a sensory room. Such rooms are designed to provide a place for those with sensory processing difficulties to decompress and to confront and work through these issues.

And what a better way to address a child’s needs than through play? “Learning through play is a key component of evidence-based practice for all young children, this practice aligns with our mission for children with disabilities,” said Sarah Myers, Director of The Children’s Center.

Nearly all of the children served out of The Children’s Center’s Gulf Park location are identified as having sensory differences and/or motor delays or disabilities. And thanks to the generosity of Mississippi’s Project START, they now have a custom-designed, state of art motor-sensory room within the Center. That combined with the new loan library will undoubtedly increase the efficacy of the therapy received by The Children’s Center’s children for years to come.

But the impact of this partnership goes beyond the families enrolled at the Center. The room will also be available for scheduled use by First Steps Early Intervention Program, which currently serves nearly 300 children in the region.

Mississippi Project START (Success Through Assistive Rehabilitative Technology) is the federally funded Assistive Technology Act Program for the State of Mississippi and operates under the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration of Community Living. The Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services is the lead agency for the program. Their mission is to empower Mississippians with disabilities through education, awareness, and access to Assistive Technology.

The Children’s Center for Communication and Development at The University of Southern Mississippi is a non-profit that provides cost-free communicative and developmental transdisciplinary services to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers while educating, training and supporting families, university students and professionals. For more information, visit or