West Hartford's Intensive Education Academy Teaches Special Needs Students Self-Regulation

For special needs students, getting back to calm is often the biggest obstacle to learning. But, for students at the Intensive Education Academy in West Hartford, their learning environment is being advanced one puffy toy at a time.

Sensory breaks help these special needs students get themselves calm and organized.

“We're looking at not only stress, but we're looking at restlessness. We're looking at the need for movement,” Debra Kellner, occupational therapy assistant, said.

From hands-on activities with soft toys to quiet time, these students, ages 5 to 21, learn a system of self-regulation, much of it based around color zones.

“When we are in the yellow zone, we could be frustrated. We could be upset. We could be very excited. The red zone is when we become overwhelmed. We may shut down. We may become aggressive,” explained Kellner.

Students and staff then work together to acknowledge the triggers that put them in a certain zone, and come up with strategies to deal with those triggers. Students have log books where they track and discuss where they are, where they want to be, and what they need to do to get there.

IEA, around since 1971, says it sets itself apart by its small size, a quiet, structured setting that filters out extra stimulation often present in larger settings, that can hinder a special needs student. “We're able to manipulate the environment here to help our children feel comfortable. And, then once th

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