Ausnew Home Care | Questacon launches Calm Space, a peaceful escape for neurodivergent children

Questacon launches Calm Space, a peaceful escape for neurodivergent children

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Claire Dyer works in one of the most stimulating and fun-filled environments in Australia.

Her office, which is visited by thousands of children each year, features an earthquake simulator, caged lightning and robots.

But it has long troubled the mother of three that her own children, who are neurodivergent, found it difficult to cope with the sensory overload that is Questacon — the National Science and Technology Centre based in Canberra.

"It is very loud. It is chaotic and my kids struggle," Ms Dyer said.

A little girl smiles holding some soft toys.
Six-year-old Jasmine and her brothers have sometimes struggled to enjoy Questacon.(ABC News: Tahlia Roy)

Ms Dyer's son Bailey, 10, has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) which is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain.

"My son has a cubby as a bed and likes to be able to use toys to project how he's feeling. He definitely likes to be enclosed a lot more," Ms Dyer said.

"In terms of behaviour, [people with ASD] are often socially awkward. They don't know how to read cues from people. They don't know how to respond properly to people."

Bailey's little brother Alex, eight, is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), with sufferers often having trouble focusing and controlling impulses.

"For ADHD, they become even more hyperactive and they run. They're not even taking in what's going on around them," Ms Dyer said.

She said she believed Jasmine, six, was similarly neurodivergent and was likely to be diagnosed in the future.

First-time recognition of neurodiversity

A woman with blonde hair smiling in a red blazer.
Questacon chief executive Jo White says Calm Space was designed with input from disability experts.(ABC News: Tahlia Roy)

Ms Dyer said when she took her three children to Questacon, it resulted in "temper tantrums and shutting down".

"For my eldest, he basically will shut down and we won't be able to get him to go anywhere or to do anything," Ms Dyer said.

"[It can be] too much and 'I need to be in my cocoon to try and bring all of my senses back down again,'" she said of her son. 

Ms Dyer said rather than giving up, which would have seen her children excluded from the space, she has used her position as project manager to create a quiet space for neurodivergent children.

It's the first time in the institution's 35-year history that it has taken neurodiversity into account.

A room with a tree cubby house, reading corner, soft colours and low lighting.
Money for Questacon in May's federal budget was spent on establishing Calm Space.(ABC News: Tahlia Roy)

Questacon chief executive Jo White said disability experts were consulted and the room has been designed to be quiet, with low lighting and textured materials.

"It has little nooks where you can actually go into a quiet space. There are areas for reading and quiet exploration," she explained.

"From a parent's point of view, there is nothing like this anywhere else. [At other places] I have to take my kids home to be able to try and bring them back down," Ms Dyer said.


Source: ABC

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