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Parents Join to Create Relief for Autistic Kids

The Motor Skills Lab helps the 90 children in Palisades Elementary's autism program recalibrate their nervous systems and calm them for academics.

Enter Palisades Elementary's new Motor Skills Lab, and it seems at first glance to be a typical school playroom with colorful hangings and educational toys -- maybe where you bring a class for recess when it's raining.

But look a little closer and you'll find it's a different setup; yes, there's a trampoline, balls and games, but there's also weighted blankets for calming, bins of beans though which kids can run their hands, stretchy suits and large, inflatable shapes for bouncing and rolling on.

That's because the Motor Skills Lab, created with the efforts of parents and community donations, is for the school's 90 children on the autism spectrum. The activities -- set up in stations from "Listenting" to "Fine Visual and Motor Skills" to "Calming" and "Tactile" are organized to let the pupils recalibrate their nervous systems and soothe them throughout the day so they can absorb their more academic learning.

"Aside from R.H. Dana -- the special needs school -- there's no other facility like it," said parent Veonica Hogatt. "We're hoping to start a trend in the district."

Salon Zinnia, off the I-5 Estrella exit in San Clemente, helped collect $3,500 to build the lab, with equipment purchasing guided by occupational therapists at the district.

Hogatt explained that part of what makes autism such a complex condition is the relative inability of sufferers to achieve a state of calm. They have to do it using outside stimuli, which is why autistic children and adults often exhibit repetitive behaviors.

"They can't regulate themselves," Hogatt said. "They just need some kind of input to regulate their nervous systems."

Rachael Lewis who works for Capistrano Unified help organize the parents of the autistic children at the school. She said its best for parents of special needs kids to have a community of support.

"As professionals, they trust us," Lewis said. "But they trust another parent so much more."

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