CITY OF PEWAUKEE - People of all ages with special needs who need a place to be themselves and have an outlet for their sensory issues now have that available to them.
The Sensory Club is the idea of Laura Martin and her business partner, Brian Hall. Martin has a son with autism and a daughter with special needs.
The 3,400-square-foot space at W238 N1690 Rockwood Drive includes a sensory gym with "therapeutic swings, a jumping island, a rainbow acrobat, monkey bars, rock climbing wall, cargo nets, crash pads, heavy cubes, a self-cleaning sanitary ball pit and more," according to The Sensory Club's website. It also includes a multisensory environment, a dedicated space or room where members can control sensory stimulation and present it in isolation or combination, package it for active or passive interaction and match it to fit the needs of the user.
Individual membership is $55 per month; members access the facility with a key fob that can let them in anytime during normal operating hours.
Idea behind the club
Martin had originally been looking for equipment to create a sensory gym in her home for her autistic son after moving to Wisconsin from Texas.
However, Martin wondered about what to do to help her son when he becomes an adult, especially after realizing the cost of buying and installing the equipment.
"You look at this constant revolving of creating this gym, and Brian's question was 'What does everyone else do?'" Martin said.
Hall said he got an idea from an off-the-cuff comment he made in reply to Martin saying that places like that don't exist.
"I said, 'Well maybe we should open one,'" Hall said. "That's really how it started."
She spent several months researching the possibilities and discovered that the only similar facilities were available only to children.
"There was nothing out there that we could find across the country that was for children and adults and incorporated a MSE room, which is a multisensory environment, and these various other characteristics that we put together," she said.
Setting up the business was a collaborative effort: Hall brought his business experience, while Martin brought her expertise in helping special-needs children. Martin said it took six months before to find the right location.
The location provides a buffer to prevent children with disabilities who are considered "runners" from getting into danger.
"We tried to put a lot of effort and a lot of thought into the details into this place to remove hurdles," Martin said. "I've been in a lot of situations that were just hard, and if there's one small detail that we can change that would make someday's day easier, then it was worth it for us."
The club opened March 1 and held a grand opening ceremony April 4.
The benefits of The Sensory Club
According to Martin, the club is focused on what's best for the members and accommodating for their needs, whether members need the space for five minutes or five hours.
One member of the club, Patty Stranek, likes what the club has been able to do for her son, Gabe, who also has autism.
"It really does feel like home away from home for us," Stranek said, echoing what other members had to say in Facebook reviews.
One of the keys to making it feel like a home away from home, according to Martin, is the location's accepting environment.
"We incorporate more, not just the physical part, where it incorporates their sensory processing, like their sensory regulation. You think about their mentality of 'I'm going to a place where I'm not going to struggle, my anxiety is low, I'm completely accepted. I can stim my little heart out if I want to, and I can be just me.' It's like a parallel universe, and that's great," Martin said.
Hall said he and Martin wanted to build "a community of trust."
"We are building what I like to refer to as a destination of possibilities," Hall said. "Non-special needs can go right to Chuck E. Cheese and go to Monkey Joe's. They can go anywhere they want to try to get their fix, per se. We are creating an environment in a location that can be specifically for people with special needs, and they can go there knowing 'This is my place, this is my family, this is built just for me.' They're not going to be judged. People will not be critical of them. People are going to be 100-percent accepting of whatever their demeanor is or their attitude that day."
As of April 6, Martin estimated the club's membership at 25 to 30. Hall and Martin both hope to see the business grow, and Hall said that they've been asked to open two new locations. He declined to disclose the potential new locations.