Technology Is a Soothing Tool for Autism at Sophia’s Place
AUSTINTOWN, Ohio – As the father of a young woman with autism, Scott Austalosh has learned much about the condition and how to help people who are on the spectrum.
After two years of effort, his goal of creating an innovative calming space has become a reality.
On Monday, Austalosh and Disney star Genevieve Goings opened Sophia’s Place, a quiet room with touch-activated sound buttons on the walls that allows each user to adjust their environment. It’s a first-of-its-kind project that could now be duplicated and customized in other locations.
Sophia’s Place – Austalosh named it for his daughter – is a room inside The Carousel Center, a day program for adults with developmental disabilities on Westchester Drive.
It’s designed to help an overstimulated person on the autism spectrum regain their composure and become calm.
Goings came to The Carousel on Monday to raise awareness for Sophia’s Place.
A second space at The Carousel dubbed the Music Room was also dedicated Monday. It’s a companion room that uses the same technology. But instead of being a calming space, clients can use the touch circuitry to make music.
A mural painted on a wall in The Music Room, which is also at The Carousel, resembles a sound board with sliders and buttons. A user can press a button to launch a beat, and then additional buttons to layer on melody, noises and other sounds.
The secret to both rooms is in the “printed” wiring, which leads to computer chips that activate hidden speakers. The printed wires conduct electricity but do not have the mass of a regular wire, allowing the panels to be mounted on the walls almost seamlessly.
Pressing certain areas on the wall where buttons are embedded activates recordings of sounds, music and even stories – all of which were voiced by Goings at her Los Angeles studio.
Goings was the star of “Choo-Choo Soul,” Disney Jr.’s long-running preschool music video television program. She is also a Grammy Award-winning songwriter, singer and children’s television producer.
Austalosh, of Austintown, is a musician himself and an event promoter.
He met Goings several years ago when he brought the “Choo-Choo Soul” live show to the Mahoning Valley. When he contacted Goings about Sophia’s Place, she was happy to get involved.
Goings had been involved with the autistic community prior to the Sophia’s Place project and was naturally interested in it. What sealed the deal was getting to know the young woman.
“I fell in love with his daughter, who is the heart and soul and center of this thing,” Goings said as she demonstrated the use of the room for media members. “Scott is a thinker and a doer, and he makes stuff happen, and he wanted me involved.”
One client at a time uses Sophia’s Place. A caregiver sits inside the room; a signal outside the door warns others that it is occupied.
Individuals on the autism spectrum can become overstimulated by noise, light or people. When that happens, “they can come in here and feel a sense of calm,” Austalosh said. “They can control their environment.”
The Sophia’s Place room also has a fiber optic lighting fixture, a “crash pad” to lay on, adjustable lighting and sound volume and a cloth swing that a client can sit in. Aroma is added to the room to make it even more soothing.
It’s used on a case-by-case basis as needed, explained Austalosh, who has devoted much of his life to helping his daughter and others with the same condition.
“I’m not an expert in autism, but I’m an expert dad with an autistic daughter,” he said.
In developing Sophia’s Place, he and Goings sought input from parents of children with varying levels of autism.
Sophia’s Place is the first to incorporate the electroconductive ink technology in this way, Austalosh said.
He first became aware of the technology in 2015 and began mulling how to use it in the autism world. He developed the concept with Goings’ help, and the two began work on Sophia’s Place two years ago.
The entire project was funded by The Carousel.
“We were lucky that [The Carousel] wanted the same thing,” Austalosh said. “They gave us full control, and it eventually grew into two rooms.”
Shannon Arcade, CEO of The Carousel, said she is excited “to offer something that uses cutting-edge technology that no one else around here has. It’s a better way to calm [a client] or, [in the case of The Music Room], to be in a community room where they can make music together and enjoy that experience.”
The Carousel has 33 clients at its day program. Owned by RaeArc Industries, it also offers housing and transportation for developmentally disabled adults.
Austalosh is the founder and executive director of the Voices 4 Autism foundation. Expanding the Sophia’s Place concept to other locations is one of its goals.
“Now that we’ve built the flagship, we would like to see it expand,” Goings said. Companies or organizations that would like to become sponsors can learn more at voices4autism.org.
To Austalosh, the Sophia’s Place project seems as though it was fated to happen.
“Sometimes we look back on life and wonder why we meet certain people,” he said. “With [Goings], I think it was because this was meant to happen. It all led up to this point.”
The inspiration came from his daughter.
“Sophia is the common denominator of everything that happens in my life,” he said. “For me, autism has been a blessing because if it wasn’t for Sophia, I wouldn’t be involved in this.”
Pictured at top: Genevieve Goings, who was the star of Disney Jr.’s children’s music show “Choo Choo Soul,” demonstrates a music wall for adults on the autism spectrum at The Carousel day program center in Austintown.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.