Actis insulates sensory room for severely autistic boy

Ollie Griffin, who will be nine in the summer, was just three years old when he was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder. He is no longer able to speak, doesn’t have the motor skills to use a knife and fork, can’t be left alone, doesn’t make eye contact, and only sleeps three hours a night. But he is able to complete a 1,000 piece jigsaw in just 27 minutes – even with the pieces face down.

In addition to his autism, Ollie has pica – a condition which means he eats anything and everything – from curtains to stones – and ADHD. He also has a low immune system, meaning he is often poorly.

Ollie initially had a sensory room on the first floor of his home in Northumberland – but after nearly choking on a 2p piece, his parents Allie and Steve agreed it was unsafe to leave him on his own – which meant either one of them or Ollie’s 20-year-old brother Jamie needed to be with him while the rest of the family were preparing meals downstairs.

The family investigated the possibility of a disability grant to fund the extension – but the waiting list meant work couldn’t start for a couple of years. So they decided to fund the build themselves and contacted Northumberland County Council building control surveyor Jonathan Reid.

He put them in touch with Jemma Harris, regional sales director for the North and Scotland at Actis, who, after meeting Ollie’s mum, decided the company would donate the materials free of charge.

“Allie was such an inspiring, caring mum – and, as the mother of a two-year-old myself I wanted to do a little something to help,” Jemma explained.

They are now nearing completion of a 36m square sensory room leading off the kitchen – with Actis supplying all the Hybris insulation and vapour control layer HControl Hybrid free of charge.

The room will be filled with toys and items designed to stimulate Ollie’s senses – strobe and mood lighting, a lava lamp style projector, soft furnishings, a special needs chair and a sofa bed for him to bounce on. Ollie communicates using an app which sees him pressing pictures to explain what he’d like. If funds permit they would like a bubble tube and textured wall, although the costs run into thousands.

As it’s not safe for Ollie to go outside unattended - as he is likely to eat stones and soil - they are bringing the outdoors into the sensory room – with a trampoline and sand pit, and light will flood into the room via a skylight. One regular visitor to his special new space will be the family’s St Bernard, Harvey, who has an amazing connection with Ollie.

Allie explained: “Ollie is such a little cutie, a lovely cheeky chappie. He’s friendly and loves cuddles and kisses on his own terms. This room will bring the family back together as a unit and we’re so grateful for everything Actis has done.”