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Playtime With Purpose – A place helping children with Sensory Needs

It’s six in the morning, and Lisa Bria’s ten-year-old son is excitedly waking up so he can be first in line at the Wilton Library’s annual book sale.

This sincere passion for reading at such a young age is remarkable for any child, but it’s especially noteworthy for the Bria family, as not too long ago, that same son struggled with literacy. After working with Sensory Kids Southfield Center (SFSK) and their team of development specialists, Lisa Bria says her son is now an avid fan of books and learning.

“It totally changed the trajectory of my son’s life for the better,” says Bria of working with SFSK. “The processes were seamless, and they make it really fun for kids.”

SFSK is a one-stop-shop to comprehensively address almost any kind of childhood development concern, minor or major. The team addresses a whole range of concerns, from educational testing and dealing with sensory processing or executive functioning and speech issues, to more acute difficulties, such as ADHD, dyslexia, and more. The solutions come from a wide range of in-house specialists who team up to help each child from start to well-adjusted finish. For example, a solution to bad handwriting may actually exist in several sessions of play therapy using a rope-climbing wall. The notion of this kind of creative and all-inclusive care is the brainchild of occupational therapist-slash-mother-of-six Melissa Kahn and psychiatrist Dr. Christopher Bogart.

Kahn is the founder of the proprioception-play-haven Sensory Kids in Stamford, and Dr. Bogart is the founder of The Southfield Center for Development in Darien. After years of cross-referring patients to one another, the two decided to partner and create a novel facility in Wilton where all of their myriad services are available under one roof.

“I’m envious that our family didn’t have the joint Wilton SFSK to take advantage of when my kids were younger,” says veteran Wilton mom Patti Dormer.Her almost-grown son and daughter both benefited from educational testing at the Southfield Center.

Located on the second floor of an unassuming building on Danbury Road, SFSK is an approachable oasis of kid-friendly bells and whistles (sometimes literally) designed to be sensory-engaging and helpful to development. The colorful waiting room is filled with oversized bean bags and healthy snacks. From there, clients are escorted through a calming hallway of testing rooms, therapy rooms, and auditory program rooms, each dotted with respectful white noise machines for privacy. At the end of the hallway is the crown jewel of SFSK: The Sensory Gym. Designed by Kahn and her architect husband Mark Maidique, the gym features everything from a climbing wall to a foam cube pit, zipline, and rope bridge. Each unique feature of the gym is purposefully positioned to create play that targets and calms the nervous system.

“We are all born with a sensory processing system,” says Kahn. “It’s just some of us need help integrating that processing system.”

Mary Clare Florentin’s son was one such child who needed a little help. Floretin’s son would melt down over minor things, like trying to play on the playground or engaging with other children. A quick Google search landed her and her son at Sensory Kids, and an introduction to play-based therapy began.

“It was so beneficial for everyone in our family,” Florentin says of the education her family received from Kahn and her team. “The way they work is so empowering.”

According to Florentin, every visit has been reimbursed by her family’s insurance, and her son is now successfully playing with other children. As an added bonus, he’s even stopped biting his nails.

That multi-faceted benefit yield may be due to what Kahn and Dr. Bogart describe as “one issue presenting in many ways.” A sensory processing disorder can manifest itself in nail biting, trouble enjoying the playground, and trouble interacting with other children.

Integrating the brain’s systems and comprehensively addressing a core issue is precisely the reason Sensory Kids and The Southfield Center are joining forces.

“They really educate the family and take each child on as individual,” says mother of two Nicole Searles. “They’re all about finding solutions with happiness.”

Searles’ daughter was having difficulty both at school and at home. After six months of work with SFSK, Searles says the difference in her daughter was night and day. Dinnertime in their house went from a stressful occasion to a relaxed one.

“I really feel like we all have a better understanding of each other,” Searles says of the results of working with SFSK. “It’s just a refreshing place.”




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