A Hands-On Approach at Sensory Tool House

by Kathryn Millhorn • Photos by Heather Harris, Elements Photography

Globally, it’s estimated that 30 to 40% of people are neurodiverse. Though the term itself was coined in the 1990’s, it’s not a new concept. Just as no two people are the same, we don’t all interact with the world in the same way. If you or someone you love thrives with sensory or adaptive support, schedule a visit to Lacey’s Sensory Tool House.

Harvard doctors explain that “The word neurodiversity refers to the diversity of all people, but it is often used in the context of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as other neurological or developmental conditions such as ADHD or learning disabilities…Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one ‘right’ way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.”

Sensory Tool House opened its doors November 12, 2021 to assist families with their neurodiverse needs. Owner Katie McMurray explains that “Our work is particularly focused on serving individuals with neurodivergent differences such as autism, ADHD, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, genetic disabilities, and physical disabilities.”

“We are all different; that is what makes this world an amazing place,” says McMurray. “Everyone has a sensory system. We might not identify as a neurodivergent individual; however, we all have our unique sensory experiences. In the office there are pen clickers and leg bouncers. Some may like it silent to work, others prefer music. Food presents many sensory differences, for example some love oysters while others are turned away from the texture. Differences in our sensory systems is a human condition, not restricted to those who are neurodivergent.”

She opened Sensory Tool House to take trial-and-error out of online shopping. “The neurodivergent community, those who are disabled, and caregivers often have challenges finding items for improved quality of life,” admits McMurray. “When buying on the internet, there can be one hundred similar items for one product. A person who has anxiety, a longer thought processing time, difficulty making decisions, and other barriers can become overwhelmed.”

This is where shopping in person makes a world of difference. Unlike a bustling box store, Sensory Tool House was thoughtfully designed and carefully decorated. “The wall colors, floor layout and lighting are all done from research in autistic architecture and sensory sensitive spaces,” says McMurray. “Florescent lighting can be painful to those who are light sensitive. These lights flash in a way many of us cannot see. That flash is overwhelming and can cause emotional and physical pain. Most commercial and school buildings have this lighting. Even the way we laid the tile lines on the floor was with purpose. These are some of the details we have to mitigate as many barriers as possible.”

Eliminating barriers is important because McMurray hopes Sensory Tool House will become a gathering place for those wanting somewhere to meet, hold small events and parties, or just relax in a peaceful setting. “We are a retail store, but more than that, we are an inclusive community gathering space where our neurodiverse community can try before they buy and connect with others like themselves. If a weighted vest is of interest, you can wear it around the store for as long as needed to determine its benefit for you. Fidgets all feel different, and you can try them. Sensory swings are available to test or just regulate with. Aside from retail, we have a community room where we have a variety of classes and groups for all.”

Outside of retail and community tracks, they also “contracted with DDA/DSHS and case managers have the specifics to support their clients. We created the Buddy Fund because many do not qualify for DDA support, but in this financial climate, cannot afford to purchase the tools needed. The Buddy Fund is a grant for neurodivergent and/or disabled Washington State residents in need of help to cover the costs associated with tools or toys that may enhance their quality of life. The grant will subsidize the purchase of items up to $300.”

A teacher herself, McMurray loves working with the community to develop sensory safe spaces or find tools to help students and staff. She also works with civic groups to inform and educate. She is “excited that the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce is taking steps to be more inclusive and discussing how programs like Math for Life can welcome those who have developmental delays. I want to see businesses changing out florescent lighting to LED lights, installing adult changing tables. Ultimately, I would like to see Thurston County become a sensory friendly community.”

Tool House staff share McMurray’s passion. All have either lived neurodivergent experience or are caregivers and allies. “Some of the employees were diagnosed at a young age, others as adults. Each one of us have experienced barriers in our community. The barriers may be different, but the frustration is often the same. Here you are honored for who you are.”

If you or someone you love would enjoy visiting Sensory Tool House, reach out today. “We want people to connect with us in the most comfortable way for them. Facebook and Instagram, email information@sensorytoolhouse.com, website contact form, calling 360-915-9457 or just stopping by all work for us,” says McMurray. They are located at 5831 Lacey Boulevard SE, Suite J. Or shop online knowing their return policy and Buy Back program mean zero stress.

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