Hayden Rettew in his room

In this composite image, 7-year-old Hayden Rettew enjoys three different spots in his "sensory chill" room.

Erika and Ryan Rettew are busy people.

The Lancaster couple has three boys, Hayden, Sawyer and Lincoln, all born within just five years.

When you factor in the diagnosis of a rare genetic disorder for their eldest, Hayden, “busy” seems like an understatement.

“We don’t have a lot of help for Hayden outside of his typical Monday through Friday nursing hours,” says Erika. “Everyone is intimidated by the care Hayden requires.”

Hayden, now 7, was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome at eight months old after having his first seizure when he was just two months old. The genetic disorder is essentially a form of epilepsy that causes severe, prolonged seizures that have many different triggers.

In addition to seizures, Hayden’s parents noticed developmental delays, behavioral struggles and a handful of other challenges. They sought answers from doctors and teachers, which resulted in an autism diagnosis.

Hayden is on multiple medications to try and reduce the number of daily seizures. He recently had a procedure to place a vagus nerve stimulator under his skin to help treat the epilepsy disorder, and he follows a ketogenic diet plan prescribed by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

But it was a tip from one of the nurses who attend school with Hayden that started Erika on a new course of therapy for her son.

The nurse told her how much Hayden enjoyed being in the sensory room his teacher, Beth Kimbel, made for her class at School District of Lancaster’s Lafayette Elementary School.

“She is simply amazing,” says Erika of Kimbel. “Kind, patient and just an incredible teacher to kids who really need the lessons and life skills she teaches them.”

Erika decided to transform Hayden’s bedroom into an oasis at home, where he can relax, be curious, touch objects, feel different textures, see colors and soothing lights -- all of which are therapeutic for him.

“I didn’t want to take away from the excitement and reward he feels by going to Ms. Kimbel’s sensory room at school,” says Erika, “but I wanted a place in our home that could help him be calm in the evening while he’s reading or doing flash cards and is just a good place for him to relax and unwind.”

Erika calls the theme of the room “Sensory Chill.”

“I used a couple different colors of calming blue on the walls, because blue is Hayden’s favorite color,” says Erika.

The room features several kinds of low lighting features, everything from string lights to a lava lamp.

She was also sure to include lots of textures, like a faux fur rug and pillows of all shapes, sizes and fabrics.

On the walls, Hayden’s room has a set of small mirrors as well as a wooden “H” that Erika covered in beads, fabric and textured paper as an extra element to promote touch and help Hayden develop.

Making changes that promote healing and reduce stress in your home isn’t limited to kids like Hayden.

While the world struggled to move through the COVID-19 pandemic, many people sought to transform their living spaces into soothing places to rest, meditate and relax.

In fact, the American Institute of Stress offers tips to achieve a low-stress home, which could help to transform your life both in and outside of your home.

To start, AIS says, create a room dedicated to relaxation. The space can be anywhere in your home: a bedroom, an office or spare room.

Dedicating a space not only can make the process of relaxing easier, but also is conducive to self-care practices like yoga or meditation. Even if the space is used briefly each day, visiting the space to unwind can help reduce the symptoms of stress.

Here are three tips to get you started:

Choose calming colors: While many of us focus on the design choice of wall color, when painting to promote relaxation your choice of colors could be a significant factor in creating a relaxed atmosphere. According to AIS, “Gentle, natural hues are best, for both your walls and your furniture. A peaceful light blue or green theme can work wonders, as can other muted tones such as white. Try not to have any clashing colors or overly vibrant themes.”

Declutter your home: Since your brain can’t focus when it’s surrounded by too much distraction, it stands to reason that clutter can inhibit your productivity, which itself can be stressful, especially for those working from home. Clutter can also decrease your ability to think creatively.

Add houseplants: AIS says “adding some greenery to your home can brighten the place up and bring some extra character. It also gives you something to focus your attention on. There have been various studies into the benefits of having houseplants and flowers in the home, so try adding a few in different rooms.”

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