Temple introduces Maddy’s Room, university’s first academic sensory-friendly space

Maddy’s Room offers students a therapeutic haven to regulate sensory experiences and is designed to foster inclusivity and aimed at providing a sanctuary for sensory well being.


After Temple denied Chris Barnett’s admissions application nearly 15 years ago, Barnett decided to travel to North Philadelphia to meet with the university’s admissions office in person to make them a promise: he was going to graduate with a 4.0 GPA and become a prominent alumnus. 

His application decision was overturned, and Barnett was accepted. About 12 years later, Barnett, a 2011 political science alumnus, opened Maddy’s Room on Wednesday. Located in the Social Services Annex of Tuttleman Learning Center, the room became Temple’s first sensory room in an academic space on campus. The room’s opening is thanks to a collaboration between Temple and Applied Behavior Analysis Centers of America, Barnett’s company which provides services to children with autism. 

Maddy’s Room, named after Barnett’s daughter, who worked with her father on the space, was officially open after Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. Maddy picked the logo design and worked to make the space comfortable enough to become home to a community of students all along the autism spectrum. The room is designed to accommodate all types of students with different sensory needs; featuring soft lighting, calm music, comfortable seating and all types of fidget objects. 

After Maddy cut the ribbon, attendees were encouraged to explore the sensory room and to check out the Zen Den, a meditation and mental wellness space located near Maddy’s Room. The ceremony featured speakers like Philip McCallion, director of the School of Social Work, Jennifer Ibrahim, the dean of the College of Public Health and Barnett. 

Sensory rooms offer individuals a space to regulate their sensory experiences. The areas aim to help manage and reduce feelings of being overwhelmed or anxious, according to Structural Learning, an educational resource website. 


“We don’t want an autism diagnosis to be limiting, and so if providing a room that allows a safe place and a sense of community when you feel overstimulated is what makes it so that you can attend college and get a degree and get an education, it’s our job to provide that,” Barnett said. 

Barnett started ABA Centers of America in 2020 after learning how difficult it can be for families to receive ABA therapy sessions — which support learning skills that are part of daily living — for children with autism. They also focus on helping to build social skills. In October 2022, ABA Centers of America donated $1 million to endow Temple’s Autism Lab, which is used to conduct autism research, offer diagnostic services and train students.

“Temple is a special place and it stands for what I believe in, people that want to scrap their way up to opportunity that might not have been born with it, a lot of us, get an opportunity to get a world class education and exposure and so Temple aligns with me and my family personally,” Barnett said. 

McCallion planned to build a sensory room on Temple’s campus around the time he accepted his position in SSW in 2016. He connected with Barnett around 2018 to collaborate on the project, but it didn’t begin to take form until early 2023 

Valeria Clemmons, the founding director of the Social Services Annex and director of field education for the College of Public Health, and her team began meeting with the Institute on Disabilities, staff and students during the Fall semester to determine how to appropriately fashion the space. 

“We are excited to be a part of developing the room and then further supporting the students because that’s what all this area’s for, it’s about the students,” Clemmons said. “So only students can come in.”

The room is meant for students to relax without worrying about faculty and staff interfering, Clemmons said.

“The Social Services Annex is a place for students to come that they feel welcomed,” Ibrahim added. “And now we’re taking it one step forward, that we’re also making sure that everyone can see themselves in this space.”

Students can find Maddy’s Room in the basement of Tuttleman in the Social Services Annex until construction at Paley Hall is finished. 

“[Maddy’s Room] is a big deal for us and our family, and it’s a big deal that Temple, once again, shows up to be on the front lines of inclusion, diversity and support for its student body,” Barnett said. “And I’m proud to be associated with an institution that does that.”

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