HAMMOND — At school, 9-year-old Abigail Worthington has trouble dealing with all the sounds, smells and feelings she encounters every day.
Diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, Abigail can get worn out experiencing all that.
But for three days every summer, she indulges in activities that make her more comfortable. At Southeastern Louisiana University's Camp Sensation, there are rooms created specifically to soothe her and virtual-reality games that make her feel less out of sync.
"It is for people like me," said Abigail, while playing in a kitchen with homemade slime, a pleasing texture for her. "You can do things you can't normally do other places."
At Camp Sensation, children with disorders like Abigail's as well as others with autism, Down syndrome and other diagnoses, get the chance to experiment with different feelings, sounds and smells. Some are hypersensitive and benefit from soothing textures and quiet. Others need more noise, more action.
"It just depends," said Colleen Klein-Ezell, an associate professor of early childhood education at SLU. "All these kids have a different story."
For three days, the children move among the stations, playing virtual-reality video games, cooking, smelling new foods and experiencing new sensations.
Younger preschool and elementary-age children attend in the morning; older kids come in the afternoon. Their parents attend at least part of the camp and learn new concepts and techniques for helping their children learn and feel comfortable.
At the center of the camp is the Snoezelen Sensorium, two rooms created to fill different needs.
One room is dimly lit with light tubes resembling huge lava lamps in one corner and padded seating spread throughout. Low-key music plays, and the bass reverberates on special chairs so children can feel the music.
Next door, a brightly colored room for children in need of extra stimulation features a swing and padded stairs and huge blocks to climb.
"It is calming, or it heightens their senses," Klein-Ezell said.
Campers can choose their own experience.
"We let them decide what their needs are," Klein-Ezell said. "It's not up to us."
In the darkened calming room, 10-year-old Daniel Holt lies on a chair, feeling the sounds of classical music. Holt, who has autism, sits quietly and looks at the blue light moving around the walls while a volunteer places weighted blankets on him.
Some people with autism long for this feeling of weight on their body, Klein-Ezell says, like the feeling of a hug.
"They are just kind of compressed," she said.
While Daniel lies in comfort, Jack Dahl constantly moves. He plays with an oversized circular pad with buttons numbered 1 through 8. Each time he punches one, the light tubes change colors.
Jack craves activity, his mother said, and he enjoys swinging in the more active room next door, but the swing is out of commission for the day.
"These are things you can't find in your home, different things he's attracted to," said Loria Dahl, of Mandeville. "We're learning maybe he needs more of that."
For Abigail's parents, they can never discover too much about her condition. She is highly intelligent and does well in school, but after a school day filled with noise and other sensory challenges, she needs to check out alone in her room. The tastes and textures of foods affect her differently every day. Something she likes for one meal will disgust her at another.
"Her senses are really heightened and really extreme," said her mother, Becky Worthington, while watching her play. "She needs to be grounded, needs things to calm her down."
Camp Sensation has helped the Worthingtons better understand their daughter's needs.
"I just think it is such a good environment to be in," Becky Worthington said. "Every day, we learn something."