Autism encompasses a wide range of conditions often characterized by challenges with speech or nonverbal communications, social skills, and repetitive behaviors. Autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. A spectrum disorder, autism can present itself in a number of ways and to varying degrees, depending on the individual.
Often, sensory processing disorders go hand-in-hand with autism, with some sufferers showing a hypersensitivity to stimuli and others displaying hyposensitivity, or a lack of response.
A local Boy Scout plans to use his Eagle Scout project to help autism sufferers in the Scottdale area deal with some of their sensory issues.
“I’m going to be building a sensory wall that focuses on sounds at Kendi Park to benefit people with autism,” Colin Prinkey said. “It’s going to help integrate them into the community by giving them stimulation by sound.”
Prinkey, a Life Scout with Troop 150 in Scottdale, said his scoutmaster, Aaron Coffman, approached him with the idea back in January.
“It was kind of out of the blue,” Prinkey said, noting that he had just started to decide what kind of project he wanted to do. “Aaron came up to me with this idea, and I thought, ‘Hey, this is great.’”
Prinkey, 16, is a junior at Connellsville Area High School. He said he doesn’t know many autistic people outside a few schoolmates, but he has had plenty of time to develop his project — thanks, in part, to COVID-19. He originally approached Scottdale’s parks and recreation committee about the idea at a borough council meeting back in February, but it wasn’t until another meeting in mid-August that he was able to pitch the idea again and gain council’s approval.
Still, he said, the delay didn’t bother him much.
“It didn’t really worry me,” he said. “It was definitely a great amount of time to get to know exactly what I was doing and how it would benefit people.”
Prinkey said he has sketched out some ideas for the sensory wall and picked out a few possible spots for it at Kendi Park.
“It’s going to have PVC pipes that they can hit with a stick that will produce different notes, and it will have pots and pans they can hit,” he said. “Various other sensory items.”
Prinkey said he plans to finish the project by the end of October, and though volunteers may be a little hard to come by with COVID-19 still an issue, he can find a few helpers right in his own home. Younger brothers Caleb and Dan also are Boy Scouts, and Prinkey said their help is “guaranteed.”
Prinkey, who has been involved in Boy Scouts since the age of 6, said it’s a family activity.
“It’s definitely taught me to be hardworking and how to do things that I don’t really know how to do but that kind of have to be done,” he said. “It also, especially this project, has increased my empathy for people with autism.”