Growing up with a brother who was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder and sensory processing disorder, Calera native Isabella Powell had it on her heart to help youth with sensory issues for a long time.
Upon achieving several of her dreams in becoming a University of Alabama student – she’s been a “Roll Tide girl” since she was a tot – being a vocal performance major in the University’s award-winning School of Music, and, most recently, becoming Miss University of Alabama 2020, Powell has now set her sights on helping youth with sensory processing disorders through public schools and universities.
And, within an approximate month of being crowned Miss University of Alabama, she’s already made significant ground on her platform cause.
“So far, we’ve managed to raise $23,000 to install six sensory rooms in five different schools throughout the state, and we have one on the way at Columbiana Middle School, but I am so hopeful that we’re going to establish several this year on campus,” said Powell, a senior majoring in vocal performance.
“My social impact initiative is called ‘Gimme-a-Break’ ~ Providing Sensory Rooms for Children with Special Needs. … Because my brother was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder and sensory processing disorder, the school system said he would not be able to succeed inside the public school system.
“My family said, ‘no,’ we are going to find a way. So, that’s what the sensory room initiative was born out of. I knew that through the implementation of sensory rooms that my brother and others would be able to survive a school day and also eventually be able to thrive.”
Powell said sensory rooms help people with sensory processing disorder — a specific brain disorder in which information is filtered into the brain, but this information is not organized properly. This is what causes “inappropriate” reactions such as hyperactivity or forms of aggression.
“This is where the sensory room comes in! The sensory room allows the student to escape from the classroom setting for a time period of 10-15 minutes. During this time, the student can engage in exercises that scientifically help the student’s cortisol levels in the brain, which control fight or flight emotions, to lower. After their sensory break, the student is able to return back to the classroom ready to learn. In essence, the sensory room not only helps the student with special needs, it also helps the teachers and students surrounding the student with special needs. Having less distractions in the classroom, provides for an overall better environment to learn,” Powell said.
In addition to the sensory rooms Powell has built throughout our state, she also wants to build several sensory rooms on campus here at UA.
UA Athletics recently announced it has received sensory-inclusive certification from KultureCity. Sensory bags, equipped with noise canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads are now available to guests at Bryant-Denny Stadium with sensory needs who may feel overwhelmed by the environment.
Powell said that after graduating she hopes to achieve two more of her life goals by performing as a Disney princess at Disney World or Disneyland and performing on Broadway.
She also hopes to win Miss Alabama, which she now qualifies for as Miss University of Alabama, and, after that, Miss America.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.