01/20/05 — Sensory garden created at Edgewood School in memory of autistic student

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Sensory garden created at Edgewood School in memory of autistic student

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 20, 2005 2:14 PM

The memory of an autistic child lives on at Edgewood School in a garden that was created to give other children a chance to enjoy the sensory experiences that he loved so much.

Chad Comer was a 6-year-old student at Edgewood Community Developmental School. He enjoyed playing in the birdbath, playing with bubbles and swimming in a pool. Chad responded to deep touch massage, swinging, and water therapy. His family moved from Missouri just so he could attend the Goldsboro school that serves severely mentally handicapped students.

After struggling with epilepsy and seizures, Chad died unexpectedly last May. But the impression he made on people at Edgewood will long be felt because of one teacher's efforts.

Donna Countryman, who had taught adults with special needs for 20 years, was starting her first year teaching children at Edgewood when Chad joined her class. Right away, she says, his affectionate yet mischievous personaltiy stood out.

Chad enjoyed exploring his senses, from dangling strings and beads to rocking in a rocking chair. He was drawn to water like a magnet.

There is a memorial garden outside the school and Chad's picture is on a clock that hangs in Mrs. Countryman's classroom. But she wanted Chad's legacy and love for the senses to continue to touch the lives of other children at the school. She got an idea from an ad in a magazine on how to make your own sensory garden.

Mrs. Countryman decided to create such a garden and listed her project, "Chad's Sensory Garden" on the N.C. State Donors Choose website, which pairs deserving projects with the people and resources to pay for it. She also enlisted the support of friends and community members to help out.

The project was fully funded by November and continues to take shape. The project includes garden tools and lightweight pots for children to plant flowers, tiki chimes for auditory stimulation, a solar fountain for water therapy, dancing sprinklers and bird feeders, and a butterfly dream catcher for visual stimulation. 

"The students in my classroom are non-ambulatory and it is imperative to reach these students through their senses and sensory-based learning," Mrs. Countryman said. "This garden will enhance their learning as well as being an active participant in developing the sensory garden in their peer's memory."

Chad's parents, Chad and Brenda Comer, also helped with the project and continue to visit the school's memorial garden frequently. For them the experience brings mixed emotions, from sorrow to solace and hope that Chad's memory lives on through the items that brought him so much joy.

"It's wonderful to know (others) can come here," said David Comer. "They're going to get so much out of it."