A family creates a 'sensory space' for their autistic son

Inspirational Stories | June 1, 2018

Sight. Sound. Touch. Taste. Smell.

The five senses for four-year-old Dawson Coppens can be overwhelming at times. They help him learn but also challenge him. They intrigue him but also make him feel uncomfortable.

Dawson is autistic and has a hard time feeling at ease in certain settings. He struggles to play like other kids because he gets anxious and stressed by different textures and getting dirty or wet. It makes him feel uncomfortable at school and at home.

That all changed when his mother, Emily Coppens, heard The UpSkill Project, which is powered by Lowe’s, gives homeowners the ability to transform their homes through skill-based learning.

“I had been thinking about how much I wanted to do a sensory backyard that would help and encourage him,” Emily said. “I saw the Lowe’s UpSkill Project on an app and applied. I was so excited when I found out that I got it!”

A sensory backyard includes textures like turf, sand, and pebbles. Emily also wanted to incorporate bright colors and objects that make different sounds like PVC pipe, pool noodles and string. To top it off, she imagined working in a small sprinkler to help Dawson adapt to water.

She met with the UpSkill team and they got right to work teaching Emily how she could transform her backyard into a space that would be fun and educational for both of her sons.

 The UpSkill Team and several red vests from her local Lowe’s came to Emily’s home and taught her how to grade her yard and lay pavers. They helped with some basic skills of painting and stencil work and as well as installing some of the items in the sensory area. They laid turf, put in sand and rocks, and even helped the family redo their patio!

 “Throughout the path, we have mini-sprinklers and a big, giant turtle sprinkler,” Emily explained. “We told him it’s his car wash and encouraged him to get his cars dirty, so he can get them clean. It’s really helped him, and he really likes that.”

Now, Dawson not only enjoys playing in the new sensory space in their backyard but it’s helping him become more comfortable in other settings too.

“I can’t believe how much it’s helped Dawson. He really likes playing in the water now,” Emily said. “The goal is to help him adapt, to help him in life. And they have even noticed a difference in school! He’s not so stressed about different textures.”


Emily’s outlook on home improvement projects completely changed since her UpSkill experience and she has already paid several more visits to Lowe’s since finishing her backyard.

“I love it. It definitely made a big difference. They took the time and taught me the skills, they encouraged me to do it,” she said. “I want to redo their playroom next and I feel completely up to the challenge.”