Twins Lara and Maya Hammoud have been dedicated to helping their peers feel more comfortable in their surroundings since they were in first grade.

Twins Lara and Maya Hammoud have been dedicated to helping their peers feel more comfortable in their surroundings since they were in first grade.

Photo provided by the Perception Foundation

Perception Foundation strives for sensory-enriched environments

By: Mary Genson | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 4, 2024


BLOOMFIELD HILLS/BEVERLY HILLS — When twins Lara and Maya Hammoud were in first grade at an elementary school in Bloomfield Hills, they had a friend who, at the time, was the only child with autism in their class.

Every day, the students would eat as a homeroom, but their friend would go to his sensory room, where he would work with his instructor on social skills. One day, Lara and Maya decided to go with their friend to the sensory room during lunch, where they had the opportunity to see how their friend flourished in that space.

According to the National Council for Special Education, a sensory room is “specially designed with a student’s sensory preferences and needs. It is a space which aims to provide students with the (individualized) sensory input they need to self-regulate, so they can be better prepared for learning and interacting with others.”

They observed that while he was more reserved in class, he seemed more comfortable engaging with his friends and teachers while he was in his sensory room.

They eventually brought more friends to come engage with the students in the sensory room, to encourage more one-on-one, meaningful interactions.

By the time they were in fifth grade, their friend’s parents wanted to build him a sensory room at home. However, they lacked the funds and resources to build one.

That’s when Lara and Maya stepped in. They decided to make and sell bracelets, raising over $3,000 for the family.

It opened Lara’s and Maya’s eyes to the lack of resources and sensory places in public areas and schools.

“I feel like that inspired our commitment to creating secure environments for all children and essentially to allow them, kind of, places to flourish,” Lara said. “I think that’s a right that everyone should have, and I feel like that’s been our guiding mission. It’s mainly about contributing to society as a whole and how we can shape an inclusive community where children with autism, adults with autism or anyone with any neurodevelopmental disorders can essentially thrive in this environment where we can all kind of collectively come together.”

Lara and Maya are now sophomores at Detroit Country Day, as well as the co-founders of the Perception Foundation, officially established in 2020.

“Our community as a whole should be a place of inclusion and acceptance for everyone, and this is, like, something that’s really crucial but maybe not being noticed as much as other things,” Lara said.

They have even inspired people from other schools to start Perception Foundations at their own schools.

“I feel like it’s helping people become more understanding, and with understanding, we can have acceptance,” Maya said.

The logo of the Perception Foundation is a “duck rabbit,” inspired by a book their teachers read to them in elementary school, “Duck! Rabbit!”

In this book, the narrators debate whether the illustration is a duck or a rabbit.

“There’s not one true way to see the world. It’s not just black or white, but rather we can all perceive our world differently, and it’s correct and accepted,” Lara said.


Podcast series
The Perception Foundation is currently working with the National Council for Severe Autism on a podcast series that they say will debunk the myths of autism and share real stories and real science.

They are still in the process of developing the series, but they hope to have the first post before Autism Awareness Month in April.

The series will start off on the National Council for Severe Autism and the Perception Foundation’s Instagram accounts in the form of reels and posts. Anyone will be able to follow the series and learn more about autism.

The National Council for Severe Autism is still making their account, and the Perception Foundation’s Instagram handle is @the_perception_foundation.


Working with Emagine Health Services
The Perception Foundation does several events with Emagine Health Services, an Applied Behavior Analysis therapy agency in Detroit. ABA services help the quality of life of individuals through therapy that targets things such as communication skills, daily living skills and more. They offer ABA services, speech services and occupational services for people with autism 21 and younger.

They have been working together for about a year by collaborating on events and sensory rooms. The Perception Foundation is currently planning a sensory room in Emagine Health Services’ clinic.

“They (Lara and Maya) are so young, and you kind of forget that when you’re speaking to them, because they know so much in regards to autism and they are always wanting to learn more, willing to learn more, and they are very receptive and very communicative. It has just been really, really pleasant,” Emagine Health Services owner Samah Khatib said.


Building rooms
They previously helped build a sensory room at Dearborn High School, and they are currently in the process of building one for Bloom Pediatrics and Zeeland High School. They also plan on building one for the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services once they finish their construction.

They primarily raise funds to build these sensory rooms through sweatshirt sales throughout the year. They also apply to various grants.

Maya said the best part of this journey for her has been the people they have worked with along the way.

“It’s been like a wonderful journey with all these incredible people that have just like really made such a profound impact on my person, because we’ve made like, one huge compassionate community together that I know will keep growing even after we go to college, even after we keep working,” Maya said.

Lara said she appreciates how they have learned and exemplified how one small action can lead to something big.

“If we invest time and invest resources, we can really create something meaningful and long lasting in our community,” Lara said. “I feel like that’s something that we both just really want to see.”

Their goal is to build 20 sensory rooms for underprivileged schools and institutions by September. They want to raise $10,000 to build these rooms, since each classroom costs $500 to furnish.

They said they look forward to growing this foundation into adulthood as long as they can.

To learn more about the Perception Foundation, visit