What is a Multi Sensory Environment?
An MSE is a dedicated space or room for relaxation and/or work where stimulation can be controlled, manipulated, intensified, reduced, presented in isolation or combination, packaged for active or passive interaction, and temporally matched to fit the perceived motivation, interests, leisure, relaxation, therapeutic and/or educational needs of the user.
What are the Benefits?
The positive effects of multi-sensory rooms for those who are neurologically involved have widely been reported. Time spent in a sensory room has been shown to increase concentration, alertness, calmness, and general awareness of the surrounding world. Individuals appear happier while in a sensory room and tend to vocalize more and stay on task. For those with self-injurious behaviors or autistic behaviors, the gentle stimulation has a soothing effect and helps relieve agitation and promotes relaxation. Finally, individuals with perceptual difficulties appear to gain pleasure for the visual, auditory, and tactile experiences.
Literature on Multi-sensory Environments
The use of a multi-sensory environment (MSE) or Snoezelen stemmed from the concern that “people with severe and multiple handicaps often experience very limited psychological and sensory stimulation, particularly in institutionalized care, and have a limited degree of control and choice in all aspects of their lives”(Baillon, van Diepen, & Prettyman, 2002, p. 445). The word Snoelezen is a combination of the two Dutch words meaning to sniff and to doze and describes the use of a sensory rich atmosphere to simultaneously stimulate the senses and motor responses of people with multiple disabilities (Cadwell, 1991). The concept is based on the belief that there are basic human needs which include the need to seek sensory stimulation, the need to make sense of the world, the need for relaxation and the need for enjoyment.
The multi-sensory approach was developed in the 1960’s and is widely used in the United Kingdom. It is described as a casual leisure activity that does not require the user to have particular skills. The environment uses a variety of materials to relax and/or stimulate all of the senses. The creation of a multi-sensory environment would include a variety of auditory, visual, olfactory and tactile stimulation through the use of specially designed equipment. Distinct lighting in a dark room allows persons with Cortical Visual Impairment a greater probability of seeing. Fiber optic strands encourage movement and large bubble tubes provoke interest. Items and materials used in a multi-sensory environment do not have to be expensive as long as they stimulate all of the senses (Ball & Haight, 2005).
There are currently over 2,000 facilities in the UK that have incorporated this approach. This method is now spreading through the developmental disabilities field in the United States. The three major benefits of a multi-sensory environment are:
Interactive activity to provide the opportunity for the children to control their environment, develop cause and effect understanding, develop motor skills, and promote independence.
Stimulating environment that inspires creativity, imagination, visual response, touching, and verbalizing.
Leisure and relaxation while encouraging the use of the senses in a non-directed manner and promoting physical contact and relationships (Chitsey, Haight, & Jones, 2002. 296).
Relevant Research on Multi-sensory Environments
The focus of the majority of research studies related to the use of multi-sensory rooms has focused on behavioral change and pain reduction. A study was completed in 2002 that reviewed twenty-one other studies that focused on the effects of using multi-sensory environments with people with developmental disabilities or dementia. Fourteen of the twenty one studies demonstrated positive changes in pain management and behavior for persons with sensory deprivation (Lancioni, Cuvo, & O'Reilly, 2002)
Research by Mount and Cavet in 1995 found that interaction between hospital staff and patients significantly increased following the introduction of multi-sensory environments. They attributed this to the informal, non-directive atmosphere.
Baillon, S., Van Diepen, E., & Prettyman, R. (2002, March). Multi-sensory therapy in psychiatric care. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 8(1), pp. 444-452.
Ball, J., & Haight, B. K. (2005, October). Creating a multisensory environment for dementia. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 31, pp. 4-10.
Cadwell, P. (1991, June). Stimulating people with profound handicaps. British Journal of Mental Subnormality, 37(2), pp. 92-100.
Chitsey, A. M., Haight, B. K., & Jones, M. M. (2002, March). Snoelezen: A multisensory environmental intervention. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 28(3), pp. 41-50.
Lancioni, G. E., Cuvo, A. J., & O'Reilly, M. F. (2002, March 10). Snoezelen: an overview or research with people with developmental disabilities and dementai. Disability and Rehabilitation, 24(4), pp. 175-184.
Mount, H., & Cavet, J. (1995). Multi-sensory environments: An exploration of their potential for young people with profound and multiple learning difficulties. British Journal of Special Education, 22(2), pp. 52-55.