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“Snoezelen”: (pronounced snoo-ze-lin): “snuffelen” (to seek out, to explore) and “doezelen” (to doze, to snooze).

First developed in the 1970’s in the Netherlands, the Snoezelen room has found its way to South Africa.

The brain child of Jan Hulsegge and Ad Verheul, created during their time at De Hartenberg institute in the Netherlands, the Snoezelen is a controlled multisensory environment which provides therapy for individuals on the autistic spectrum, or those who are challenged by developmental delay, brain injury or anxiety. It has also been used to assist people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Snoezelen rooms are now used all over the world, specifically in Germany where over 1 200 have been built.

Bellavista School – an independent remedial school and non-profit organisation based in Johannesburg – has just installed South Africa’s first Snoezelen Room.

What Does A Snoezelen Room Look Like?

Snoezelen

Snoezelen Rooms vary in their exact make-up, but many will have bubble tubes, slow-moving images or colours projected around the walls, mirror balls and fibre-optic sprays.  There may be sound equipment, music and aromatherapy materials.  A variety of tactile items can be used too – such as rough surfaces, smooth or contoured surfaces, beads, soft squishy items and vibrating surfaces.  The aim is to provide visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic and olfactory stimulation.

Snoezelen Rooms are used for more active activities or therapies, as well as relaxation.  The responses to the experience of the room are very individual.

Bellavista’s principal, Alison Scott explains: “Snoezelen Rooms are both soothing and stimulating, and are specially designed to deliver stimuli to various senses, using lighting effects, colour, sounds, music, scents and textures. For example, different materials on a wall may be explored using tactile senses and combined with materials on the floor, stimulate the sense of balance and offer sensory feedback to the person undergoing therapy.”

Why Is There A Need For Snoezelen Rooms?

Snoezelen

Dr Michele Shapiro of Beit Issie Shapiro (Israel’s leading organisation in the field of disabilities, which has earned a global reputation for its ‘Snoezelen’ multi-sensory environment as a ground-breaking therapeutic technique for children with developmental disabilities) has reason to believe that 88% of a child with disability difficulty comes from the way in which they experience sensory input.

“The base of our brain deals with incoming and outgoing senses. These kids are receiving too much or too little sensory information and, therefore, can’t process the information that they are receiving. This enhances the difficulties of the disability that they are experiencing,”  says Dr Shapiro.

When a person experiences overwhelming sensorial input, it can cause stress, when they experience underwhelming sensorial input they lack stimulation. The multi-sensory environment (MSE) can directly address these issues as it allows the environment to be tailor made by a professional therapist who is familiar with the client for the clients specific requirements.”

Scott explains why is required in the school environment:

“For many of these children school itself has been a traumatic experience. Their inability to cope in a mainstream environment has created a lot of anxiety around learning and the school process; the child then forms a learning block. When we can relax them with the correct sensorial input they become more available, more open to the learning process. The Snoezelen is, therefore, a tool we can use to assist them in becoming more effective members of society”

Ilse Achterberg, Occupational Therapist, Snoezelen Trainer & Coach and board member on the ISNA, explains it in the following way:

“You have to find the key to the person’s soul. It is difficult for our clients to come to our world, so we need to go to their world. The Snoezelen room allows us to do this.”

How Do Snoezelen Rooms Work?

Snoezelen

Snoezelen rooms aim to; deal with anxiety, address sensorial issues, assist in a child’s adaptation to their environment and enhance the goals of therapy, be it occupational, speech or language therapy.

“The best thing about the Snoezelen is that it shows us that there is more that we can do for the children. Here is a tool that we can use to enhance the therapy and education strategies that we already use with our children.” Says Scott

According to Dr Shapiro’s research findings, there was a 50% reduction in distress and stereotypical behavior, and 75% less aggression and self-injury in the Snoezelen environment.

“Research has shown that the use of the Snoezelen room can reduce maladaptive behaviours and stress levels. Inside the room we work with the senses, in essence the nervous system, and this has a direct impact on the individual’s brain -thus we see result. This makes sense to us as it is common knowledge that humans learn through their senses” Says Dr Shapiro.

Brayden Reiter, 5, presses a button to change the bubble tubes from yellow to orange.

Brayden Reiter, 5, presses a button to change the bubble tubes from yellow to orange.

Scott explains: “Our children are battling because the executive function of their brain is not performing as is expected. However, we have realized that due to the under/overload of sensory information that they are experiencing and their inability to process this correctly, the information never reaches the memory or retention areas of the brain and thus they cannot be expected to have normal executive brain functionality. This is seen, for example, when a child learns to do something the one day and then the next day they have no idea how to do it anymore. However, with the Snoezelen intervention this sensory information is processed correctly and they are then more readily able to learn.”

The room works around the philosophy that every child is unique, and that a child can be put into a more accessible state where they will be more open to the process of therapy. Dr Shapiro explains:

“There are different kinds of stress. Regardless of what kind of stress a child is experiencing the result is the same, the body tenses. The multi-sensory environment relaxes this tension. If a child has been though a trauma we cannot take away the psychological damage, however, we can prepare them for the therapy/assist in making the therapy more effective.

“Talking about this takes me back to the times when I was an occupational therapist; I was very focused on the aim of each session. If the child needed to learn to put on their shoes then that is what I drove at, trying to garner results. Snoezelen has taught me a more holistic approach, where I learn about that child as an individual, find out how their day is going, what they are feeling and what they require – then only can I proceed with therapy.”

Snoezelen

She goes on to explain that Snoezelen therapy has long lasting effects.

“Children internalize the multisensory experience. Through this sensory exposure they learn how to better regulate the sensory input that they are receiving in their usual environment. When the therapy comes to an end, the length is different for each child, we give the child a small piece of material that they can place in their pocket and we tell them that that is a Snoezelen as well. Then whenever they are feeling anxious or troubled they can touch the material and be reminded of how they felt in the Snoezelen environment, it is similar to what we would do with yoga.”

“The key to effective therapy in a Snoezelen environment is training. Only qualified staff can meet individual needs of the child, empower the child and let the child lead the way.” Dr Shapiro said. “In this way, we have seen children feel calmer, more in control of their environment and able to concentrate. And because of this, we have seen them learn new skills while having such fun.” Dr. Shapiro and Ms. Ilse Achterberg, will be providing a comprehensive top-class training program for the staff of Bellavista this coming June.

View A Snoezelen Room Below:

The video footage of the room starts at 2.38 and ends at 5.19.

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Guest Writer

This post has been curated by a Longevity Live editor for the website.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

One Comment

  • Michael Shann says:

    Very informative article: in the forefront of educating South Africans on the state of the art in the developed Northern Hemisphere. No doubt such a high-tech, flexible/adjustable environment works very well (reminds me of the less high-tech Montessori classroom environment). However, if we ignore the now seemingly insurmountable logistics and the physio-psychological requirements of the PRACTITIONERS, the SUBJECTS/PATIENTS would respond equally well to visits to quiet, secluded wilderness areas where their sensual input could be naturally matched to the environment in which our all nervous systems evolved.