Finding a Multi-Sensory Treatment That’s Unique and Beneficial to Each Individual With Special Needs
At the MukiBaum Treatment Centres for Adults and Children with Complex Disabilities – which serves Toronto and the York region in Canada, adults with autism can benefit from a unique program designed to help them regulate and integrate sensory input in ways that greatly impact their lives.
While MukiBaum – named for founder and Executive Director Dr. Nehama Baum’s son, Michael (“Muki”) – strives to incorporate a “sensory diet” into every aspect of its programs, an integral part of this effort is the Snoezelen Multi-sensory Environment. MukiBaum Occupational Therapists Julia Schiller and Julia Williams explain that MukiBaum’s staff works with a large group of adults who have autism, many of whom are nonverbal. According to Schiller and Williams, one of the goals of the MukiBaum centre’s day program is “giving [the clients] routine and consistency in a controlled environment for as long as they need.”
The MukiBaum centres feature three Snoezelen areas that help meet this goal: relaxation room, activation room and wet spa, new in January 2010. The purpose of these multi-sensory rooms is not just to calm people down when they’re upset – though Snoezelen can do that, but also to meet a range of sensory needs, specific to each client. While the adult program does include weekly group visits to the multi-sensory rooms, individuals are also free to go to the rooms on their own when they are feeling anxious, or simply need to find distraction. For example, one client goes to the Snoezelen rooms every morning, moving around to various pieces of equipment, in order to get the sensory input he needs to focus on other tasks throughout his day. “What I find really interesting to watch is which people choose which rooms,” Schiller says. She has observed that people tend to consistently choose one room or the other, indicating that they know their own sensory needs and what will help them. As Williams points out, “everybody’s sensory profile is different,” and there are always things that some people will be attracted to or shy away from. At MukiBaum, each client is free to identify which equipment and stimuli affect them positively or negatively, and to shape a multi-sensory experience that meets their individual needs. Due to this freedom and flexibility, Williams says, “We think that the environment we’ve created here is excellent for people with autism and dual diagnoses.”
The Snoezelen environment at MukiBaum serves a number of purposes within the centre’s adult program as a place for: sensory assessments to determine clients’ individual sensory needs; work on specific goals, such as developing cognitive skills, or working on practical skills such as teeth brushing; relaxation and entertainment; and building a healthy rapport between the centre’s staff and clients.
A lot of thought has gone into designing and utilizing the Snoezelen environment at MukiBaum. The Snoezelen relaxation room contains: a heated waterbed that vibrates to music, a ball pit, a Lightspace play floor, bubble tubes, a solar projector, fiber optics, a vibrating mat, a wind machine, weighted blankets, and a soothing ball blanket. In the Snoezelen activation room, there’s: an air mat, black lights, tactile bins, and various wall panels designed to help develop eye/hand coordination, reinforce cause and effect and provide auditory and visual stimulation. The new wet Snoezelen spa room contains: a hot tub, lights, fiber optics, bubble tubes and a starlight projector.
Schiller and Williams stress that Snoezelen in general, and the Snoezelen wet room in particular, really help clients to increase their independence, as well as to relax and learn skills and information. Schiller explains that there are “huge changes” for the good to be seen in those who participate in MukiBaum’s multi-sensory program, particularly in clients who enter the program with behavioral problems. Based on Schiller and Williams’ observations, it seems that giving people the ability to regulate their sensory needs truly can make a positive difference in their lives.