St. Joseph’s Villa is happy to announce that it has received a grant of $19,000 from the Richmond Rotary Club. The grant will allow construction of one of the best-equipped Snoezelen (pronounced “SNEW-za-lin”) sensory rooms in the Central Virginia region. The Snoezelen room will be built in the Sarah Dooley Center for Autism on the St. Joseph’s Villa campus at 8000 Brook Road in Henrico County, Virginia.
Snoezelen rooms provide a variety of sensory stimulation devices which a child with autism can use and control. The room is specifically designed to foster a child’s exploration of the external environment in a safe and secure way. Being able to interact with their environment in a non-threatening manner is essential to the child’s developing more complex skills for socializing with both peers and adults. Research has shown that multisensory environments offer a wealth of benefits, often affording the child an opportunity to improve communications, to enhance his or her understanding of others, and to build trust.
The concept of an enriched sensory environment was defined in the 1970′s by two Dutch therapists, Jan Hulsegge and Ad Verheul. While working at the De Hartenberg Institute in Holland, a center for people with intellectual disabilities, the two therapists learned about a colleague who was able to elicit positive results from severely challenged clients who had been exposed to sensory environment he had assembled. Hulsegge and Verheul set up an experimental sensory tent at their annual summer fair to further test the idea. They named this sensory environment “Snoezelen.”
This first sensory tent was filled with simple effects such as a fan blowing paper, ink mixed with water and projected onto a screen, tactile objects, scent bottles, and flavorful foods, etc. It was a tremendous success. Low-functioning clients demonstrated positive verbal and nonverbal feedback.
The Snoezelen room at the Sarah Dooley Center will provide one of the largest varieties of equipment, to accommodate a variety of individual needs. Approximately fifteen pieces of equipment will be purchased for the room. The least expensive item is an $89 laser kaleidoscope which creates an infinite variety of star-like moving images. More expensive items include Musical Hopscotch, which allows the child to control a color display on a wall, and a Therapy Lounge, where the child receives vibro-tactile input from a lounge chair that includes speakers. Descriptions of other items planned for the Snozelen room are available on request.
Snoezelen sensory rooms are now used widely in education and care settings for children with disabilities and autism spectrum disorders. Encouraging results have also been shown with the elderly suffering from dementia such as Alzheimer’s, for people with mental illness, as well as for those in chronic pain, with challenging behaviors, and other conditions. In addition, Snoezelen is gaining momentum as an antidote to stress.
“We are thrilled that the Richmond Rotary Club has made this gift to St. Joseph’s Villa,” said Dr. Ken Macurik, Director of Developmental Disabilities Services at St. Joseph’s Villa. “These environments give children with autism more opportunities to engage with and explore their environments. And once they start thinking about their external environments, it is more likely that they will have better interactions with staff and with family members.”
Funding will be provided in late spring or early summer 2012, and construction of the room will be completed in approximately 60 days.