Goodwill multi-sensory room has therapeutic results for participants

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Goodwill Columbus has installed a state-of-the-art multi-sensory room that offers a therapeutic experience for individuals with mental retardation, autism and dementia.

The facility at 1331 Edgehill Road in Grandview is one of about 600 rooms in the United States based on the Snoezelen philosophy. It uses a variety of sensory items, including lights, fans, bubbles, scents, sounds and vibrations to provide a relaxing or stimulating experience.

"We wanted the room to be both stimulating and relaxing," said Tiffany Martin, director of Goodwill's Onsite Residence program. "Depending on what a person needs, they can come to the room and in a short time can be de-escalated and relaxed, or stimulated, if that's what they need."

The Onsite Residence program provides daily living skills, training and assistance to 23 adults with mental retardation and developmental disabilities who reside on the top floor of Goodwill Columbus' headquarters on Edgehill Road.

The sensory room, which cost $20,000, is located in a former conference room on the top floor. Martin and other Goodwill staff members received assistance in designing the room from Michael Didcott of FlagHouse, Inc., a New Jersey-based supplier of equipment and programs for professionals who serve children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities.

The Snoezelen concept was developed about 30 years ago by two Dutch therapists who worked at the De Hartenberg Institute in Holland, a center for people with intellectual disabilities.

At a summer fair presented by the institute, the therapists set up an experimental sensory tent that contained simple effects such as a fan blowing shards of paper, tactile objects, musical instruments and images of ink mixed with water projected on a screen.

The pair called the multi-sensory experience "snoezelen," a contraction of the Dutch verbs "snuffelen" (to seek out or explore) and "doezelen" (to relax).

Snoezelen is now practiced in thousands of installations in more than 30 countries.

"It's a scientifically proven system that has been shown to have calming and de-esclating results within 10 or 15 minutes," Martin said.

The activities in the room include:

  • An exercise chair that vibrates to music.
  • A projector that reflects off a disco ball and provides visual experiences including nature scenes and bright colors that many legally blind people can see.
  • Two types of aromatherapy — fruit oils to encourage memories of childhood and relaxing oils such as lavender and chamomile.
  • A falling leaf panel offering an interactive experience for a person to change patterns and colors.
  • A fan panel featuring two fans with lights that blow air, especially helpful for persons with mental health issues.
  • A bubble tube that allows individuals to change the colors of the bubbles and stop and start them.
  • A swinging leaf chair that embraces the body, offering a feeling of security.
  • A "waterfall" of LED lights.
  • A cushioned floor to stimulate one's sense of balance.
  • Sensory tools such as stress balls, brushes, colorful ribbons and vibrating pillows.

"The idea is to have a room that has no demands on you," Martin said. "Our residents have a pretty stringent schedule they have to follow, going to programs and workshops. In this room, there are no demands. They can relax and control their own environment."

The participants decide for themselves what activities they want to do in the sensory room, she said.

"They know what they need to help themselves," Martin said. "They'll go right to what activity is going to help calm them down, or if they need it, stimulate them.

"They are able to control their own environment," she said. "They can change colors, change the music, turn things down or turn things up. It's up to them."

The room is available for onsite residents to use from about 1:30 p.m. each day until bedtime, Martin said. Participants in other Goodwill programs are also able to use the facility.

Goodwill staff members have been trained to work with individuals using the Snoezelen room, she said.

"It's a really positive, healthy atmosphere" in the room, Martin said. "You'll see a lot of laughing and smiling faces."

Although the room has only been operating for a short time, it has already had a positive result, she said.

"It will be another six months before we can have any real numbers and outcomes, but I've noticed some dramatic results where people who are very agitated come to the room and within a short time are calm and relaxed," Martin said.

The room has had a dramatic impact on one resident with mild mental retardation, she said. Although this resident is highly functional, she has some mental health issues.

"We've see dramatic changes in her responses," Martin said. "She can go into the room and pretty quickly de-escalate. It's been very helpful."

The room is a "safe haven for when someone isn't feeling comfortable or safe or when they just aren't having a good day," Martin said.

"Everybody really seems to love it," she said. "We've only had one person out of 23 residents who has been difficult to integrate into the program. Even staff members use the room during their lunchtime.

"It's a great stress reducer."

Onsite resident Nancy Eggert said she likes the sensory room, especially the light projector and LED lights.

"I come here a lot," she said. "If I'm tired or sometimes when I don't want to do something, I come here and it calms me down. It's relaxing."