According to Research Autism: “Multi-sensory Environments or MSE’s are designed to create a feeling of safety and to provide novel and intriguing sensations, which can promotes pleasure and/or feelings of well-being. They can also be utilized as part of the learning or treatment experience or for leisure and relaxation.”
Typically, a MSE is a dedicated space or room that is designed to stimulate the senses through a controlled environment enhanced with individualized sensory equipment. Some of the goals and benefits of MSE’s include promoting relaxation and a feeling of well-being, focus and attention, understanding of cause/effect and social interaction skills and are often a perfect milieu for those on the autism spectrum. With their adjustable sensory components combining touch, vibration and movement with sight and sound, they offer something for all levels and sensory preferences.
Components in a sensory room can vary widely and usually involve selection based on the assessment of the special needs or general population that will be utilizing the space. A collaboration between educators, parents, equipment vendors and other related specialists are helpful when planning an MSE. Here are just a few of the options available that may work well for individuals with autism:
The clear plastic water column produces a steady stream of small bubbles which coordinate with changing light colors within the tube. With an interactive Bubble Tube, the user presses a switch or panel which allow the tube to change color and/or speed of vibration of the bubbles so can help promote cause/effect, turn taking and simple visual perception skills. In addition to the light, the hum and vibration of the tube are also often a source of attention and appeal.
For an update on a traditional bubble tube, consider the Calming Bubble Wall as a space saver and/or if there are behavior issues that would preclude using a standard tube.
These are light sources made of fiber optic strands in a variety of options including hanging curtains, wall or floor carpets, vertical sprays or draped strands over a sitting piece such as a bean bag cushion. In a semi-darkened room, Fiber Optics produce a soft glow that can promote visual focus and tracking. When used in strands (usually grouped in sets of 100 or more) and draped across the body in a seat or in a swing, the weight of the combined strands provides deep touch pressure input on the body which may help promote the relaxation/calming response.
These devices are a fun method to project colorful images onto walls, ceilings, floors or a soft space such as a draped parachute. Themed concepts such as shapes, planets, a deep sea environment or even customized pictures are displayed on a projector disc or wheel which gently rotates producing a clear slow moving image across the desired surface. In a semi- darkened room, these oversized rotating images are great for calming, attending and visual focus and tracking.
These lounging pieces such as a beanbag, recliner, wedge, pillow or mats have built in speakers which allow the user to “feel” the music through vibration. Classical, drumming and/or even some contemporary new age composers are often good music choices to use with this equipment.
When considering a MSE keep in mind your space. Obstructions such as excess light from windows, wall barriers such as closet doors, cabinets/shelving and/or ventilation (side hvac units etc.) should be covered, moved or minimized as feasible. Additional electrical outlets may need to be installed and lighting should be changed to a rheostat control to allow gradual dimming. Floor and/or wall padding may be needed for comfort and acoustics. If space or budget is limited a Sensory Calming Cocoon or a Portable Sensory Corner may be good options. Visit our website for more sense-ational ideas for sensory rooms!