By Alison Scott
A proudly independent, South African school, Bellavista School in Johannesburg, Gauteng, is pleased to have installed the first ‘controlled multi sensory environment’ – or Snoezelen room – in a South African school context.
At our preparatory school for children who experience specific or generalised learning difficulties that prevent them from achieving success in a mainstream school environment, we are convinced that to support Bellavista is to reach many children across the country, and even the southern African region.
What we implement, we share – through research participation, community outreach and professional development training programmes. With generous support in the form of ad hoc funding from generous donors, Bellavista School has evolved into a vibrant centre of excellence in its local community, for the good of the greater community. Our independence, combined with a therapeutic approach to education, makes it possible to take on board cutting-edge innovations.
In 2015, the school researched, sourced and installed a Snoezelen room to be sure to provide additional support to children at the school. Our interest in Snoezelen extends in particular to its application in the management of anxiety.
What is Snoezelen?
The Snoezelen – a blend of two Dutch words meaning ‘explore’ and ‘relax’ – concept was developed in the Netherlands in the 1970s. Sometimes called a ‘controlled multisensory
environment’ (MSE), Snoezelen rooms are therapies for people on the autism spectrum or challenged by developmental delay, brain injury or anxiety. Snoezelen is found to be effective in treating elderly people contending with Alzheimer’s disease, and there is a room in the Red Cross Hospital in Cape Town for this purpose.1
Snoezelen rooms have been established in institutions all over the world – but not, to our knowledge, for childhood therapeutic purposes in South Africa. This intervention is not bound by a specific professional discipline, therapy, facility or client profile. Rather, it is a philosophy and a concept to be utilised as a resource to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and other limiting conditions, such as the children enrolled at our school.
The resource involves offering a person an opportunity to enter a soothing and stimulating environment, called the Snoezelen room. These rooms are specially designed to deliver stimuli to various senses, using lighting effects, colours, sounds, music, scents, etc. Different materials on the walls and floor stimulate the sense of balance and/or offer sensory feedback. An advantage of Snoezelen therapy is that it does not rely on verbal
Snoezelen is common sense
At Bellavista School, sensory integration-trained practitioners such as occupational therapists, specialist educators and speech and language therapists use our Snoezelen facility to greatly enhance the learning opportunities of many of our children.
Bellavista School is committed to evidence-based practice. Beyond the wealth of intuitive skills presented by our therapists based on their experience, we always seek out hard data before implementing any programme.
We were privileged to receive a site visit from Michelle Shapiro, a researcher working at Beit Issie Shapiro, Israel’s leading organisation in the field of disabilities.2 Dr Shapiro and her colleague, Ilsa Achterberg, from Worldwide Snoezelen,3 personally delivered our training and continue to supervise our work with keen interest. According to Shapiro, time spent in Snoezelen rooms can result in a 50% reduction in distress and stereotypical behaviour, and a 75% reduction in aggression and self-injury. In addition, medication for the management of anxiety is often reduced after Snoezelen therapy.
It is our intention to learn all we can about Snoezelen and then share not only the facility, but also the learning, with health professionals in South Africa through http://bellavista.org.za/s-h-a-r-e/.
1. See: http://childrenshospitaltrust.org/red-cross-war-memorial-childrenshospital- 2/.
2. See: http://www.worldwidesnoezelen.nl/en/.
3. See: http://en.beitissie.org.il/united-nations-turns-to-beit-issie-shapiro/.
Category: Autumn 2016