The American Association of Multi Sensory Environments: Promoting Awareness, Access, Education, Research and Science for People Who Would Benefit from Multi Sensory Environments

By Hollingsworth, Jan Carter | The Exceptional Parent, December 2007 | Go to article overview

The American Association of Multi Sensory Environments: Promoting Awareness, Access, Education, Research and Science for People Who Would Benefit from Multi Sensory Environments


Hollingsworth, Jan Carter, The Exceptional Parent


Most people have known the joy and exhilaration of a variety of full sensory experiences. Imagine: the gritty feel of sun-warmed sand between bare toes, the pungent aroma of salt marsh, the sound of crashing waves on the shore, the feel of the breeze as it blows the beachcomber to and fro. Imagine: the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd as the olfactory backdrop of hotdogs and popcorn waft through the stagnant summer air that fills the stadium. Imagine: the smell of fresh paint, the sound of a baby's coo, the sight of a tree in full autumn splendor, the feel of a fuzzy, winter sweater, the jarring excitement of a roller coaster ride. As humans, we are indeed sensory creatures, experiencing a daily barrage of sensory input--some pleasant, some unpleasant--that we must process and integrate to successfully cope and flourish in our environment, in our lives.

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In recent years, EP has reported on the use of multi sensory environments (MSE)--think Snoezelen[C] and the like--as viable therapy options for a host of disabilities. Professionals from a variety of fields are now recognizing the benefits of MSE for those who are challenged with everything from developmental disabilities, dementia, chronic pain, psychiatric illness, and acquired brain injury. (And one visit to an MSE will quickly cause the work-weary business professional to quip, "How do I get one of these at home?") However, multi sensory environments are a relatively new therapy in the U.S., having just landed on this "side of the pond" in 1992 from By Jan Carter Hollingsworth its birthplace in the Netherlands in the late 1970s. Introduced to the U.S. by occupational therapist, Linda Messbauer, the first multi sensory environment she constructed was while she was working as a consultant for the Association of Retarded Mental Development (ACRMD), now known as Lifespire. Her first exposure to this approach was back in 1978 when she read a European paper about "white rooms," and from there, her journey into the world of MSE was underway.

The therapy has taken off in recent years in the United States, and in March of 2006, a cadre of multi-disciplinary professionals met in Miami, FL for an MSE workshop. That noteworthy meeting of the minds birthed the American Association of Multi-Sensory Environments (AAMSE), an organization established, according to the AAMSE Web site, "as a way to bring together different disciplines to improve education, research, training, and awareness in the use of MSE. It was also a way for those interested in MSE to network with each other and find out where MSE rooms are located throughout the nation."

What is a Multi Sensory Environment?

According to Ms. Messbauer, who drafted AAMSE's official definition, a multi sensory environment "is a dedicated room that attempts to block out noise, control space, temperature, and lighting. It is an artificially created venue that brings together multisensory equipment in one place to stimulate the senses. This venue promotes pleasure and/or feelings of well-being and can be utilized as part of the learning or treatment experience or for leisure and relaxation. It is Controlled Sensory Input (CSI), especially designed to promote choice, interaction, and relationships through planned stimulation of the senses. It relieves stress, anxiety and pain. MSEs have been shown to help with autism, brain injury, challenging behaviors, dementia, developmental disabilities, mental illness, palliative care, pre and post surgery, PTSD, special education and, of course, wellness. It aims to maximize a person's potential to focus and then to act on this change through an adaptive response to their environment. An adaptive response is defined as the individual initiating and reacting in a meaningful, productive way to situations, things and people in their environment. An adaptive response is a dynamic and ever changing process. …

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