Mind-Body Continuum: The Only Way to SAE

The term “Snoezelen” is a neologism formed from the Dutch “Snuffelen” (to seek out, to explore) and “doezelen” (to doze, to snooze). “Snoezelen” is a registered trademark of the English company Rompa which was developed in the 1970s that embraced Sensory Adapted Environments  (SAE) (or also known as MultiSensory Environments) principles.

“We do not declare aims beforehand,” stated Hulsegge and Verheul as quoted from their book, SNOEZELEN: Another World. The idea of a non-directive approach was central to their philosophy of SNOEZELEN and allowed them to reason that they could see their clients as they really were, free to make their own choices.

SNOEZELEN is not bound by a specific professional discipline, therapy, facility, or client profile. Rather, it is marketed as a philosophy and a concept to be utilized as a resource to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and other limiting conditions.

Scientifically supported, these rooms are specially designed to deliver stimuli to various senses, using lighting effects, color, sounds, music, scents, etc. The combination of different materials on a wall may be explored using tactile senses, and the floor may be adjusted to stimulate the sense of balance. The more popular and referenced research was one published by Michele Shapiro OT, MSc et al (2008) from the Issie Educational Centre in Ramana, Israel on Sensory Adapted Environments (SAE) specifically targeted both typically developing children who had anxiety issues and children with developmental disabilities in a Dental office experience.

What these researchers did in this study to manipulate the environment at the Dental Office for the children with developmental disabilities were the following:

1. Visual sensation –

             a. No overhead fluorescent lighting (50 Hz) or dental overhead lamp;

             b. Adapted lighting consisted of dimmed upward florescent lighting (30-40 000 Hz), slow, moving, repetitive visual color effects (Solar Projector, Rompa Corporation, Chesterfield, UK)

             c. Dental Hygienist wore a head mounted LED lamp (Black Diamond Zenix IQ, Salt Lake City, Utah)

2. Auditory stimuli –

             a. Rhythmic music via loudspeakers (Dan Gibson’s Solitudes: Exploring Nature with Music)  at 75 db level

3. Somato-sensory stimuli –

             a. Bass vibration for somato-sensory stimulation (Aura, Bass Shaker, model AST-1B, 4 OHMS; Unical Enterprises, City of Industry, California) connected to the dental chair

4.  Tactile Stimulus –

            a. STRICTLY for children with developmental disability use only: “friendly butterfly” papoose ‘hugged’ the child tightly (The Helinsky permission was granted for use of “friendly butterfly” only for children with special needs because it has a restrictive function that should not be used for typical children.)

The Results?

The Study confirmed that SAE creates a significant calming effect for both children with developmental disability and typical children with high anxiety procedure. “For this reason, when offering children with developmental disability an environment which aversive stimuli were substituted by gentler stimuli, like soft moving light effects, calming music, and deep pressure, the children became more focused on the pleasant stimuli and their anxiety was reduced.”

In short, modified sensory environment results in children’s attention being focused on moving visual and auditory stimuli or deep pressure, bringing about an altered state with a largely correlated decreased awareness of discomforting environmental or noxious stimuli. The goodness-of-fit principles apply when changing the sensorial environment for optimized learning: less ‘high’ intentional stimuli allows ‘low’ negative behavior display.


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