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What Is Snoezelen®?

Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins
Updated May 17, 2024
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Those who work with the developmentally disabled often lament the difficulty their charges have with calming their flurried nerves or experiencing changes. Until the 1970s many were lost for ways to placate those challenges. This is when two men, Ad Verheul and Jan Hulsegge, started creating a Snoezelen® tent at an annual festival held for their De Hartenberg Institute for the intellectually challenged in Holland. These tents, filled with special equipment to settle the body and entice all the senses, soon evolved into permanent rooms throughout the world, which provided sensory stimulation and optimum relaxation for those with the hardest time experiencing these universal human needs.

The creators of the first tents reportedly stocked them full of sensory delights like instruments, mesmerizing lights and projections, exotic tastes, giant beanbags and calming aromatherapy. A Snoezelen® room in 2011 is likely to have hundreds of implements and design features that promote hyperstimulation, enjoyment, relaxation and a sense of interaction. The founders used a combination of two Dutch words to define it: "snuffelen" for searching, and "doezelen" for dozing or relaxing Decorative elements reflect these themes. Visitors may find ball pits full of clear, illuminated balls, padded floors and giant fluffy pillows, projected images of flying birds or dazzling lights, and floor-to-ceiling lava lamps.

Snoezelen® was bought and trademarked by ROMPA® International in the United Kingdom, which still owns the brand as of 2011. This company manufactured the first concerted Snoezelen® room full of products in 1987, at a British school called Whittington Hall. These rooms were originally used to provoke sensory responses in those with developmental disorders, such as autism and cerebral palsy. In 2011, many also are constructed to accommodate the needs of other communication-impaired individuals, such as those with brain injuries, dementia and Alzheimer's.

Often, the rooms are changed during the course of each day, to suit the types of disabilities of the inhabitants. Uncommunicative autistic children might enjoy a lighter environment with more tactile experiences, for instance. Others might like the room darkened with more dazzling lights and opportunities for relaxation. The more that therapists can observe people in the Snoezelen® room, the more they can tailor the room to suit the most people's needs.

According to a 2002 analysis by experts at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, factoring in all Snoezelen® research up until that time, the practice has fairly definite benefits. Of 21 studies performed on both those with dementia and developmental disabilities, the researchers discovered that 14 immediate benefits were noted as well as six other types of benefits exhibited after study subjects had left the room.

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