Have you ever heard of a Snoezelen room? The students at Stockton School, a Chicago Public School located in the Uptown neighborhood, can tell you all about it. Students with special needs including Autism, Down Syndrome and Developmental Delay are fortunate to have this unique resource in their school. Through the generosity of the Washington Square Health Foundation and a matching grant from the Chicago Public Schools, as well as additional funding from several private donors, what was once a vision for one speech-language pathologist, has become a reality. The partnership between the Washington Square Health Foundation and the Chicago Public Schools to come together and fund this state-of-the-art Snoezelen room was made possible through a meeting in the Foundation office between Arne Duncan, then the Superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools, (now U.S. Secretary of Education) and WSHF Executive Director Howard Nochumson.
The word Snoezelen is a contraction of the Dutch verbs “snuffelen” (to explore) and “doezelen” (to relax). This unique multi-sensory environment is designed to calm, relax, stimulate, intrigue and empower students with special needs. The Snoezelen environment is safe and non-threatening. Snoezelen aims to create an atmosphere of trust and relaxation through pleasurable sensory experiences. When you enter the Snoezelen room, everything you see, hear, and touch is designed to stimulate an active response, encouraging a feeling of being in control of your environment and being able to explore at your own pace. The room radiates a sense of tranquility.
By incorporating specialized sensory equipment including six-foot tall brightly colored interactive bubble tubes, sparkling fiber optics, soft padding on the floor and walls, special lighting, soft music, a ball pit with lighting and music, interactive wall panels, a voice activated fanlight, a musical hopscotch and a projector to display vivid images slowly moving around the room, an ordinary classroom was transformed into a Snoezelen room.
With therapists and teachers as facilitators, the Snoezelen room promotes the following in a stress-free, failure-free environment: communication, social interaction, sensory awareness, exploration, joint attention, self-regulation, eye-hand coordination, independence, and integration of academic skills and self-esteem.
When it is time to go to the Snoezelen room, the students are eager. They go in small groups of two to four students or individually. Their therapist and/or teacher always accompany them. They walk upstairs to the second floor with big smiles on their faces. They know just where to go. They arrive at the entrance of the Snoezelen room and sit down to remove their shoes. As they enter the Snoezelen room, the lights are on and the music is playing. After a minute or two, the bubble tubes are turned on and the lights in the room are slowly dimmed. The students are free to explore at their own pace. One student may use the interactive controller to change the color of the bubble tubes while another student jumps on the hopscotch pad and watches the colors light up as they jump. They are learning about cause and effect in an interesting, fun environment. One of the favorite items in the room is the vibroacoustic ball pit. Students are able to sit in the ball pit, “feeling” and listening to music through a speaker actually in the ball pit. The ball pit also has slowly changing lights underneath the balls. It is truly a wonderful sensory experience!
Imagine how the speech-language pathologist and teacher felt when a four-year-old student with autism spoke his very first words of his life in the Snoezelen room. He said, “Wow…Look!” They could not believe it. His mother was SO happy!
Imagine seeing a five-year-old girl who is a selective mute, a student who does not speak in the classroom but does speak at home, take a microphone in her hand and actually sing a song!
Imagine an eight-year-old boy with autism running around the room at full speed for 15 minutes and then discovering the vibroacoustic ball pit, jumping in and relaxing quietly for 10 minutes!
Imagine a very passive student entering the Snoezelen room and standing in one spot for thirty minutes. The next time the student went to the Snoezelen room, he took a few steps toward the bubble tubes but did not venture far enough to touch them. Finally, after four sessions, he walked to the bubble tubes, pushed the buttons and changed the colors!
The Snoezelen room is amazing. It provides the sensory stimulation that the students need regardless of disability. It is a wonderful learning environment where students are free to be themselves without having demands placed on them.
Stockton School staff and students are honored and thankful that Washington Square Health Foundation supported this project to create a state-of-the-art Snoezelen room.