The Philosophy & History of SNOEZELEN
Twenty years ago, the Snoezelen approach was a radical departure from traditional therapeutic activities. As noted by Jan Hulsegge and Ad Verheul in their landmark publication, Snoezelen: Another World, "We do not wish to give development and therapy a central focus within Snoezelen. It is fully open. We do not declare aims beforehand." Their idea of a non-directive approach was central to their original philosophy of Snoezelen. They reasoned that they could see their clients as they really were, free to make their own choices. If their clients entered the room 'blank,' every possibility would be open for them.
Free from the pressures to perform or achieve
liberated from control and routine
detached from medical diagnosis and known limitations, clients could react and respond to this new sensory world in their own special way. Louise Haggar and Roger Hutchinson described this philosophy further in their 1991 paper on Whittington Hall. The authors defined it as 'the enabling approach,' a sensitive, caring, non-directive approach in which an atmosphere of safety and security is created and free choice encouraged.
What's more, enablers are expected to share common positive emotional experiences with users while involved in activities together. There is no formal focus on therapeutic outcome. Rather, the focus is to assist users to gain the maximum pleasure from the activity in which they and the enabler are involved.
Today, we can review this philosophy in the light of two decades of expanding SNOEZELEN use in different facilities throughout the world. A recent review of research found positive outcomes in many carefully conducted studies. Considered alongside the vast amount of anecdotal information describing changes that have occurred in SNOEZELEN environments, or as a result of SNOEZELEN use, it appears that Hulsegge and Verheul were right in their expectation that clients would respond positively in a unique sensory environment.
Published reports document numerous accounts of clients who stopped self-abusive behavior, of people who have seen, spoken, or smiled for the first time in years-or ever, and of those who showed unusual peace, happiness, and contentment. These results have moved SNOEZELEN towards a more assured position in the hierarchy of educational and therapeutic approaches. SNOEZELEN is now regarded in philosophy and concept as a resource to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and other limiting conditions.
SNOEZELEN can be used to stimulate, relax, calm, or energize. It can be staged to provide a multi-sensory experience or single sensory focus, simply by adapting the lighting, atmosphere, sounds, and textures to the specific needs of the client at the time of use. Unique in its fascination and united by its caring philosophy, SNOEZELEN transcends population, professional, and geographic boundaries with its extraordinary flexibility, wide application, and positive outcomes.
The concept of Snoezelen was defined in the late 1970's by two Dutch therapists, Jan Hulsegge and Ad Verheul. While working at the De Hartenberg Institute in Holland, a center for people with intellectual disabilities, the two therapists learned of the positive responses a colleague was able to elicit from his severely challenged clients while exposed to a sensory environment he had assembled. Hulsegge and Verheul set up an experimental sensory tent at their annual summer fair to further test the idea.
Constructed simply as a roof on poles with plastic sheeting dividers, this first sensory tent was filled with simple effects such as a fan blowing shards of paper, ink mixed with water and projected onto a screen, musical instruments, tactile objects, scent bottles, soaps, and flavorful foods. It was a tremendous success, especially with low-functioning clients who demonstrated positive verbal and nonverbal feedback.
The following summer, Hulsegge and Verheul built another creation within the center. They also gave the concept a name: the word "Snoezelen", a contraction of the Dutch verbs "snuffelen" (to seek out or explore) and "doezelen" (to relax). News of the successful experiments at De Hartenberg quickly generated interest across Europe. Impressed by what they saw in Holland, many therapists began creating permanent and semi-permanent "Snoezelen" rooms at their centers.
During this time, the selection of commercially available products for use in Snoezelen was limited and mostly adapted from other purposes. This changed when ROMPA International, a company based in the U.K., created a full range of products specifically designed to interact with clients and elicit sensory response. Since then, SNOEZELEN continues to grow in sophistication, using state-of-the art technology to provide wonderful, intriguing spaces with lights, sound, aroma, tactile surfaces, moving images, and other sensory experiences.
Another landmark SNOEZELEN environment was installed in 1987 at Whittington Hall, a large institution for adults with intellectual disabilities located in North Derbyshire, U.K. Joe Kewin, a senior manager, and his team had become keenly interested in the experiences of the Dutch. After an intensive fund-raising effort that secured a major U.S. $200,000 grant from Rotary International, Kewin and his team worked with ROMPA to design a multi-facetted SNOEZELEN center at their facility. Whittington Hall became the premier SNOEZELEN installation in the U.K., offering six completely different sensory environments to their clients. Kewin and his team also pioneered the early research examining client response to the SNOEZELEN multisensory approach. The results of that early work were impressive, most specifically in clients who showed a marked reduction in self-abusive behaviors.
SNOEZELEN is now used widely in education and care settings for children with disabilities and autism spectrum disorders. Encouraging results have also been shown with the elderly suffering from dementia such as Alzheimer's, for people with mental illness, as well as for those in chronic pain, with challenging behaviors, acquired brain injury, and other conditions. In addition, SNOEZELEN is gaining momentum in the mainstream population as an antidote to stress.
Over the past fifteen years, SNOEZELEN has grown into a worldwide movement in over 30 countries with thousands of installations, a worldwide foundation, national and international conferences, and international research projects. SNOEZELEN has already built an impressive and credible history. However, we are still at the beginning of exploring applications for this extraordinary and successful concept and, of understanding the responses of people with disabilities and other limiting conditions to these stimulating and fascinating sensory environments.