Multi-Sensory Environment

November 01, 2016

30 minutes for the senses

By: Joe Bailey


The EGF DAC was built in 2008 and designed to include a Multi-Sensory Environment (MSE) into the new plans.  Shortly after the building was built, the DAC wrote a grant for this room that needed special equipment for the individuals we serve.  The equipment included a projector, tall bubble tubes, a waterbed, and a ball pool, a stereo system with sub woofers, a mirror ball, fiber optic lights, and giant mirrors.  Sounds like something from the 1970’s!

The room is designed to help individuals with their sensory needs.  Statistics demonstrate that about two thirds of the population find benefits and enjoyment from utilizing this room.  Entering the MSE Room can help when someone is having a difficult day.  It is designed to either bring a person down (calm) if a person is too excited or bring them up (stimulates) if they are lethargic. 

We had two individuals help prepare us for the room.  Sandra Fornes, from the Hidden Angel Foundation, helped put the room together after all the equipment came in and Linda Messbauer from New York, came and trained staff on how to properly use the equipment on two separate occasions. Linda also helped with assessing what type of sensory needs our individuals needed. 

 The Crookston DAC opened their sensory room in 2013.  It is slightly smaller than the room in East Grand Forks, but has the same impacts. A lot of staff were nervous and a little uncomfortable to use the room initially.  It was slow going but staff are now very comfortable utilizing the room with their individuals.  I embraced the room right away and was given the task to work with a young woman who had sensory needs.  She has been coming twice a week for a few years now and has been doing great!

When you start a sensory session the first you need to do is pick the music.  We have a variety of music at the DAC including symphony, rock, electronic, calming, and soundscapes.  We do not use any music with lyrics in the song.  The reason for this is, the lyrics may take away from what the individuals are experiencing with the different displays of lights and images on the wall from the projector.  The images that we use are kaleidoscope, space scenes, or images of the sea.  You always want to start the session low or soft or high and loud (this is dependent on the needs of the person coming into the room).  Each session lasts approximately about 30 min. 

Depending on an individual’s needs, the room may stay quiet with low music and low lights.  Or staff  increase the level of intensity of the room by putting more upbeat music on and increasing the light show.  Decreasing the intensity towards the end of the session is important.  It gives the individual a chance absorb what they heard a saw and relax before leaving the room.

The benefits of being in the MSE room are very good.  It can put an individual in a better mood, decrease behaviors and physically make someone more relaxed than they were before.  It can increase their attention span and increase their ability to focus on the task at hand.  An individual that has a high energy and is unable to bring themselves down can really benefit from this room.  It makes the individual more calm and collected.  When an individual is taking deep breaths in this room that is a great sign as it displays they have connected with the music or connected with rhythm of the music.    The individuals also get an opportunity to control the environment when in the MSE room.  They can use a switch box where they can change colors of the fiber optics and of color tubes and ball pool.  The individuals are also free to sit wherever they would like.

Many of our individuals look forward to spend time in the MSE room.  It gives them an opportunity to experience something relaxing, stimulating and exciting.  I am very grateful that both DAC’s have a room like this.  I truly believe that it will continue to thrive.