Changing Arousal to Relax, Re-energize and Refocus

Linda Messbauer, M.A., OTR/L

The 250 Optikinetics Projector is one of the most powerful tools for facilitating change in a Multi-Sensory Room. It is the crown jewel in the multi-sensory environment, whether on a mobile unit, or in a dedicated space. Its value is in both its versatility and its ability to maintain novelty. It has primarily been used in a passive way to relax people. But its true beauty is in being able to use it “actively” to change arousal levels*1. Before we discuss how this is done, we need to review the projector as a resource to use as a dynamic tool to maintain novelty.

The 250 projector has a number of types and sizes of wheel rotators that cause different projected effects on a surface, usually the wall. It also has many accessories which will help change the arousal state and has three outlets to plug in these accessories. You will need all three to change arousal and maintain novelty. Most MSE use the 6" rotator and 6"effects wheels that I call “Reality Wheels” (objects, scenes, animals, fish, flowers, etc.) or Liquid effects wheels which I often refer to as the “amoeba wheels” that is a slow flowing liquid and comes in a variety of color combinations. These Liquid effects wheels add to the ability to maintain optimal arousal levels, novelty and will be discussed below. The other is the 3” cassette rotator and 3” effect cassettes which are multi-colored abstract wheels offered in many designs. The designs will impact the very core of the individual and help with memory retrieval, social-emotional attachments and be entertaining and pleasurable.

One of the key differences between these wheels and rotators is speed. Additionally, the 3” wheel has two wheels set inside one another, one is static and the other turns,causing a "moving" effect of the image (Go to to view examples). The other difference is that most of the 6” Reality wheels have bases in real life experience, which can be positive, negative or neutral to the individual. I prefer to use the abstract wheels since they have no symbolic meaning, can maintain novelty, and can cause Brain Entrainment*2 when combined with music. This ensures a neutral to positive experience. Simply put, Brain Entrainment is when the image or object seems to be dancing to the music and in reality it is not; your brain has combined the two sensory inputs and synchronized it. Some examples would be the Dancing Soda Cans or Santas, or when you watch fireworks with music, such as the 1812 Overture. The combination of the two simultaneous sensory inputs also leads to an additional input to the cortex, and the possibility of neurogenesis. (Neuroplasticity)

The common notion of “Relaxation” in a MSE for most individuals is a quiet place. Typically this means “relaxation music”, dim lights, beautiful equipment, and a slow rotating image—usually a “Reality” wheel—projected on a wall. I need to challenge this perception especially for some of those individuals we serve who do not relax in a MSE.

These individuals usually have goals that might include: being less agitated, aggressive or self-injurious or to stop wandering or screaming or a variety of other extreme behaviors that interfere with daily functioning and quality of life.

Persons with these challenges often do not respond to the “Gentle Relaxation” style of the MSE. To achieve relaxation, change arousal, and refocus, they need more sensory input (stimulation) that their systems can utilize. I have found that adding more stimulation through increasing intensity and visual complexity in order to maintain novelty will help this type of individual.

The arousal continuum for the projector and accessories is based on the responses recorded since 1992 of individuals treated in a MSE. These individuals had either extremely high or low arousal, and did not respond to the “typical” relaxation room milieu.

The following continuum of suggested rotator wheels is based on rules of increasing arousal in the following ways: intensity, complexity, unexpectedness, incongruity, affective meaning and novelty. Arousal can be decreased through: constancy, repetition, familiarity and neutrality. You can think of someone in high arousal as being a speeding car on a highway.If you want to catch them, you must accelerate to their speed and catch their attention. You then want to slowly decrease their speed (arousal) by changing the effects wheel to one lower on the continuum. If the person is in low arousal, you increase the speed by changing the effects up the continuum slowly while constantly observing their reactions, state of alertness, wakefulness, awareness and attention. This is a dynamic process; you start at the level of the individual and respond to their changes. First, project the image on the wall and see the response. If none; move the projector slowly, tilting up or down, and turning it from side to side, but starting out from where they are looking. Do everything in slow-motion, with smooth seamless transitions. Don’t hurry, and give the individual a chance to respond. Observe their faces and read their body language. If needed, use a prism or panoramic rotator to increase the complexity in order to capture their visual attention. The person does not have to look directly at the image; you will see signs of them scanning the environment and physical adjustments. Observe head position changes and note their change in movement patterns and level of arousal. You will start to see signs of relaxation when the general arousal level allows for focus.

The Series is in a continuum from the low to high stimulation. Depending on the music tempo and selection, the Brain will seek Brain Entrainment (synchronization) and you will see the effects image align to the music.

3”Effects Cassettes:
1. 7125
2. 7120
3. 7105
4. 7108
5. 7123 - Just a general observation: this wheel seems the best for synchronization
6. 7111