Definitions of Types of Multi-Sensory Rooms - Passive vs. Active vs. Interactive

Author: 
Linda Messbauer

When designing your Sensory Room, identify it's function.

Definitions of functional types of Sensory Rooms, Tranquility Rooms, Relaxation Rooms, Enriched Environments, Snoezelen Rooms, and Multi-Sensory Environments: Dedicated rooms:

A Passive Room is defined as a beautiful, “WOW!” room that has the majority of equipment effects usually on in operation so the person is subjected to its entire effects when they come in; it may have some equipment that can be activated by the child/adult (such as a bubble tube) but the majority* cannot. The passive room will over time become less novel to the person because it has fewer variables. This type of room is better used with populations that can ‘speak, or use expressive language”, as a means of interaction, or for treatment in Mental Health, such as
with substance abuse groups or PTSD. This type of setting works well for “De-stressing” with most individuals or group sessions.

An Active Room would be defined as: A beautiful, "WOW" room that has the majority* of equipment effects in the room controllable by the end user, student, patient, client etc. Some examples of the equipment would be the interactive bubble tube with controller, a Fanlight, massage chair. This type of setting can work with either individual or homogeneous groups.

An Interactive Room on the other hand has the majority* of the effects controlled by the facilitator (teacher, therapist, etc.) and then the control is passed on to the child/adult. This is what enables the use of behavior techniques and changes. (The Skinner Box+) This room is a closed loop, allowing either the facilitator or user the ability to control the same device. When this room is turned on in its entirety it also gets the “WOW, AWESOME!” response. The interactive room has more functionality because it has more variables. This type of room works best for individually tailored treatment/learning sessions.

*Defining majority in this case as at least 75% of the equipment or more.
+ B.F. Skinner- Operant Conditioning Chamber

MSE Portable/Mobile Units
Multi-sensory Environments can also be “staged” by using portable units that can be taken into an existing room with an otherwise different function for example Lounge area, Waiting room or Recreation Room or residence. However, the success of these spaces will be dependent on the same factors as a dedicated room. And that will be how much of the outside influences, such as noise levels; lighting and temperature for example can be controlled, to allow for the “effects” of the stimulation to change brain arousal levels. Please remember this is an experiential process.

In general the more beauty and awe-inspiring that can be generated the more it becomes the foreground and everything else the background. The portable unit must contain enough materials/equipment to generate interest (The “WOW!” response) and take over as the focal point, center stage of the room and the dynamics happening in the room.

How much the materials/equipment must be the focal point, dominant element in the room will be directly related to how severe the diagnostic group is that you are serving. The more the group/person needs motivation and an “attention getter” the more attractive and unique the equipment needs to be. Put another way, the quantity and quality of the materials/equipment required will be dependent on the person’s ability to cope or block out unwanted
information at any given moment in time. You may also ask is there enough motivating equipment to fill up visual/real space and get someone reacting to the equipment. Even though the equipment may not yet get their full selective attention.

One could also think of this process as how one occupies physical space or how close or far away we are in relation to objects appearing big or small. (Perspective) I like to think of Portable Units as Distracter machines; which makes them useful in all kinds of Hospital situations too. These units can be taken into patient’s rooms. These units can work well in nursing homes provided your goal is not active treatment, but passive applications. These portable units can also have application in schools where the goal is to have specific lessons or themes for groups. The purpose here is to promote learning through verbal interaction between the teacher and students. The primary learning style of the student would be visual followed by tactile learning.