What is A Multi-Sensory Environment?

A Multi-Sensory Environment is a dedicated room/space designed to block out noise, control space, temperature and lighting. It is an artificially created venue that utilizes multi-sensory equipment to stimulate the senses and promote pleasure and/or feelings of well-being. Within the multi-sensory environment, Controlled Sensory Input (CSI) is designed to promote choice, interaction, and relationships through planned stimulation of the senses.

MSE initiates changes in neuro-physiological arousal levels and affects drive and motivation through changes in neurochemistry. MSE can also relieve stress, anxiety and pain. It aims to maximize a person’s potential to focus and then to act on this change through an adaptive response to the environment. An adaptive response is defined as the individual initiating and reacting in a meaningful, productive way to situations, things, and people in their environment. An adaptive response is a dynamic and ever changing process. Learning and/or treatment experiences can be more effective within a Multi-Sensory Environment. Simply put: Multi-Sensory Environments help change behavior and enhance feelings of well-being.

How are Multi-Sensory Environments utilized?

The MSE consisting of various pieces of sensory equipment is used first to induce a state of relaxation or stress reduction. This is accomplished by immersing an individual in Controlled Sensory Input (CSI). The level of the individual’s arousal, agitation, and anxiety is matched to the degree, intensity, and frequency of sensory input. It is carefully orchestrated to work with the person’s sensory diet*, history and choices. The stimulation is then increased or decreased to meet the individual’s need. The MSE stimulates the primary senses of auditory, visual, olfactory, tactile and the vestibular system. It taps into pleasant memory retrieval and/or introduces a new pleasurable experience. In its initial phase, the MSE is passive, but it has the potential and should become a highly interactive environment. This safe and secure environment also sets the stage for relationship-building as the consistency, continuity, constancy and frequency allow for a trusting relationship to develop.

*A sensory diet is the multi-sensory experiences that one prefers to seek on a daily basis to satisfy one=s need for sensory produced self-regulation. Patricia Wilberger, Med, OTR. A sensory diet is our attempt to modify stressors and control arousal levels and it is unique to each of us.

Can an MSE cause seizures?

Photosensitive epilepsy is exposure to flashing lights at certain intensities or to certain visual patterns and this can trigger seizures. For example a strobe light has this frequency. The MSE does not include this kind of lighting. In addition, each vendor usually has information on each specific piece of equipment and on any safety precautions. So, if a person has a diagnosis of photosensitive epilepsy they should not use the MSE. If in doubt, you should always consult with your Physician.

Who can benefit from Multi-Sensory Environments?

Individuals in the following categories may benefit from MSE therapy: Autism Spectrum, Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, Anxiety associated with substance abuse, Dementia, Developmental Disabilities, ADD and ADHD. The criteria is as follows: anyone with exceptionally high states of arousal, stress, agitation, anxiety, pain and/or sensory processing disorders. They may have a hypersensitivity (too much) or hyposensitivity (too little) to the normal sensory experience in their lives. They are often uncomfortable with their bodies and demonstrate challenging behaviors or express dissatisfaction with their lives. They are not happy. They are often seen as individuals who cannot relax. And traditional methods of relaxation do not work for them or they need additional supports to be able to cope.

Does health insurance cover this type of therapy?

Some insurance polices have covered MSE therapy but you would need to check with your health insurance company about the specifics of your policy.