The Snoezelen Room: History

The Snoezelen Room promotes relaxation through the gentle use of aromas, tactile, audio and visual stimulation: an approach that, when introduced, marked a radical departure from traditional therapies. The participant is in control of his or her interaction with the environment, thereby reducing any feelings of pressure. The Room provides accessible relaxation away from the cares of a disability. Snoezelen allows all people, regardless of their ability level, to enjoy relaxation and active play at a rate that they are able to control.

The treatment was originally developed as a leisure experience for adults with severe learning difficulties. It originated in Holland in the late 1970's from two psychiatrists, Jan Hulsegge and Ad Verheul. While working at the De Hartenberg Institute, a centre for persons with intellectual disabilities, they began to research the benefits of exposing severely challenged individuals to special sensory environments. Before long, they set up an experimental sensory tent at their annual summer fair. This would become the first Snoezelen room. "Snoezelen" is a combination of the Dutch words "snuffelen," meaning to seek out or explore, and "doezelen," which means to relax.

The Snoezelen treatment recognizes that everyone has the right to experience quality leisure. Children, especially, need time for play, relaxation, and enjoyment in a pleasurable and stimulating setting. The Snoezelen Room provides a non-threatening environment where one can simply enjoy combinations of music, lighting effects, gentle vibrations and touch.

Free choice is encouraged in the Snoezelen Room. An atmosphere of safety and security is created, without pressure and outside control. Snoezelen is the first opportunity some children have to control their environment through making choices—a vital step in self-realization. There is a range of sensory stimulations to absorb, explore and control in this accessible environment, with the participants free to respond to these new sensations in their own unique way.

The Room's positive effects are known to extend to other settings. Educational benefits are noted in visual, auditory, and kinesthetic gains. The basic premise is to begin observing the signs of enjoyment and then build on the skills that are identified through this enjoyment. It provides the caregiver with an objective assessment of effort and achievement.

Since its inception, the popularity of Snoezelen has grown considerably. It has been used in the treatment of children with special needs, individuals with developmental disabilities, those with mental illness and post traumatic stress disorder, autism, chronic pain, stroke, brain injuries, dementia, and other conditions. It is beneficial for cognitive, sensory and physical disabilities and promotes relaxation or stimulation, from passive enjoyment to active decision-making. The Room may be used as a component of a treatment or even a treatment in itself.

Today there are thousands of installations appearing in over 30 countries. Canada's first Snoezelen Room opened at the Bloorview MacMillan Children's Centre in Toronto, where it was a resounding success. There are now more than 300 Snoezelen Rooms in Canada. In partnership with several other Island non-government organizations and volunteers, The PEI Council of People with Disabilities purchased equipment to create our Snoezelen Room in the mid-1990s. A $25,000 grant from Ronald MacDonald Children's Charities of Canada was the major source of funds for the creation of the Room. More than 250 people with disabilities from all over the Island use the Room each year.