Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Autistic children, and adults, find calm in a 'Snoezelen' room

In a room illuminated only by a lightup ball pit, colorful tubes, fiber-optic ropes draped over a swinging chair and psychedelic patterns projected on the walls, 3-year-old A.J. Gaskin sprints from corner to corner, giggling with delight.

With calm, ambient sounds playing in the background, A.J. goes between a floor-to-ceiling bubble tube and the round remote control he uses to turn it on and off and change the color. He switches directions and clambers into the tall kiddie pool filled with clear balls, made to look like a bubble bath.

"Hey," he calls to a staff member. "Do you want to go with me into the ball pit?"

The multisensory room — known by its Dutch name, Snoezelen — is part of A.J.'s applied behavioral analysis therapy for his autism spectrum disorder. PARC, a local nonprofit that serves people with developmental disabilities, opened the room this year as part of its new Autism Behavioral Center in St. Petersburg.

Snoezelen — a blend of two Dutch words meaning "explore" and "relax" — was invented in the Netherlands in the 1970s. The rooms use specialized, brand-name equipment that stimulates the senses with sound, light, color, texture and aroma. They're designed to help individuals with developmental disabilities, dementia and some neurological problems to regulate how much sensory stimulation they experience.

A.J.'s mom, Tinamarie Gaskin, said that when she first saw her rambunctious son plunge into the ball pit — and then relax — she was amazed.

"It was the first time I saw him sit still," said Gaskin, a 40-year-old call center manager from Gulfport. "I wanted to take a picture."

She added that in the past two months PARC's therapy plan has helped her son tremendously. At home, A.J. can't be more than a few feet away from his mom. But when he goes into the Snoezelen, he asks his mom to wait outside. He's also much better at handling his emotions and stopping tantrums before they happen.

"I was at my breaking point," she said, noting that she works six days a week to accommodate A.J.'s therapy.

The center serves all ages but was designed primarily for children. To fit parents' schedules, it's open daily, including nights and weekends. There are rooms for private therapy and family observation, and staff members work with families, their finances and schools to develop treatment plans.

"We're filling a great need in Pinellas County," said Karen Higgins, PARC's president and chief executive.

There are close to 1,200 Snoezelen rooms in North America, according to FlagHouse, the company that provides the equipment. PARC has the only multisensory room with official Snoezelen equipment in the Tampa Bay area.

In the Snoezelen, a child with autism learns what it feels like to calm down and escape from an overstimulating environment, said Linda Messbauer, an occupational therapist who established the first Snoezelen in the United States in 1992. When they re-enter a stressful environment, children can think back to the Snoezelen room, which helps them relax. Then, they are more receptive to other types of therapy and education.

"You're putting the brain on vacation," Messbauer said. "You're taking it out of the stress and the sensory processing issues that (children with autism) have."

Messbauer noted that she once took a 4-year-old boy who had never spoken a single word into a Snoezelen room for his first session. At the end, she asked if he wanted to come back, to which he replied, "Yes, tomorrow."

By being able to choose where he goes, the activities he does and the colors of the lights, A.J. learns independence, said Dru Millerwise, PARC director of behavior services and A.J.'s therapist. The calming nature of the room also helps him focus and prepare for therapy.

The Autism Behavioral Center and the Snoezelen room still have room to grow, Higgins said. When complete, about $80,000 will have been spent on the Snoezelen. The seed money came from donations, and PARC is pursuing grant opportunities.

PARC hopes to get more bubble tubes, a better stereo system and devices to make the ball pit vibrate and disco ball spin.

Follow @LaurenFCarroll on Twitter.

Autistic children, and adults, find calm in a 'Snoezelen' room 08/27/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 30, 2013 5:00pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Deputies: Wimauma teacher's aide sexually molested teen, 13

    Crime

    A Wimauma teacher's aide faces charges lewd or lascivious molestation after Hillborough County deputies say he inappropriatly touched a 13-year-old girl.

    Sonny Juarez, 29, a teacher's aide in Wimauma, faces charges lewd or lascivious molestation after Hillborough County deputies say he inappropriatly touched a 13-year-old girl on several occasions while working at the RCMA Wimauma Academy, 18236 U.S. 301 S, between November 2016 and March 2017. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]

  2. Tampa Bay deputies head to UF to assist with Richard Spencer's speech

    Public Safety

    Local deputies are heading up to Alachua County in preparation of white nationalist Richard Spencer's speech in Gainesville on Thursday.

    Law enforcement is stepped up in Gainesville on Oct. 18, 2017, ahead of Richard Spencer's appearance. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]
  3. Gymnast McKayla Maroney alleges sexual abuse by team doctor

    Olympics

    Two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney says she was molested for years by a former USA Gymnastics team doctor, abuse she said started in her early teens and continued for the rest of her competitive career.

    U.S. gymnast McKayla Maroney poses after completing her routine on the vault during the Artistic Gymnastic women's qualifications at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Maroney posted a statement on Twitter Oct. 18, 2017, in which she said she was molested for years by former Team USA doctor Larry Nassar. [Associated Press]
  4. Top 5 at Noon: Facts on Richard Spencer's Florida visit; Column: Jameis, don't be a hero; Locale Market changes again

    News

    Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com:

    White nationalist Richard Spencer (C) and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police in Emancipation Park after the "Unite the Right" rally was declared an unlawful gathering August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Spencer is set to speak at the University of Florida. [Getty]
  5. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: Uncertainty surrounds Jameis Winston's health

    Bucs

    Greg Auman talks about the Bucs' quarterback situation, with uncertainty around Jameis Winston's health, in his latest Cannon Fodder podcast.

    Jameis Winston takes the field for warmups before the Bucs' game against the Cardinals Sunday in Glandale, Ariz. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]