The use of Multi-Sensory Environments with autistic children: Exploring the effect of having control of sensory changes
Multi-Sensory Environments (also called sensory or Snoezelen® rooms) are specialised spaces that contain equipment to modify the environment. They are commonly used in special-needs schools with autistic children, but empirical investigation into how to best use Multi-Sensory Environments with autistic children has been limited. Based on converging evidence that autistic children may benefit from having control, we tested 41 autistic children (8 female) aged 4–12 years (mean = 8 years, standard deviation = 2.05 years) who used the Multi-Sensory Environment both with and without control over the sensory changes. Behavioural coding of video data showed that having control was associated with increased attention and reduced repetitive motor behaviours, sensory behaviours, activity levels, stereotyped speech and vocalisations. Social behaviour, anxiety, positive affect and arousal were not significantly affected by condition. Our findings demonstrate that how a Multi-Sensory Environment is used can affect autistic children’s behaviours. They also suggest that providing control of sensory changes to autistic children may help create better conditions for learning.