The sensory environment plays a major role in rehabilitation and treatment centers for children with disabilities. One of the most important of these roles is the use of sensory environment equipment as supportive tools for treatment in children’s sessions to stimulate their senses and help them build new skills. This study focuses on the extent to which the sensory environment contributes to the development and improvement of children in the rehabilitation process at the Association for the Care of Children with Special Needs in Nablus.
Spatial limits of study
The case study was conducted at the Association for the Care of Children with Special Needs in Nablus. Where the association contains two sensory rooms, the first room was implemented 10 years ago and the second room 7 years ago by Iris Solutions. The association mainly works on rehabilitating children to integrate them with the local community so that they can go to schools and integrate with children of their age. Others are being rehabilitated so that they can carry out their life’s affairs, each according to their condition.
The association was established in 1994, at the initiative of a group of academics concerned with caring for children with special needs. With the aim of meeting the needs of our people and providing the necessary training for individuals with speech, language, hearing and learning difficulties.
The association provides its services in the sensory room for seventeen boys and girls on a permanent basis, including 12 males, 5 females. Their ages range from 2-14 years. The groups of children in the association focus on those who suffer from autism, cerebral palsy, hearing problems, motor disabilities, psychological problems, and behavioural disorders such as hyperactivity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
In conducting this study, the research team relied on the semi-structured interview tool, which was conducted with the psychologist Majd Al-Hanbali in the association. Majd has been working in the association for more than 10 years. The interview included (17) quantitative and qualitative questions, in addition to sub-questions according to their type, which allows the research team to delve into details other than the previously prepared questions, with a focus on the same topic.
It was found through the interview that was conducted with the psychologist Majd Al-Hanbali that the sensory room and its equipment have a great contribution to the progress of the rehabilitation and treatment process for the children in the association.
The interview questions focused on several axes:
The first axis: the components of the sensory environment in the association and its role
The sensory environment in the Association for the Rehabilitation of Children with Special Needs contains two sensory rooms, consisting of the sensory box, the interactive steps, the bubble tubes, the tactile panel, the fibers optice, the interactive floor, the hammock, the bean bag, and variable lighting as determined by the specialist. Lighting is controlled through a panel installed on the wall of the room or through the sensory box system. The room also contains an audio system to provide music to the room’s atmosphere. They are available in an area of 3 * 4 meters. The specialist controls all room equipment according to the condition of the child in the session.
Specialist Majd talked about the great role of the interactive floor system in stimulating children’s senses and their integration into the session through the effects that are displayed with the use of colour-changing lights in the room and the use of sound effects through the sound system of the sensory box. She stressed that the children are amazed, and they enjoy the session, which includes the use of fibres optice and bubble tubes in particular, as various colors and lighting mixed with fibers and water bubbles often catch their eyes.
The second axis: the nature of the sessions within the sensory environment in the center
It is clear from the interview that all children in the association are being integrated into the sensory environment treatment, with varying periods and sessions. Some children have rehabilitation sessions inside the sensory room individually, one session per week. The sessions that are held on the sensory box are in the form of group sessions consisting of 7 children at most. In addition to some children who suffer from hyperactivity problems or psychological pressures, distraction and focus, as they are referred by doctors to hold sessions with them inside the sensory room to work on developmental and behavioural difficulties in the sensory environment.
The third axis: individual sessions inside the sensory room
The psychologist, Majd, explained how they hold the individual sessions within the sensory room, as each session differs in nature from the other depending on several factors. This is determined by the child’s condition and the goals that the specialist sets for the session. Each case needs specific tools and activities that must be implemented with it. Some children use specific tools in an orderly and calculated manner, while others use all the sensory tools in the room optionally, and in all cases, they provide music and lighting to carry out the sessions, as they play a great role in relaxing children and making them feel safe.
The duration of the individual session inside the sensory room is an hour. The room is prepared in advance and lit in the colour that the child is comfortable with. At first, calm music is played through the sound system in the room. The music is changed during the session according to the nature of the activity carried out with them, and then the child, accompanied by his mother, enters the session. Work is done with them on sensory tools that help their condition and stimulate their senses. For example, a three-year-old girl, Nour, was found to suffer from autism. She loves the blue colour in the room and is never comfortable when the green colour is put in particular. Therefore, the room is prepared before her attendance with the appropriate lighting for her, in addition to the music that she loves and comforts her. Work is done with the child on all the available sensory tools. The interactive stairs are used by them to strengthen the muscles of their feet and motivate them to walk, as they interact with the colours that appear when walking. Optical fibres and bubble tubes are used to relax the child and to stimulate the senses of sight and touch. The interactive floor system that she rushes towards the effects emanating from it to play with them, especially the effect that shows the sea and fish on it, and the specialist works with her continuously.
Fourth axis: group sessions using the sensory box
Group sessions are held through the use of the sensory box, to develop social and emotional skills and develop the spirit of participation in them, so that the goal of these sessions is psychological discharge and behavioural guidance for children through the contents inside. The specialist explained that the children learn a variety of behaviours from the sensory box sessions. For example, they are taught through a story in the sensory box not to talk to strangers on the street and respond to them, so they interact with the story and learn a lot from it.
She also talked about the extent to which children enjoy all the content available in the room, whether educational interactive games, sound effects from the surrounding environment that teach them all the sounds around us and expand the child’s imagination, a video library that contains stories and various educational content, and a rich music library with all kinds of music the children love and are comfortable with. The colour-changing lighting around the room makes them interact with the content on display.
The fifth axis: the treatment methodology that is used in the sensory environment
A specific methodology is being worked with for the treatment of children with the sensory environment. When the child first attends the association, a session is held in the sensory room to assess the condition and identify all the difficulties they suffer from. Then set the goals that will be worked to achieve during their rehabilitation period in the association. The specialist prepares for each session before it takes place and sets an individual goal to achieve.
Sixth Axis: How to determine the objectives of the sessions
Specialist Majd explained that every specialist who uses the sensory room and its tools is trained and supervised until he/she has mastered the use of all the supporting equipment and a full understanding of each tool and its purpose. The number of specialists who use the sensory environment in the association is four, from different specialties (psychiatrist, speech therapist, occupational therapist), and each of them uses the equipment for different goals. For example, the psychologist uses the interactive stairs to discharge negative energy from children, while the occupational therapist uses the interactive stairs to do exercises that strengthen the child’s muscles.
The goal of the session is determined based on the child’s condition and the type of session they are taking, and the skills that will be worked with them to improve and develop. For example, a child with autism has a specific goal for each session. If the goal of the session is to stimulate the child’s visual communication, the bubble tubes tool is used in addition to games, while specifying the colour of the room lights and music that suit the child’s condition, but if the goal is to stimulate his senses, the tactile is used, which stimulates the senses of touch, sight, smell, and hearing. Finally, if the goal is to increase concentration, the interactive floor is used and the effects that attract his attention and help him focus are used.
The seventh axis: How does the specialist measure the child’s development using the sensory room?
The child’s performance in the regular session is compared with their performance in the sensory room. The extent of their concentration with the specialist and their achievement in the session are also considered. In addition to reading the behaviour and expressions of the child every time they come to the centre to enter the sensory room, and the development of the child’s condition while continuing the sessions inside the sensory room. Compared to his first visit to the association, it is clear to specialists and parents.
It clearly shows the increased need for the availability of a sensory environment in the rehabilitation centres, especially since the largest group that is being rehabilitated currently are children who are two years old, so it will be difficult to hold a regular session with them, in addition to the doctors’ recommendation and the evaluation of specialists for them within the association. The sensory room is used for them so that they can interact with the session and respond effectively.
The eighth axis: practical examples of the role of the sensory environment in the development of children during the treatment period.
It was found by talking with the psychologist that many practical models within the association were positively affected by the sensory room during the treatment journey. It focused on the story of the child Omar, who suffers from autism. He spent 5 years in the association, and he is considered one of the children in the centre who had a great and positive impact as a result of using the sensory room in his treatment.
When Omar came to the association, his condition was evaluated. It was found that he suffers from autism and hyperactivity disorder and does not comply with what the specialist asks him. With the continuation of the sessions inside the sensory room, Omar’s condition has developed positively. Currently, when he attends the sessions, he enters the sensory room happily, sits in the right place for the session, and interacts with all the requests of the specialist within the session and correctly implements them.
Omar’s communication skills have become better compared to what they were before when he started treatment. In regular sessions outside the sensory room, his response is not good to the specialist and his movements are excessive, unlike his presence inside the session, which calms him and makes him feel relaxed and safe. This is what all the specialists who supervise his condition have noticed, and the reactions of the child’s parents, who emphasized the development of the child during the treatment period in the sensory room.
The specialists in the association used most of the sensory tools in the room with Omar, and the sessions focused in particular on the interactive stairs, optical fibres, and bubble tubes. So work was done with him on the interactive stairs to reduce his excessive movement, as he interacts with the colours that appear when he stands on one of the stairs. In addition to carrying out many activities with him that require him to pass over the stairs, such as placing a toy on one side of the stairs and the specialist asks him to bring it over the interactive stairs. This activity motivates the child to do the activity and controls the excess movement.
As for optical fibres, they are used for sensory stimulation and colour distinction as well, where a certain colour is placed on the optical fibres and the child is asked to choose toys that bear the same colour as the fibres to help him distinguish colours.
All of these activities are done with the child, by changing the colours in the room and using music that calms the child and makes him relax with the equipment, which is prepared before the child enters the room. Every time a certain colour is used according to the child’s condition, if his movement is excessive, the blue-coloured lights are used to calm him, but if the activity needs to stimulate the child, the lights are switched to red, which has a major role in motivating children to activity and movement.
During the talk with the specialist, Majd, she mentioned a story about a two-year-old child, Jihad, who also showed symptoms of the autism spectrum. Before rehabilitation, the child, Jihad, never spoke. After several sessions with him inside the sensory room, especially on the bubble tubes, the child began to say the word “water.” Ask the specialist to light the bubble tubes as he relaxes to the sound of the bubbles inside and the change in the colours. He also mentioned every colour that appears on the tubes, which made a huge positive difference in the child’s condition during treatment in the sensory environment.
The ninth axis: the opinions of parents of children within the association
Through the interview with the child’s mother, Nour, it was found how happy she was with the equipment available inside the room to help children develop. She was also happy about the improvement that occurred in her child’s condition in terms of health and behaviour, as she entered with her for the individual session inside the sensory room and observed the extent of happiness and comfort on the face of her little girl. She confirmed that she benefited from how the specialist dealt with the child inside the sensory room and began to follow some methods at home with her daughter.
The study reached several results, which are:
- The sensory room helped all the children in the association improve their mood.
- The sensory room in the association is considered the main source in the treatment and rehabilitation of children with ADHD and the rehabilitation of autistic disorder. Because of its great role in controlling their excessive movement and discipline in the session.
- The use of sensory environment tools in the psychological discharge of children with different categories of disabilities, and adolescents who suffer from some behavioural disorders in the association.
- The sensory room helped the children to distinguish colors and shapes through some exercises carried out with them.
- The use of the sensory box to a large extent in the process of behavioral guidance for children in the form of group sessions.
- Increasing the turnout of children to sessions inside the association as a result of their feeling of comfort and safety within the sensory environment.
This study dealt with the role of the sensory environment in the Association for the Rehabilitation of Children with Special Needs on the development and improvement of children with disabilities, as it aimed mainly to show the great role that the sensory environment contributes to in rehabilitation centres and treatment of children with disabilities, through the use of sensory support equipment to stimulate the senses and build new skills for children with disabilities.
In order to achieve the objectives of the study, the descriptive approach was followed by describing the phenomenon qualitatively, using the interview tool, by interviewing the association’s psychologist, Majd Al-Hanbali. The study reached several results, the most important of which was the contribution of the sensory room to the development and improvement of children during treatment, and the great role that sensory tools played in improving the mood of children and their acceptance of treatment within the association, in addition to the use of the sensory box in the process of behavioural guidance for children.