An empirical evaluation of an interactive multi-sensory environment for children with disability

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The Graduate School of Education,

The authors are grateful to Dr. B. Brown of the School of Optometry, Queensland University of Technology, who helped with the construction of the isotropic photographic system. They also thank the children, parents and teachers who contributed to the study and the Australian National Health & Medical Research Council and The Australian Research Grants Scheme for grants supporting the longitudinal study of Down syndrome.


Moira Carmody is a social worker who has worked with both people with an intellectual disability and victims of sexual assault. From 1983 she specialised in the area of sexual assault, working in victims services, training and from 1986–1989 she was the state Co-ordinator of Sexual Assault Services for the NSW Department of Health. Since then she has worked privately as a policy adviser and educator on sexual assault working with a range of agencies, government departments in NSW, other Australian states and New Zealand. Currently, she is teaching welfare students and undertaking research at the University of NSW for a doctoral degree on the issue of rape in NSW.

Correspondence: Stephen Houghton, Graduate School of Education, Nedlands, WA 6009, Australia

Seventeen students with severe disability (age range 5 years to 18 years) from one school were assessed on Foundation Outcome Statement Skills (FOS Skills) and subsequently exposed to an interactive multi-sensory environment (MSE). Approximately 40 hours of video recordings were made of the 17 participants interacting in the MSE, and a further recording was made during a school excursion to a local farm school to check for generalisation of behaviour. Six categories of disability were covered in the evaluation, namely children with: severe intellectual disability, severe intellectual disability/autism, severe intellectual disability/visual impairment, severe intellectual disability/hearing impairment, multiple disability, and multiple disability/visual impairment. A repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed a statistically significant increase in the number of FOS Skills exhibited by the participants from Pre MSE to Post MSE. A further ANOVA demonstrated a significant increase in the number of FOS Skills immediately following exposure to the MSE (i.e., following the first session in the MSE). These increases were particularly marked for a small number of participants and for four main FOS Skills. There was also some evidence of generalisation of FOS Skills to an external setting.

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