The Snoezelen Experiences of Lorraine Thomas (Canada)

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The Experiences of Lorraine Thomas

Story 1

My Snoezelen story: HUSSEIN*

Bloorview MacMillan Childrens rehabilitation centre has many visitors who have come from all over the world to make a better life for their child with a disability. Many of my clients are new to Canada and have never ever heard of Snoezelen. Or sometimes, they come from a culture that does not understand the importance of leisure for their disabled child, unless it is medical or therapeutic.

One such family I met with had an adorable eight year old son that I will call Hussein*  who had been diagnosed with severe Cerebal palsy. Hussein was only going to school for a few hours a day. Apart from that, Hussein stayed at home for most of the day and was quite bored. The familys understanding of English was also very limited. When I first met them, they were rather reserved and silent and I was wondering how well I would be able to explain Snoezelen. I should have remembered that Snoezelen is about the senses and not about words. I had nothing to worry about!

I took the family: mother, father, little brother and Hussein into the Snoezelen room and slowly introduced them to the Snoezelen experience, making as much use of gestures and facial expressions as possible. They were quietly amazed at all the lights and music, and gradually became more enthusiastic.

Any doubts I had about the family understanding Snoezelen, were put to rest when the father said: My son, he is so busy with all the doctors, he needs something that he can enjoy. He is in his [wheel]chair too much, so this bean bag is good for him. The love in his voice as he asked his son if he liked the room and would he want to come back and the eager. Yes in Husseins eyes and body was answer enough. Husseins 5 year old brother also got into the act, cheerfully calling out to her brother and encouraging him to touch this or that object.

I think too, that the parents had been very overwhelmed by all the doctors that they had seen. So for them to understand that they could actually be a part of Husseins treatment in the Snoezelen room was very liberating. They could see how excited Hussein was to be able to enjoy a sensory experience that did not set him up for failure. So what if he was not able to hop and skip on the coloured  squares for the musical hopscotch like his little brother?  No problem, then he could roll back and forth on his back and see the colours and music light up in front of his very eyes!

* Names and details have been changed to ensure client privacy

Story 2

My Snoezelen story: GINNY

Ginny* is 26 years old and has severe developmental delays and congenital deformities. Her disability severely limits her movement, so she is either in her chair or lying flat on her back. Ginny had been coming to the Snoezelen room for nearly a year  but it was sometimes a frustrating experience for everyone involved. 

Ginnys moods were unpredictable  - some days she would love the Snoezelen room, and fall asleep, listening to the music, and enjoying the vibrating mat. Other days, she would come in flailing her arms, violently rocking her tiny body back and forth.

On really bad days she would attempt to bite her hands and have to be restrained.   There was no pattern to her behaviour. Sometimes it was when she was coming in to use the Snoezelen room, other times when she was leaving the room. Even removing her from the area did not make a difference.

We were greatly perplexed and wondering what we could do to make the Snoezelen experience better for Ginny. The opportunity came nearly nine months ago, when Ginny went into the Snoezelen pool for the very first time. With some misgivings, we buckled Ginny into her lifejacket, holding her hands so that she would not injure herself. We listened to her cry loudly was we took her to the pool deck. We lowered her into the oh so warm water of the pool, with the Snoezelen equipment on and the overhead lights off. And we could hardly believe the difference!

Was this the Ginny who often screeched and attempted to bite her worker  and the pillow that was placed so that she could not bite herself?  No, here she was, floating serenely away: merrily, merrily down the stream! On her face was a Mona Lisa smile, with dimples that I didn't even know she possessed. For the first time in her life, Ginny was able to be independent of her worker or any individual. She was not restricted by any unyielding surface and could even wiggle her curved legs. She could paddle with her crooked left hand and make gentle circles around the pool, not unlike a leaf spinning on the surface of a pond.

Nine months later, the ecstatic look on Ginnys face as she feels the spray of water trickle into her hand, the cries of pleasure as she splish-splashes loudly without any limitations, never fails to bring a smile to my face.  When Ginny is in the Snoezelen pool, she radiates utter peace and contentment, something that all who are involved with her, can't help but feel.  We feel privileged to be in her presence. There is a particularly beautiful moment that I always remember when I think about 'What is Snoezelen?'

On this particular day, Ginny came to the Snoezelen pool with her mother. She was sitting on the edge of the pool, her feet in the water. On Ginny's face is a look of anticipation that says: I know where I am, soon I will be in the wonderful water that will allow me to be free! In the background Pachelbel's music plays. Our lifeguard is holding a life jacket for Ginny,  like an acolyte to some wonderful ritual. Ginny's mother reaches up to her daughter and tenderly brushes some hair from her eyes. On her mother's face too, is peace and wonder because she has not seen her daughter so happy in years!

* Names and details have been changed to ensure client privacy

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