Sensory Rooms for children with Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI)
By Lisa Ellis
Since we installed our Snoezelen Room, our team of AT Advisors find that they often like to conduct their assessments with more complex children in that space. The dark, quiet room, with bright light-up elements which can be controlled through various technologies, is proving to be a very motivating space to work in! However, we also feel that since vision is often affected to some degree with our clients with a neurological condition, that it is the high visibility of the objects in this room that is contributing to them being so attractive to this group.
A very exciting application for the use of sensory rooms is for people with visual difficulties, including low vision, visual processing disorders, and in particular cortical visual impairment (CVI). Whilst ocular visual impairments are related to physical abnormalities or damage to the eye, cortical or neurological visual impairments are related to the brain’s processing of its visual stimuli (Roman-Lantzy, 2007). Christine Roman-Lantzy is a US based expert on CVI, with a background as a teacher for children with visual impairment. Her excellent book outlines strategies for identification, assessment and intervention for children with CVI. Christine’s doctoral studies on the subject produced a standardised CVI scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being almost no functional vision, and 10 meaning that the visual impairment may be near resolved.
What is very exciting to me, is that with the right environmental adaptations and stimuli, with repeated exposure to appropriate elements that the brain does recognise, and by slowly expanding on those recognised objects, the vision of people with CVI can progress up this scale and achieve notable improvement in functional vision. This has profound implications on one’s ability to engage with the environment, and in our case, often the ability to access communication systems or assistive technologies.
There are certain characteristics of CVI, including: having a strong colour preference, having difficulty with visually complex environments, enjoying looking at lights, requiring an element of movement in order to initiate focusing, and other traits, that when adequately catered for and accommodated, can lead to an improvement in the person’s visual processing ability. Snoezelen rooms and the equipment often included in them, provide an ideal environment in which to cater for these needs.
When a child presses a coloured button, and all the lights in the room change to that colour, that is a very strong, immersive learning experience – like the lights in our interactive ball pond above! If a person who cannot use their hands, uses an eye tracking computer to look at a large picture of a Bubble Tube on their screen, which then sends a remote control signal to the real Bubble Tube in the corner and switches on the humming, bubbling, colourful activity, it is rewarding and creates an amazing sense of achievement. It is also just fun!
When vision is complex, and typical visual AAC communication demands are beyond the abilities of an individual, one can adapt the system (by simplifying the collection of symbols, using high contrast symbols and fonts etc.) However one can also create an entire environment which supports and provides opportunities for visual growth.
Whilst people who are blind of course still experience a rich sensory world and have full access to learning, for those who do have the ability to improve their vision, sensory rooms provide a valuable environment within which to maximise that possibility.
We provide a free design service to help you plan your own sensory room. We also offer installations and training on the use of Snoezelen rooms for people with Autism, ADHD, Dementia, CVI etc. Or, if you’re interested in our hourly rental programme, to make use of our fully equipped Snoezelen Room in Bedfordview, please get in touch!