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What is Snoezelen? A look inside the new sensory room at Children's Home of York

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

The room looks a lot like a night club with its bright, neon lights and disco ball.

But it's actually a new therapeutic tool at the Children's Home of York in Yorkana.

"Let's say a child says 'Oh, I feel really safe when I'm at the beach'," explained program supervisor Sarah Hieber. "You can put the beach scene on the wall with the projector and it will have sounds of a wave."

The Snoezelen sensory room derives its name from the combination of two Dutch words — snuffelen (to seek and explore) and doezelen (to relax), according to the company website. The ultimate effect, according to Hieber, is to create a safe environment for neurodivergent children to reduce anxiety and engage the senses.

The Snoezelen sensory room at the Children's Home of York. Snoezelen is derived from two Dutch words meaning "to explore" and "to relax". The room provides a therapeutic experience by engaging the senses and reducing anxiety, aggression and depression.

In the example of a child who likes the beach, Hieber said the other elements of the room — bubble tubes and fiber-optic lights — emit a blue ambience to mimic the feeling of being close to the ocean.

The room, built with help from the York Builder's Association, creates "additional modalities of healing," said Children's Home of York CEO Ron Bunce.

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These spaces are designed by the Snoezelen company, Bunce said. It uses objects like geometric mirrors, a bean bag and a small trampoline to engage several senses through touch, sound and visuals.

Snoezelen Sensory room at the Children's Home of York

Many of the home's residents have experienced trauma, and the sensory room is another step on their healing journey alongside working with a social worker and psychiatrist, he added.

In addition to reducing anxiety and aggression, the room helps kids relax and can even be used for therapy sessions, Hieber said. The sensory room lets children be in control of their experiences, Hieber said.

The therapy, developed in the 1970s in the Netherlands, has also been used for individuals with dementia and various brain injuries.

Interactive items and displays create a unique sensory experience that can be used to relax and heal in the sensory room.

Bunce and Hieber said they hope it can help the children regulate as well, and reduce the amount of staff hands on interventions when a child becomes a danger to themselves or others. The Snozelen room could be another tool to prevent that, Hieber said.

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Although CHOY approached the York Builder's Association about the sensory room project two years ago, restrictions from COVID put it on hold until this year. CHOY used grant money to purchase the sensory items for the room from Snoezelen, but the builder's association handled construction, materials, cleaning and painting, Bunce said.

"The York Builder's Association has been absolutely incredible," Bunce said, "We're working with kids who are in a residential treatment facility, and they just rolled with it and did everything that they needed to to make this a reality for our kids."

— Reach Noel Miller at or via Twitter at @TheNoelM.