• Kyodo

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A therapy from the Netherlands that gives new visual and tactile experiences to people with learning disabilities is gaining popularity in Japan.

Known as Snoezelen — a contraction of the Dutch verbs “snuffelen” (to seek out) and “doezelen” (to doze) — the therapy involves a room that stimulates the senses using light, color, sound, scent and objects.

A Snoezelen room at a residential facility for people with learning disabilities in western Japan resembles a miniature amusement park. It is one of several forms of a Snoezelen environment and contains a ball pool, a swing and a hammock.

“The facial expressions of users have completely changed,” said Yoshiko Komoto, who advised the facility on Snoezelen.

Komoto was a work therapist in Sweden for 20 years and is credited with bringing Snoezelen to Japan.

“You can see that staff are either keeping an eye on the residents or playing with them. It is important not to force them to do anything,” she said.

Snoezelen was developed in the 1970s to help people with severe learning disabilities. It places them in a multisensory environment with a range of equipment and materials.

According to a book Komoto has written on the subject, the people learn by touching or patting things around them and seeing them change. Curious, they keep touching them, which promotes sensory integration.

The Snoezelen experience also helps them learn to communicate by expressing feelings such as interest or antipathy, according to Komoto.

In Sweden, it has been widely recognized since the 1980s that the scheme has had positive effects on people with developmental disorders, mental problems and dementia, as well as those with learning disabilities. In Japan, the therapy is also being offered to anyone who might benefit from the soothing sensory stimuli it provides.

In a condominium unit in Tokyo, for example, there is a “white room” — a typical Snoezelen room.

“We are working to promote the concept based on the idea of Snoezelen for everyone,” said Atsuko Hashimoto of Snoezelen Lab, which runs the space.

Hashimoto described it as a room where small children can play safely and where mothers can interact with their children in a stress-free environment. “It is very important that mothers can feel relaxed,” said Hashimoto.

Following the 2011 tsunami in Tohoku, Hashimoto decided to bring the benefits of Snozezelen to the region. She fitted up a van as a white room and visited devastated areas to provide local children and people who had difficulty sleeping with a Snoezelen environment.

Komoto said: “A Snoezelen sensory room doesn’t have to be large. It’s about creating a comfortable environment for users. Everyone should be able to try it.”

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