The benefits of sensory rooms in cerebral palsy

  • 5 June 2019

People with cerebral palsy encounter in multisensory rooms a space that adapts to their needs and offers a comfortable and pleasant place in which they can feel at home and take part in activities that have been tailored to fit their interests. In SHX multisensory rooms, the interaction possibilities and the variety of accessible activities are multiplied thanks to their great versatility: different elements can be personalized and adjusted to offer a meaningful and accessible activity that can be adapted to any person at any given time.

The opportunity to work in a pleasant space that is also fully accessible allows the user with cerebral palsy to undertake rewarding activities in which they are the protagonist and on which new learning experiences can be built, while improving their condition and encouraging them to engage with themselves and their surroundings.

The limitations people with cerebral palsy may have in terms of motor skills or sensory and cognitive functions tend to limit their access to communication, learning, the control of their immediate surroundings, leisure and wellbeing. They find that multisensory rooms constitute a space that is not disabling and allows them to achieve these goals more easily.

Starting at the bottom

The different senses do not develop at the same time. In the womb, babies can perceive stimuli such as movement, vibration and touch. During development, the brain of the fetus or baby learns to process new stimuli and give them gradually more sophisticated meaning. When a developing brain is damaged, the perception and processing of future stimuli may become conditioned or interrupted by the injury. However, the perception of the most basic early stimuli may remain intact. This means that the capacity for perceiving different stimuli and integrating them to give the information received coherent meaning can vary wildly in different people, but there is always a baseline.

Multisensory rooms can provide basic stimuli that become progressively more complex for each one of the senses: seesaws that provide a gentle linear motion; swings with different movements; elements that provide deep touch; water beds; vibroacoustic elements; highly powerful light resources such as bubble tubes, or the more simple – but equally attractive – fiber optic elements; and natural or more sophisticated sounds. Having access to these resources offering basic stimuli that can be presented in isolation at adjustable intensity allows the user to receive stimuli in a way that is easy to understand and builds a feeling of security.

Once a connection has been established between the user and their surroundings, further activities that facilitate progress can be offered.

The importance of body language

A common aspect of cerebral palsy is impaired motor skills. Movement disorders, abnormal movement patterns, spasticity and/or dystonia often cause bodily discomfort and difficulties in adopting postures and movements that facilitate participation and communication. Multisensory rooms often provide elements such as convertible poufs, water beds, seesaws and soft play items that allow the user’s posture to be corrected for greater comfort, while also influencing their level of activation or relaxation. These pieces of furniture not only make a correct posture easier to achieve, but their positioning close to the activity elements (tubes, panels, projections and controllers) also facilitates comfortable participation and communication. Other resources can be added to these elements, such as vibroacoustic signals in the waterbeds or in the soft play items, or the use of massage, which creates a feeling of wellbeing and also helps to reduce spasticity.

Additionally, a relaxing environment can easily be created in the room using appropriate lighting, pleasant music, the projection of attractive images or the diffusion of relaxing aromas. A room with SHX technology can create immersive relaxation environments such as a sunset using projection, lighting, the vibration of sea waves, bubble tubes that change color to match the color of the sun, the feel of fresh air, etc. With the correct posture, appropriate muscle tone and a pleasant environment, everyone, including those with cerebral palsy, is more willing to take part in any given activity.

Control of the surroundings

In order for people with cerebral palsy to be self-reliant, autonomous and be protagonists in their own lives, it is important that they learn to adjust their surroundings and adapt them to their needs and interests. People with motor skills issues or cognitive and communicative difficulties can find their capacity to control their surroundings is restricted, meaning that others carry it out for them without their involvement.

SHX multisensory rooms offer users hundreds of attractive activities, such as activating a bubble tube or a scene with a firework display, riding in a Formula 1 car and feeling the vibrations through their whole body or setting up a “disco” with their favorite singer. Additionally, they offer a wide range of ways to activate them: cause and effect buttons, sequences, swipe access, button panels, mats, tablets, panels or eye tracking. Any of the controllers can be used to activate any of the activities.  This makes it possible to work on cause and effect in a motivating activity with one switch before going on to work on the choice between two or more options, learn to swipe or use eye- tracking technology or to sort. These options allow people with cerebral palsy to control the elements in the room, learn the skills necessary to do so, and to acquire greater autonomy by using this knowledge in natural contexts.

A physiotherapy tool

Many interesting resources for physiotherapy work with people with cerebral palsy can be found in multisensory rooms: elements for working on proprioception and the vestibular sense and furniture that allows us to work in different postures, along with controllers of different shapes and sizes which allow actions that are highly attractive for the user to be activated. These controllers can be placed in specific positions to encourage the user to make the target movement.

Other elements in the room that are interesting for physiotherapy work include soft play items such as wedges, circles and circuits; bubble tubes for hugging; fiber optics for handling and playing with; and interactive panels to enjoy the effects that are created when the touch screen is pressed.

Immersive learning

SHX multisensory rooms allow the user to work on any educational aspect by combining different sensory pathways in an immersive format. Let’s look at some examples:

  • Colors. Either the user or the therapist can press a button to change the color of the room, a tube or a fiber optic element, while seeing the name of the color in a projection and hearing it spoken at the same time.
  • The Seasons. When introducing the seasons, the user can discover their names while feeling them. For example, in winter they can feel the cold, snow can fall, a wind can blow, it can be damp, or they can see a snowy landscape.
  • Animals. In this case, the user can not only see an image of the animals, but they can also hear the noises they make and feel the vibrations of their roar or call throughout their body. The room can be made to look like the animal’s habitat, or the animal can be associated with a pictogram.

The options for learning with SHX technology are unlimited thanks to the possibilities for interaction and the personalization of the content in a myriad of combinations of images, sounds, videos, projections, vibroacoustic signals, lighting and effects. The fact that the stimuli are received through different sensory pathways in a coherent way promotes understanding, and helps users to compensate any impairment in some of their senses using the rest. Interactive panels also allow the use of programs to develop varied educational objectives by means of games of association, memory, spatial awareness and sequencing in an attractive and accessible format.

Communication and language

SHX multisensory rooms are also an excellent tool for working on language and communication. On the one hand, they allow voice work to be done by converting it into colors or vibrations. This can encourage volume control when speaking or noise fragmentation, for example. On the other hand, it is an excellent tool for working with symbols and the generalization required for language development. Objects, videos, photographs, pictograms and words can be related in thousands of combinations: using a controller with a pictogram to project the object associated with it, pressing a photograph button on a tablet to see or hear the word, or selecting a word written in red to see everything in the room turn red too, for example. Moreover, the simple fact of offering the user varied and purposeful activities can encourage later commentaries on the experience. These, in turn, promote the exchange of social information, such as interests or experiences, and reach beyond carrying out requests. Another interesting aspect of SHX multisensory rooms is the possibility of creating multisensory stories that can be enjoyed while receiving information through all of the senses.

The chance to skydive

Aitor is an adolescent with cerebral palsy. His physical limitations mean he is unable to take part in many of the activities available to others of his age, but he presses a button and suddenly the room lighting changes to simulate the sky. First-person video footage is projected, in which someone jumps from an airplane. Aitor can feel the vibration of the free fall thanks to a vibroacoustic chair; a large fan begins to turn and the air blows hard against his face.

It is a fantastic activity for Aitor – he loves it and finds it really exciting. It allows him to have varied experiences that are beyond his daily routine, and that make him want to communicate and continue to take part in new activities.

While this parachute activity is ideal for Aitor, the infinite versatility SHX multisensory rooms allows an attractive experience to be designed for each and every user. For one user, this may be enjoying the bubble tube; for another the ball pool. For someone else it may be being immersed in football goals being scored, and yet another user may enjoy music and color in combination with vibrations. Each user’s different sensory and cognitive abilities mean that they will enjoy different sensory stimuli. SHX can reproduce them all!

Finding meaningful activities for each user increases their motivation in any educational or therapeutic process. Most of all, at SHX we believe that their true value lies in offering everyone a meaningful experience of their own. It is also important to provide opportunities for leisure and wellbeing, although it is not always easy, and the correct tools are not always available.

More information

If you would like to request more information on our SHX System or our multisensory environments, feel free to contact us–our consultants will be delighted to advise you. Alternatively, you can visit our website here.


Document written by the team at BJLive! in collaboration with ASPACE, the Association of People with Cerebral Palsy.

The team at Aspace: Laura Tobella Pareja Rhoda Nieves Rovira Itsaso Olasagasti Ruiz de Gauna Ma Francisca Gimeno Esteve Nausica Prat Ruscalleda Carlos Varela Ferro Ángel Aguilar Morales Maider Pereda López.

Written by:

The team at Qinera

Qinera produces assistive technology for people with disabilities with the aim of improving their autonomy and life quality. Its human team includes: occupational therapists, special education teachers, speech therapists, engineers, IT developers and experts in assistive technology.

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