Sensory rooms for people with Down’s syndrome

  • 27 May 2019

How can people with Down’s syndrome benefit from Sensory Rooms?

Multisensory rooms have been considered a valuable tool for different therapeutic purposes in the work with people with cognitive disabilities since they came into use in the 1960s and 1970s. What began as an accessible leisure option for people with major disabilities has gradually become a way of stimulating numerous skills, ranging from communication to cognitive, physical functional or emotional aspects, with the user’s wellbeing and quality of life being the main objective.  The possibilities for stimulation increase if the room has an advanced system such as SHX System, which offers the users several alternatives for interaction with elements in the room and the possibility of creating immersive scenes with varied and personalized content. The presentation of the content is coordinated by the SHX devices, meaning that the information is received coherently through different sensory channels. These environments are no longer only found in special education schools, but also in early intervention centers or treatment facilities, but are now commonly used in nursing homes, day centers and even occupational therapy clinics.

If we turn our attention to people with Down’s syndrome, we will see that they too can benefit greatly from the use of these environments…

Learning my way…

Every person follows the same cognitive development pattern in learning, although in the case of people with Down’s syndrome, it has some specific characteristics. Although they go through the same developmental stages in the same order, there tends to be a delay in learning and the acquisition of skills.

Therefore, the activities, content and skills required to accomplish them must be adapted to every person’s stage in development, with adjustments introduced slowly and methodically. Having tools such as the SHX system allows us to create content that is easily modifiable, adjusting and controlling the stimuli presented at any given time. This way, in an activity to work on the understanding of cause and effect, in which we want to stimulate selective attention, we can begin by simply using a SHX button to change the color of the entire room (involving the general lighting, a bubble tube, fiber optics, the projection of images of a related object and audio with the name of the color). After several repetitions of this powerful feedback, we can gradually remove some of the stimuli, so that only some light elements up, and direct the user’s attention towards a single device (the bubble tube, for example). If we continue to progress with this activity, we will be able to stimulate the understanding of cause and effect using only the tube and the button, having directed the user’s attention purposefully to another, more specific, focal point.

Other characteristic aspects of working with people with Down’s syndrome is establishing the appropriate basis and guidelines for social interaction. Multisensory rooms are an ideal environment for encouraging this interaction and stimulating communication. Therapy- based sensory stimuli makes this environment easy to understand, safe and encourages the use of basic skills, allowing every user to respond. This basis for communication, aided by interaction with the therapist and devices that allow us to control the room, converts it into an exceptional place for creating positive experiences that strengthen relationships, evoke communicative intent, create bonds and encourage physical contact behavior.

Often, people with Down’s syndrome present a marked delay in verbal skills and tend to rely on bimodal signing and gestures. Every person’s language, communication and speaking abilities vary and depend on several factors, including their capacity for auditory processing and orofacial structure. SHX multisensory rooms can be a useful tool in boosting both verbal and non-verbal communication. For example, the voice kit offers powerful visual feedback (the room lights up) depending on the sounds that we make into a microphone. What’s more, the SHX multisensory room is an excellent place to begin using an alternative or augmentative communication system, starting with associating pictograms with activities and powerful stimuli, exploring sensory access, gradually introducing new vocabulary, etc.

People with Down’s syndrome have been shown to prefer lively and animated presentations, often due to the fact that their visual memory skills are superior to their verbal skills. Visual stimuli complement auditory information, and the more visual pathways are stimulated, the stronger the response will be in the user. Understanding these factors and having a system like SHX at our disposal allows us to create activities with content that contains greater visual stimuli which can be linked to other associated stimuli, allowing the information to be perceived through various sensory pathways, though the user’s preference will predominate.

Using lively projections that can be accompanied with general lighting, fiber optics, bubble tubes, various visual effects or ultraviolet light serves as a gateway to the stimulation of cognitive skills and learning with elaborate content; psychomotor, manipulative and functional skills, relational skills, emotions and behavior.

Lastly, it is worth stressing the importance of stimulating the user’s interest and curiosity to enhance their response capacity and boost their initiative, aspects that tend be delayed. Knowledge of the user’s sensory preferences and having access to a multisensory room will help us to improve their motivation and put skills such as joint attention, manual exploration or adaptation to new situations (where more difficulties could be encountered) into practice.

In this way, using SHX multisensory rooms as a tool will help us to harness the user’s potential to tackle weaker sensory areas.

An environment made just for me

People with Down’s syndrome present a broad range of sensory preferences and tolerance which may be the result of difficulties integrating a stimulus that is processed by various senses. SHX multisensory rooms allow us to adjust and direct stimuli to tailor the environment to the user’s needs, maximizing their abilities and compensating for their sensory limitations along with any others.

Being able to isolate, intensify, decrease or combine lighting, large-scale projections, audio, vibroacoustics, a bubble tube, or fiber optics allows the room to be fully adjusted to suit every user’s needs. For example, when working with users who have a greater sensitivity to tactile stimuli and may display defensive behavior, we can prepare activities that combine them with visual stimuli. Beginning with deeper touch and weight – using the entire fiber optics bundle, for example – we can gradually introduce more intense and specific tactile stimuli, such as moving on to the tip of the fiber optic strands.

Frequently, people with Down’s syndrome present a broad range of visual and auditory deficiencies. These can be worked on in multisensory environments, encouraging the use of their residual abilities, intensifying or controlling them as necessary. We can also use other sensory systems to compensate for deficiencies, presenting the stimulus throught different sensory pathways and creating pleasurable experiences based on the user’s preferences.

Moreover, thanks to the SHX system’s multiple controllers, we can create a learning environment that includes several different forms of sensory access: a switch, a remote control, or even an adapted mouse. This way, we encourage interaction with the surroundings based on each user’s sensory profile.

Stimulating my development

Some difficulties in psychomotor development are common in terms of visual-motor or dynamic coordination and also in balance. We may also encounter some delay in acquiring a stable sitting position, walking or in manipulation skills. For this reason, it is important to create opportunities for repetition and enjoyment in these experiences in safe environments.

Multisensory rooms have specific materials designed for this purpose – therapy mats, wedges, circuits, tunnels, rollers, and seesaws – that allow us to adapt the space depending on the activity planned. Additionally, they allow numerous options for seating and positioning thanks to the versatility of the furniture: beds, poufs, bean bag chairs, seats, etc.

An environment that invites exploration and spurs curiosity is fundamental, as encouraging more sensory-motor activities will help to lay down the basis for satisfactory psychomotor development later. If we accompany it with the user’s preferred sensory stimuli alongside content that reflects their interests and motivations, we will further increase their initiative and participation in this kind of activity.

On the other hand, a multisensory room is also an environment that allows us to work on physical functional aspects in people with Down’s syndrome, such as low muscle tone, diminished strength or hyperlaxity, in order to create meaningful and lively activities that help to motivate the user and allow us to tackle these issues.

I am an active adult

The normalization of, and participation in, age-appropriate, meaningful activities that lead to the development of new skills and pleasurable interaction with the social and physical environment are the main elements of improving the user’s quality of life at this stage.

SHX multisensory rooms can provide a space for leisure, recreation and relaxation, which are necessary for any adult, allowing us to make the necessary adjustments to suit the user’s preferences, abilities and limitations. The fact that they are also intellectually and physically accessible spaces means that anyone can enjoy them: listening to music, watching a large-scale video display, relaxing on a water bed while watching how the ceiling changes color…it all depends on individual tastes and needs.

Furthermore, adults with Down’s syndrome frequently develop early signs of aging, and are likely to display pathological aging and functional impairment: some motor or cognitive limitations, complications derived from multiple pathologies, a loss of interest or the ability for enjoyment, lack of mobility or stability or problems adjusting to change. For this reason, it is essential that they be active on a daily basis, taking part in any activities that allow them to maintain their abilities.

In this context, SHX multisensory rooms are again a powerful tool for cognitive and physical-functional stimulation, and help to create an interactive space that can promote the user’s emotional adjustment.

Slowing deterioration

Alzheimer’s has become one of the main medical issues for people with Down’s syndrome, and often manifests itself with the early loss of memory and other cognitive functions (executive control, attention span, communication, etc.).

Multisensory rooms are commonly used as a therapy tool for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The most obvious result is the improvement in mood and the reduction in behavioral disturbances, leading to improved enjoyment and wellbeing. The ability to create and control primary stimuli that are easy to understand and that fit in with every user’s preferences and needs makes multisensory rooms a pleasant, regulatory environment.

Multisensory therapy is also a powerful tool for cognitive stimulation, from more complex activities that require planning and sequencing to stimulating language and the memory, and, of course, all of the attention processes. With the SHX system, the content-creating options also make it easier to tackle these aspects according to the user’s interests, motivations and experiences and stimulating their episodic memory.

We must not forget the loss of mobility that it usually associated with this kind of process, and therefore, the lack of sensory stimuli that derives from it. Using multisensory rooms compensates for certain sensory needs that may arise, and will facilitate intervention in numerous physical-functional aspects.

In short, the SHX system allows us to optimize the opportunities to achieve physical, social and mental wellbeing in older adults with Down’s syndrome and contribute to extending healthy life expectancy and quality of life in later years.

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.


The team at BJLive! and BJAdaptaciones; Down Tenerife – Tenerife Trisomy 21 Association ; Nuria Reyes Alonso, Speech Therapist; Elena Delgado Gutierrez, Speech Therapist specializing in Early Intervention; Selene Esther Hernández Morales, Physiotherapist.
Document written in collaboration with the Tenerife Trisomy 21 Association and the team at BJ Adaptaciones. November 2016

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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