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The term

The term ‘Snoezelen’ is a combination of the words

‘snuffeln’ = to sniff, to snuffle and ‘doezelen’ = to doze,
to snooze.
If someone in Holland asks what Snoezelen is all
about then the answer would often be “The way the
word sounds speaks for itself.” With not so many
words, Snoezelen is a relaxing, recreative leisure time
activity for the severely disabled. Since it originated
in the middle of the seventies it has been picked up,
trialled and developed further with huge enthusiasm.
Meanwhile ‘Snoezelen’ has become a well-known term
in Holland and many other countries.

The term ‘Snoezelen’ represents an opportunity

for activity especially for the severely mentally disabled.
Contingent on positive experiences, most of all in
Holland, the country of origin, Snoezelen has been
acknowledged as a recognised activity and a form of
therapy for disabled people. In a casual atmosphere
various stimuli are offered, which address the senses,
Fundamental philosophy -touch, smell, seeing and listening – a new opportunity,
for the mentally disabled to discover the world and
of Snoezelen – historical their own body and thereby to make new positive
background, planning and The calm island atmosphere gives a disabled person
the time, to occupy elaborately with the different
concept body perceptions, something that is impossible in
everyday life. Therefore the effects can be absorbed in
Ad Verheul peace. Snoezelen contributes to a large extend to the
enhancement and further development of the world of
experiences for severely disabled people.

History of the care of the mentally

handicapped in The Netherlands
Looking back in time we see a picture with
many changes in the attitudes towards the mentally
handicapped. In many ancient civilizations, and in the
primitive cultures even today, a great number of the
mentally handicapped died owing to inadequate medical
treatment. At first they used to live among their fellow
men, their family. There were times when they were
deliberately killed (witch trials). In the Middle Ages the
mentally ill who showed maladjusted behaviour were
locked up in so-called madhouses. In such places both
insane and retarded people were found. There was
no distinction made between them. There were no
therapies whatsoever.
Treatments in the institutions constantly changed.
Gradually people began to understand that insane and
retarded people did not require the same treatment.
By the end of the 19th century the first institutions for
the care of the mentally handicapped were founded.
Because mental retardation began to be regarded
as a congenital defect the therapy was: bed nursing.
This caused many objections because most of the
retarded patients were not really physically ill: agression
increased, as well as boredorn and apathy. There were
also regulatory disturbances to do with sleep.


This situation changed for the better at the we know them now will certainly not be built anymore
beginning of the 20th century. The mentally handicapped in the future.
patients were kept occupied with several activities that
required great physical exertion. The aim of this was However, we cannot deny that, as a result of
to change their behaviour: less agression, regulation of what was mentioned above, the larger institutions
sleep and a good physical shape. In those days there was will increasingly be admitting the lower-level patients.
little attention for the individual. Besides, there are also problems to do with the ageing
But slowly it was realized that there were other population of the institutions, resulting in a growing
possibilities to keep mentally handicapped patients number of long-term illnesses and bedridden patients.
busy. They were to be activated at a higher level. For, We were also confronted with this problem in our
many of the patients could apparently be brought to own work situation. In the past, most of the attention
do some kind of real work. And this soon turned out was directed at the higher-lever residents. lt was not
to have favourable results. Mentally handicapped people too much of a problem to find suitable occupations for
won more respect and, what’s more, their self-esteem this group, but the problem shifted elsewhere as the
grew because they did something ‘useful’. The activities lower-level residents began to out- number them.
began to look like work more and more. But there was Parents, staff and consultants were increasingly
the danger that these people would be crushed in the confronted with the question: what occupations can we
production drive. offer the severely retarded residents? That question may
have been preceded by this one: should we offer any
The aim of occupational therapy, however, is that activities at alt to these residents? Is it not enough to
you try to make the resident function as meaningfully as provide them with good care, from a medical point of
possible, on his own level, in his work. The insight was view only? Before the fifties only morons and imbeciles
gained that many of the mentally handicapped could were eligible for education and occupational training.
be approached in the field of their creative possibilities. The severely mentally retarded were excluded from
The value of creative therapy was recognized, aimed at these efforts. In the institutions there was only care
supporting the pupil in exploring his creative abilities, for them and, at the most, some training to teach them
making him familiar with the materials and teaching him to do some of the fundamental things independently.
the methods. Because they were supposed to require care only, they
The care of the mentally handicapped in The were (and often still are) regarded as a ‘remainder’ in
Netherlands has experienced a turbulent development. the care of the mentally handicapped.
Looking back we can see that attitudes towards our
mentally handicapped fellow men have radically changed.
Because in the past decades there has been more A different ontlook on the mentally
research on the phenomenon of mental retardation, handicapped and care
numerous works on this subject have been published.
Fortunately, we can conclude that this knowledge is not With the arrival of educationalists and psychologists
only available to scholars but also to those who are, in there was a growing awareness that most of the
the first place, responsible for the care and the contact mentally handicapped had more possibilities than care
with this group. For example parents, social workers, and some training only. The social sciences indicated
staff and others. a number of possibilities for a certain degree of
educability of the severely retarded. Apart from medical
Education first of all takes place in the family. When abilities the nurses also needed social skills now.
it turns out that this is no longer possible or desirable, There was a demand for activities that could make a
which can be due to several factors, the child will be meaningful contribution to the residents’ existence in
placed in an institution or visit a day-care centre. their contacts with others. The startingpoint was: what
can we develop? Social feelings, for instance, if possible
Generally speaking, one might say that the care and desirable. What should we preserve? Mobility, for
of the higher-level mentally handicapped is provided example, attention for the motor system. What must
by extramural facilities. We can think of day-care and can we try to prevent? We could create such
centres for children or adults, surrogate family units, conditions that residents grow demented less quickly.
etc. Patients of lower levels are mostly taken care of Here it concerns activities offering opportunities
in large institutions, in intramural care. The initially for social contacts like: independence training, world
sharp distinction is fading, especially because the studies and communication. But also music and song,
larger institutions are increasingly trying to find other handicraft sports, recreation, games and drama. Most of
forms of housing. This is an effort to give as many these activities have some educational use.
residents as possible the chance, if they can handle it,
to live and work in society outside the walls of the For a long time the view prevailed that the mentally
institution. Socalled ‘phase houses’ and ‘socio houses’ handicapped should also be educated, or a least develop.
have experienced a mushroom growth over the past All this in the framework of socialization, normalization,
few years. Apart from these aspects of integration, the etc. The mentally handicapped had too many obligations
demand for housing on a smaller scale also plays a role. and there was but little consideration for their
Institutions with more than ene thousand residents as individuality. Terms like ‘operant conditioning’ took

root. But certainly all this happened with the best of We are very much hindered by our rational
intentions. Today training is not absolutely wrong either, attidude. As we pointed out before, this impedes a
provided that there is an underlying view in which the more primary use of our senses and purer experiences.
mentally handicapped person is accepted. In this sense Instead, we try to analyze them rationally.
he is allowed to function in other ways too.
Starting from an arsenal of impossibilities is a bad Severely retarded people are not laden with such a
start. lt is much more positive to learn to recognize the weight of knowledge. When you observe them carefully
possibilities of the severely retarded. Our acceptance of you can see that they often act for the sake of acting
him should be active; we should not reconcile ourselves only. They use their senses and enjoy them in their
to his incapabilities but start from his capabilities. personal way. When they are involved in Snoezelen
Create the conditions under which growth and change we are often struck by the astonishment they radiate
are possible. We should also learn to give the retarded when confronted with new things. Their reactions are
person so much room that his experience will be: very primary. Their surprise is real and the sensory
together we will work it out. experiences are authentic, although they cannot explain
In this changing view the hierarchy is also discussed. them in rational terms and may find them strange.
Because non-mentally handicapped people possess Learning is not a must, but they should be given the
greater intellectual powers they are placed above the opportunity to gain experience. lt is up to the mentally
mentally handicapped. But today it is rather a matter of handicapped person to do whatever he likes with it and,
being equal. In humanity there are no levels! if he learns something in the process, that is a bonus. At
any rate his horizon may be broadened.
These changes can also be found in the terminology.
In the early days mentally handicapped people were A mentally retarded person has his own way of
called patients (the medical model), then pupils and playing, communication, etc. From the fact that he
now residents, housemates, visitors, etc. And similarly probably does not consciously experience this world
they used to be called idiots, but now severely retarded, we may not conclude that he is inferior.
mentally handicapped, etc. Mentally retarded people
used to be considered ‘really pitiful’, because the We pointed out that we as staff approach the
outside world detected so many defects. mentally handicapped too much with our own
standards in mind. Many severely retarded people show
odd behaviour, which they apparently enjoy. But because
Move to a flat sharing community- we find this behaviour disturbing we label it ‘disturbed’.
model lt can be very refreshing for the severely retarded if
we go along with this kind of behaviour working with
The community model can be compared to a little different standards. Obviously, there is a constant appeal
village in which mentally disabled people were able to to our creativity and inventiveness. Over and over again
lead a safe and peaceful live. it has to be stressed that the resident should not adjust
They lived together and could make use of their to life in an institution, but that the institution and its
own church, laundrette and restaurant and some larger staff should meet his needs and wishes more.
institutions even had their own graveyard.
About 10 to 12 people would live together in each The term ‘integration’ comes in now. According to
of the flats. Within the flat a cosy, home-like atmosphere the dictionary it means: “bring or come into equality
was created in which people can experience nice things by the mixing of groups or races”. In this special case it
as they would do at home. means that the rnentally handicapped person is brought
The focus was on doing things together as a group or comes into society outside the institution. This is
or as an institution as a whole. Even nowadays you can no passive process. The words ‘bring’ and ‘come into’
see remains of the collective way of thinking i.e. at big involve action. This action has to come frorn two sides.
events for the entire institutions.
The mentally handicapped person has to find his
place in society, even if he is there only now and then.
Changes in the material domain On the other hand, society should also open its gates
for him. lt should not be one-way traffic in the sense
There have also been changes in the material that: these are society’s standards and the mentally
domain. The rooms of the institutions used to be bare. handicapped better adjust to them. The other way
They were furnished as little as possible because they round is also impossible: the mentally handicapped
thought that the severly retarded patients in particular person imposes his standards (as far as these can de
would only wreck the furniture, and they would not defined) on society.
care what furniture or attributes there were in the
room anyway. They would even see it. Now we know
better. It is obvious that severly retarded people are
also very sensitive to atmosphere and changes in it; a
fact that was long known before Snoezelen was ever
heard of.


Change of the philosophy Financial structure and person bound
budget system
In the meantime the way of thinking had changed
from collective to individual thinking. The philosophy There is help available for the new developments.
says that the mentally handicapped to not have to live The existing financial structure is currently changing. So
in the institutions anymore like in a safe harbour. Some far we had a collective system, where all the financial
critics go as far as comparing the system of institutions grants are paid directly to the institutions and they
to ‘apartheid’. They call it discrimination to lock people will then have the responsibility of how to spend it. In
into institutions just because they are different or have the new system every person with a mental handicap
a mental handicap and because of that are not given the receives an indication. This indication says how much
same rights as you and me. and what kind of help, care and support the person
It is an interesting point of view. More and more you needs. Based on that, a set amount of money to buy
can see that the whole care system in the Netherlands the care and support needed is given to the mentally
is influenced by the philosophy of considering our handicapped person (or the parent). The handicapped
mentally handicapped people as normal civilians. person can then go to care providers, such as our
Normal civilians means, they have the same rights as Organisation ,s Heeren Loo Midden Nederland, and
everyone else in our society. request for the care/support they need or want for a
special price.
Just saying it is not enough, it means a lot will have
to change. The whole system has to change from That system is called the ‘Person bound budget
caring to supporting, from taking care of a mentally system’. ( in Dutch: PGB) The money follows the
handicapped person to give support to a mentally handicapped person.
handicapped person. We will have to learn to support For organisations, such as ours, this will be a great
them in parts of their lives and their way of living change. The mentally handicapped people will become
where others would be able to do it by themselves, but consumers.
they cannot due to their disabilities. We have to stop The essential financial grants will no longer be paid
taking over the lives of mentally handicapped people annually to the organisations directly. In future we will
completely. have to negotiate with the mentally handicapped or
their parents.
Because of the philosophy of a life as a Normal And if the consumers – the handicapped person and
Civilian we do also believe that people with a mental their parents – are not entirely satisfied with the quality
handicap should no longer live in an institution. They of care they receive then they can go to a different
should be allowed to live in a normal home, in a normal organisation and obtain the needed care from them.
street, in a normal village. They should not live in this The change in the financial system does give our
wonderful area in the middle of the woods far away consumers the power to be treated like an ordinary
from society. They should live like normal civilians in a customer with the choice to change shops if they are
normal society. They have the right to have their place not satisfied with the product or service they receive.
within society and not outside society. For us as organisation that means a great incentive to
Here in the Netherlands we are currently make sure the service we deliver is of high quality. It
undergoing the process of changing from community motivates us to listen well to the clients to make sure
thinking to the philosophy of Normal Civilians. Lots they are satisfied with what they get etc. I think this is
of parents of mentally handicapped people, and even all very exiting. It will be a big change offering lots of
the mentally handicapped themselves, are not entirely new possibilities but also some dangers. We will have to
happy about leaving the institutions and with that the wait and see.
safe place they represent. Parents are scared for their Lastly I would like to talk about the developments in
children to live outside and to be confronted by new the care and the new care products this new financial
danger i.e. cars driving too fast. Even the institutions system offers. New products chosen by the consumers/
themselves are not totally convinced about the new clients are:
philosophy. How will the mentally handicapped cope
with life within society? Will they be all right?
We as carers of these institutions are so used to Homecare
help, to take over and care for these people. That makes
it very difficult for us to let go and hand over the lead There are different kinds of homecare available.
to the mentally handicapped and only to support when Carers do offer their services in the house of the
we are asked to. handicapped person. Especially for the handicapped
I think it will take some time before we really children we feel it is very important to live at home
know how to act and we have learned how to behave with their parents rather than in an institution. And if
towards our mentally handicapped fellow citizens. the care for the child is too intensive for the parents,
our staff can come to their home and support the
parents for a few hours. Our help can be a few hours
a day or a week, just as the situation back at home
demands it.

Part-time-living Wide range of activities
Some clients are staying with the organisations for We are offering a wide range of activities that are
the weekend or the holidays. The parents cannot take determined by our client’s demands. Daily activities can
the responsibility for their children 24 hours a day, 7 be used by small groups or individually. They can take
days a week. So we are able to offer them all kinds of place in a separate area or amid society, the activities
part-time support. can be aimed at support, can be work-like or creative
The newest developments are homes initiated by and they can take place indoors or outdoors.
parents. Parents do have certain ideas and dreams of There are daily activities for children and adults
how they want their children to live, for example, if available and there are also suitable daily activities for
they have a special religion or if they live in a particular disabled older people on offer. The total number of 750
village and would like their child to live close by. participants is a guaranty for the wide range we are
Nowadays it is possible for clients or the parents to offering.
rent or even buy a home. It will be the home of the
client and the parents, they will lay down the home We are also offering an extensive range of activities
rules and buy the furniture together etc. in the surrounding area. In an industrial estate some of
We, the organisation, have a contract with the our clients are working, preparing toys and tools for
clients (or their parents) and that contract is the basis dispatch. One of our clients is helping as a caretaker in
for the amount of care /support they will receive in a nearby school. Some others are helping in the library
their special home. in Ede. Other participants of the daily activity program
I think that this is a way of living where the are helping out under supervision in care homes,
individualism of our clients is respected and their serving tea and coffee, taking care of pets, cleaning etc.
wishes of how they would like to live are acted on. Individual work is also done in a large bakery in Ede, a
In these homes they can be themselves as a pet shop and a garage in Harskamp.
handicapped person but also as a person with his or There is also a wide range of products we make
her own identity. ourselves, such as candles, soap, art and promotional
gifts. We also pack Christmas parcels with our products
for clients.
Daily activities program Integration in society and offering work-like
activities are major points in our care politic.
Our daily activities program is very wide-ranging
and has grown over the past few years. During the
early years of the De Hartenberg Centre, part of the The development of Snoezelen
Organisation ,s Heeren Loo Midden Nederland, the
daily activities program was not a major focus of our Reason
organisation. It was only available for disabled people
who were able to do some sort of production work. CLELAND and CLARK (1966) from the USA were
The external budget was based on that. the first to come up with the idea to create a ‘sensory
But that has changed over the past few years. The cafeteria’. That means a room in which mentally
De Hartenberg Centre started to allocate the budgets, disabled people could have the chance to experience
internal departments were partly or completely closed the different senses. Snoezelen can be compared
down and the money saved was used it in favour of the to that early approach. But since I don’t know how
daily activities program. far this information from America has affected the
Dutch development, I will just talk about Snoezelen
development in the Netherlands.
Additional grants
In the middle of the seventies the Dutch institutions
In the middle of the nineties the government made for the mentally disabled were also confronted by the
further grants available. These grants can only be used growing problems with the severely disabled. As Verheul
to extend the daily activities program for the severe states, most of all there was a lack of activities which
multiple disabled people. were suitable for the needs of that group, since the
occupational and leisure time activities which could be
used by the less severely mentally disabled people – at
1 to 1 care least in a modified form – weren’t of any interest to the
severely disabled.
Just recently the possibility arose to receive further
financial grants for disabled people with conspicuous From the different efforts to create new playing
behaviour problems such as aggression or self-harming material or activities for that group, it was developed
behaviour etc. These grants are used for 1 to 1 care. on one side the ‘adjusted material’ that means playing
material which shape, size and function tried to do
justice to that group of the disabled and on the other
side there was ‘Snoezelen’.


There are inter-relations between these two the living quarters of the severely multiple disabled,
activities since Snoezelen does express a different view developing materials and concepts, to trigger interest
towards the occupational and leisure time activities of and to activate: They made mobiles, musical objects,
severely disabled people, which are also obvious in offer used bubbles and massaged with coloured sheets.
and function of the playing materials. It is used less as Natural materials were also used to make touch objects
learning material but more with the aim to let disabled etc. Even the nurses were impressed by the use of
people enjoy it and with the conviction, that they will these materials in the living quarters and incorporated
learn enough by doing so. On the other hand due to the plans to make further objects. We are talking about
the development of so called Snoezelen objects, that the very first objects used for Snoezelen, it was all
means things that are offered in Snoezelen, the pool very simple and not expensive. Jan Hulsegge as music
of playing materials for the living and life situations of therapist and Ad Verheul as occupational therapist were
severely disabled people was very much enriched. responsible for the very first leisure time activities for
severely multiple disabled people in the Centre De
The development of Snoezelen in the
Netherlands At that time Ad Verheul and Jan Hulsegge came
across an article by American psychologists Cleland
The beginnings of Snoezelen are closely linked to and Clark. By 1966 they had already reported in
the expansion of occupational activities for people their findings about the possibilities of development
with severe multiple disabilities in the middle of the promotion, improved communication and behaviour
seventies, starting in the Netherlands. That is to say changes achieved by selected sensory offers to
that for that target group there were no recreational development-delayed, hyperactive, mentally disabled
activities on offer at all. To get an impression about the and autistic people. These target groups should receive
accommodation of people with severe disabilities, I will motivation to see, hear, smell and feel and for the
describe life in the Centre De Hartenberg. stimulation of the kinaesthesia in accordingly designed
rooms. At that time the two authors had already
Since 1968 there have been approximately 440 insisted, that a so-called ‘Sensory Cafeteria’ should be
mentally disabled residents in the institution. Their the most logical first step to stimulate and guide the
care was focused exclusively on their accommodation. sensory process.
Approximately 70% of the residents could be described The idea of ‘primary activation’ was developed
as severe multiple disabled, this means, that there was further by the two Dutch experts, because it was
only a small group of people active enough to go to recognised, that not only people with a higher mental
work at the daily activity centre. In the workshop they level but all disabled people were in need of such a
produced simple articles. The residents with severe specific offers.
multiple disabilities stayed behind in their flats or the
pavilion. There was always a reason why they couldn’t A big force was the parent’s interest, because they
leave the building: One day it would be too warm discovered all of a sudden new opportunities for their
outside or too cold or it would be too wet or too children. Passive education was turned into activity, to
damp. Apart from making the journey to the necessary initiate contact again, to communicate with a disabled
therapies or to a doctor, there was no reason to leave child and to activate the process. In the Centre De
the house. The people with severe multiple disabilities Hartenberg the concept Snoezelen was still unknown.
were protected like porcelain dolls, a frail material that Only through the link with another institution
would become ill once it was exposed to the outside. Haarendael, where at the same time similar activities
The living accommodation of these people was linked were tested, the name was made public.
to a hospital that followed tight medical guidelines.
The living conditions of these disabled people were
very sterile and cold and the wards reminded you of First approaches in different institutions
a hospital with beds and oxygen bottles right next
to them – everything was absolutely spotless. It was Since, like already mentioned, the search for new
anything but a cosy environment, no atmosphere to activities for the severely disabled was the problem for
feel good and sojourn for long. The doctors and senior many institutions, different approaches of Snoezelen
nurses determined the routine, one talked about were developed in various institutions at the same time.
‘nurses’ not ‘companion’. Their experiences were only exchanged some time
In the early seventies under these quite afflicting
circumstances grew the idea of offering occupational A first project and at the same time the name
activities to severely multiple disabled, called Snoezelen was developed in 1974 in the ‘Haarendael’
‘Bezigheidsbegeleiding’. Initially that focused only on institution in the relaxation service with the thought
the living accommodation, since it wasn’t possible to that the physical effort was not the goal but the
move the residents to a different building. The members possibilities of experiences and the relaxation. The aim
of staff, so called ‘Bezigheidsbegeleider’, meaning was to let the disabled person experience well being,
occupational therapists, worked in close proximity to by trying to create a situation in which they could get

to one or the other activity but could also enjoy it The idea was put into action for the very first
passively. time at the De Hartenbergs summer fair in 1978.
An experimental sensory tent offering multi sensory
These goals should be achieved via the sensual experiences was put up. It was only at that conference
perception. In the so-called relaxation service of the that one became aware of the other institutions efforts,
institution two civil servants Niels Snoek and Klaas received further information and took over the term
Schenk and a staffmember Rein Staps organised the ‘Snoezelen’.
first project in the assembly hall. With the help of light,
music, smells and objects a dream atmosphere was In August 1979 in the course of the next summer
created in which stimuli for every sense could be found, fair another 10 day Snoezelen project followed for
for example: which many of the objects were handmade.

• Visual stimuli:
darkened rooms, orbiting pictures, mirrors
• Auditory stimuli:
calm music
• Tactile stimuli:
Ball pond, hay, hammock
• Scented stimuli:
incense, 4711, scented water
• Taste stimuli:
different tasting food
Since there was only little money available, creative
initiative was needed. The project was very successful
but after expiration of the civil servants service, the
project had to be stopped for the time being due to
lack of time and personnel. ‘ Snoezelen team’ the centre De Hartenberg, 1977
1st left: Ad Verheul; 3th left: Jan Hulsegge

Because of the big success, that means most of

all the positive effect it had on the severely disabled
who used the offer, mostly fortnightly projects were
organised in the following years on a regular basis until
February 1984 when Snoezelen could be offered on a
permanent basis in it’s own rooms.

Due to the ‘open days’, reports about different

projects and an intensive exchange of information,
Snoezelen quickly became well known in other
institutions. Today we can assume that not only the
institutions for mentally disabled people but also the
ones for the psychologically ill and from senile dementia
First Snoezelen team, Haarendael, 1974 suffering people know the term and partly use it in
left to right: Niels Snoek, Rein Staps, Klaas Schenk any form in their work. It is also safe to assume that
Snoezelen is mentioned in the training of the group
Later the institution ‘Piusoord’ picked the idea
up again and improved it even more. The institution
introduced ‘Snoezelen’ under its name on an NGBZ
conference in March 1979 (NGBZ=Nederlands
Genootschap ter Bestudering van de Zwakzinnigheid
en de Zwakzinnigenzorg) themed PLAY and they invited
the entire personnel to take part.
There the staff of De Hartenberg learned of the
name and realised, that they were working on the same
ideas. Since there was obviously a demand for activities
for the severely disabled, also seen at the annual
summer fairs of the institution where a varied program
was on offer without being able to consider the needs
of the disabled, the idea was born to create, with the
help of primary sense stimuli, a world in which severely
disabled people could feel good.


light wall

schadow play

mirror wall

blower unit

room with a blower entrance

The activities tent 1978

The activities tent worked as a lens and while it turned, colourful

beams were projected on the screen.
In 1978 we received a letter from a colleague who
then worked at the centre for the mentally handicapped • One corridor was the sound department. All
‘Piusoord’ in Tilburg. He was very enthusiastic about all kinds of sounds could be heard from speakers or
the positive response they had had to an ‘activities tent’. headphones.
The activities were meant for the lower-level residents,
and they made use of sound, lights, balloons, hay, etc. • There was a rack with several musical
Because there was going to be a summer fair at De instruments mounted on it which looked very
Hartenberg it seemed a nice thing to organize a similar attractive.
facility for the lower-level residents there. To be honest
we must confess that we were not very enthusiastic • There was also a ‘smells’ department: a table on
at first. We began working it out with some of our which a selection of fragrant objects was placed,
colleagues. Since it was to be only a temporary affair we like scent bottles, soap, herbs, etc.
were given a kind of shed to use, or rather, a roof on
poles. We turned it into a Snoezelen room by screening • We also hung tactile objects from the ceiling: a
off the sides with sail cloth and created corridors with woollen curtain and squeaky toys.
agricultural plastic. In this ‘maze’ we located a series of
activities. • There was a water and sand tray, a papier-mache
These were separated visually but not auditively, table and a foam tray.
which was sometimes disturbing. Some of the activities
were: • There were trays with foods that tasted either
salty, sweet, sour or bitter.
• a room with a blower that blew shreds of paper
and balloons through the room; • At the end of the maze there was a large tray
partly filled with gravel, another part with sand,
• a comer with soft cushions and hay in which etc., so you could experience different sound
squeaky toys were hidden. and walking sensations.

• There was also a room with an overhead After a few days it became clear to us that we could
projector on which a bowl of water was placed. put aside any doubts we might have had, as there were
By dripping ink into the water fabulous colour so many positive verbal and even more non-verbal
patterns were created on a white screen. On reactions. It was a tremendous success. Encouraged
the platform of a record player we had placed a by this we and a few colleagues got round the table to
jam jar with pieces of coloured paper stuck on discuss the future developments.
it. Behind it we had placed a lamp. The jam jar

2 3

6 4


8 9

13 11



17 16

Floorplan: the first Snoezelen room: the activities tent

1978 10. Soft corner with hay and tactile objects
1. Entrance 11. Water and sand tray
2. Room with blower and shreds of paper, balloons 12. Foam and water tray with soap bubbles and air
3. Corner with shreds of paper and balloons tubes
4. Corner with soft cushions 13. Papier-mache table
5. Projection room and schadow play 14. Mirror wall in combination with ‘slime’
6. Slideshow with liquid projection 15. Large trays filled with gravel, sand, little stones,
7. Mirrorwall and sound pillars etc. Experience different sound and walking
8. Sounddepartment and rack with several sensations
musical instruments 16. Smell department and taste trays with food
9. Soap bubbles 17. Exit



Floorplan of the Snoezelen rooms in the
day-care centre 1979-1982

2 1. Entrance
1 2. Acoustic room with light screen
3. Transition area
4. Room with blower, shreds of paper,
7 balloons and tactile curtains
5. Tactile room
6. Corner with soft cushions and tactile
8 walls
7. Tactile boxes and smell tables
9 8. Film and slide projection
9. Diorama
10 10. Room with taste trays with food
11. Room with visual effects: liquid
projection, bubble units and mirror
11 12. Taste corner
13. Mirror wall with spotlights
12 14. Schadow play
15. Water and foam trays
16. Ball alley play and foot chimes
14 13 17. Exit


16 17

At the summer fair one year later we were
given the use of a number of rooms in the day-care
department. We got permission to fit up these fairly
large rooms as temporary Snoezelen rooms. They were
properly partitioned off so there were no irritating
visual or aural stimuli from the other rooms. What´s
more, the rooms were very spacious so the activities
came out much better than they did the first time. It
was also possible now to create a transition area at
the entrance between the daylight outdoors and the
twilight inside.

During these summer fairs we kept open house.

In the second year of the Snoezelen activities we had
more than four hundred visitors in two days, most
of whom were colleagues from all over the country.
Since that time both the internal and the external
development of Snoezelen has seen a rapid growth. In
1979 and 1980 two reports were produced about our
experiences with Snoezelen. These primarily discussed
the experiences of residents, parents and staff. They
also included a list of the materials that were used.
These reports were read by several people all over
the country. We had many invitations from colleagues
to come and see their permanent and semipermanent
Snoezelen experiments. We exchanged lots of The first bubbleunits in the temporary Snoezelen-rooms
information and new ideas were born and tried out.
Articles were published in various magazines and there
were lectures. In short everybody was interested in this
phenomenon. The centre De Hartenberg
Although many institutions in the country already The centre De Hartenberg belongs to the
had permanent Snoezelen rooms, we did not. From organisation ‘s Heerenloo Midden Nederland. With the
our own experiences and suggestions from outside help of approximately 1030 members of staff it cares
we had formed a picture of what a permanent facility at the moment for 756 mentally disabled in an area
should look like. We wanted to fit it up with all the of about 40 kilometres. The centre is situated in vast
equipment that we thought was necessary. So we pinewoods covering 85 hectare.
needed permanent quarters and we had to find the De Hartenberg was built in 1968 with the intention
funds. In the planning stage we were confronted with to offer approximately 800 to 1200 mentally disabled
the severity of the fire safety requirements in this field. people a place to live. Due to the changed way of
We just had to meet these, which had its f’inancial thinking about mentally disabled and their provisions,
consequences, of course. In February 1984 the job was it was decided during the process of construction
done, our permanent Snoezelen room was finished. to accommodate no more than 400 residents.
There were certain limitations: some of the rooms Meanwhile due to faulty building materials almost 80%
should have been a little bigger, some of the materials of the buildings constructed in those days had to be
used had to be changed to such extent to meet the demolished – including the pavilion that was built in
safety requirements that their educational value 1983.
decreased. And of course there were some teething
troubles to overcome. If you should think that we have Today De Hartenberg is made of different living
found a definitive solution we have to disappoint you. quarters, partially linked to little day activity centres.
We are always looking for improvements and new ideas. The main part accommodates approximately 210
The latest developments in electronics, for instance, will inhabitants. That should be down numbered to 140
have to be watched closely, though they should never over the next few years and reduced to zero in the
come first. We should never think we know everything next fifteen years. Today’s philosophy concentrated
about the severely retarded and his experiences with living quarters for the mentally disabled are no longer
Snoezelen. needed, especially not living quarters completely
isolated from Society.


The day activities in the main part take place in 4
different buildings, which are spread over the grounds.
That way traffic takes place and brings liveliness in to
the area.
Principally all residents are at their workplaces
outside the flats during the day. That is based on
the philosophy of a daily routine: Living – Working –
Relaxing, which plays a role in everybody’s life. -Outside
the flat one can meet other people, the coffee tastes
different, the building smells different etc.- One should
make the effort to go somewhere, once one is on the
way one can experience so much, one can feel that the
sun is shining, that it is raining or that the wind blows.
One will meet other people, feels warmth or cold etc.

Snoezelen is part of all that. In De Hartenberg one

calls ‘Mini-Snoezelen’ the type of Snoezelen that takes
place in the residential group or in a room equipped on
a short-term basis. Otherwise we use the Snoezelen
centre, which measures 410 square metres. In
September 2000 the centre took over from our initial
pavilion, which we had since 1984.

De Hartenberg, cultural centre and tea house-café

In a nearby village are 15 integrated living quarters

with a day activity centre. In other surrounding villages
are 10 more integrated living quarters, which are
partially linked to day activity centres. In the main part
the residential groups are small: 6 to 8 residents. Each
group is put together differently, concerning age and

Each of the flats is a self-sufficient unit, doing their

own cooking and shopping. All flats have a certain
budget available. Each residential group has a very big
direct influence on the entire management.
Starting point for that philosophy is:

-“as normal as possible, specific only if needed”-

The smaller living quarters are different in their

planning: Detached houses or chalet-like bungalows,
which go well with the scenery. These flats surround
a little square, which serves as a meeting point at
the same time. For the living quarters are facilities
available such as a big swimming pool, hydrotherapy
pool, gymnasium, departments for the physiotherapy,
logopedics, special needs school, day-activities and a big
Snoezelen Centre.

De Hartenberg, living quaters

Floorplan De Hartenberg: original Plan 1968, 1200 places/residents

Floorplan De Hartenberg: situation 2004 ca. 210 places/residents


Theory of Snoezelen in a selected way and reduce unnecessary stimuli at
the same time. The offer of stimuli should be chosen
The aims of Snoezelen are closely linked to the in such a way to make nice and pleasurable sensory
problems and possibilities of the target group. Here are perceptions possible for a disabled person as well as to
some possible definitions: offer special experiences that can’t be made in every
• ‘Snoezelen’ is a selective offer of primary stimuli day life. One should feel good and safe.
in an attractive setting.
• “Snoezelen means a specially designed It applies the principle to give the disabled the
environment where well-being is to be caused by necessary space and time, to choose for himself or
controllable multisensorial stimuli.” indicate which stimuli he enjoys, what he wants to
• “‘Snoezelen’ offers the opportunity to function concentrate on for longer or what he wants to do.
in other ways. Particularly their being active, The encouragement of the residents shouldn’t come
tasting, smelling, touching and moving because from staff but from the things in the room: material
they like it, not to acquire information or to and environment should be inviting and stimulating to
learn from it or develop, suits the needs and activate the disabled person to for example reach for
possibilities of the severely retarded much something or lie on a soft mat etc. At the same time
better.” the environment should bring the necessary peace and
• ‘Snoezelen’ is a primary activation of severely quiet to make relaxation possible because experiencing
mentally handicapped people, especially aimed at the direct environment, taking it all in and passively
sensory perception and experience, by means of enjoying it are already enough aims.
light sound, touch, smell and taste.
• ‘Snoezelen’ is creating authentic experiences for The intention, Snoezelen should serve the residents
those who are different. relaxation, is of big importance to the De Hartenberg
as opposed to other Dutch institutions. To understand
that, one has to realise how much pressure and
Target group tension the disabled in the housing group are under.
We understand ‘relaxation’ mostly as counterpart to
For the severely disabled who can visit the daily ‘tension’, with which we associate work and physical
activities centre, Snoezelen is special leisure time and mental activity, which we, after a first glance,
activity. That gives them the chance to ‘go out’ for wouldn’t necessarily expect in the daily routine of a
once, which means to go into different rooms and to severely disabled person.
experience all together different things.
In conversation it was established that the
One does assume that that particular group of constant presence of the many other residents with
disabled people does depend on their primary senses their peculiarities and possibly disturbing behaviour
with the appropriate feelings and movements to (screaming, lashing out etc.), space restrictions as well
experience their environment but that they are not as the high expectations of the environment, which
capable of experiencing them properly or work through they can’t understand, can to a high degree cause them
them in their every day life. tension and stress.
Van Gennep ( 1982) does point out, that too big
In one of the institution’s report the opinion is groups in to small living space can cause behavioural
represented that for these (severely) disabled people problems like aggression, hyperactivity, stereotypes etc.
the world must seem like a ‘chaos’ in which everything Snoezelen with its dream atmosphere is meant to
seems to be complicated and puzzling and that they be a place where one can leave everything behind and
are incapable of influencing these stimuli, to get them find complete relaxation.
in order and to understand them in such a way that we
would judge as normal. Because of that every day life Accordingly calm music and dimmed lights
might feel threatening and scary for these people since should help to create a special atmosphere. Other
they cannot really do anything about it to avert against institutions state besides or instead of our aim of rest
all these things, which are literally ‘coming over’ them. and relaxation the stimulation of the development or
therapeutic intentions for example consciously to use
Snoezelen to make worried clients well balanced again.
Definition, Aims, Principles
Another principle in Snoezelen is
Snoezelen is a leisure time activity for the severely
disabled, where they can relax and find themselves. “niets moet, alles mag”
To do that a situation is necessary for which in which means, “nothing has to be done, everything is allowed”
contrast to every day life the senses are not addressed
simultaneously but where they have to concentrate Unlike in the housing group where certain
on individual sensory perceptions for example to restrained ways or activities are demanded from the
touch only. The senses shouldn’t be addressed in width disabled (to clean, to eat, not to run away, etc), during
but in depth. To achieve that, we try to offer stimuli Snoezelen he should be allowed to be himself and to do

whatever he likes. The accompanying members of staff Here one is reminded once again of the principle
should therefore distance themselves from their own of own choice and speed that for most of the severely
ideas and expectations and let the clients have their disabled can only be achieved with the help of open-
own way, even more so than ever. Free use of Snoezelen minded carers.
material is permitted. If for example someone does
not want to smell a smelling device but would like to How far such an individual company makes help and
rotate its stand that would be accepted. The voluntary experiencing Snoezelen together possible does depend
intention of the offer is particularly important. It is not on the relationship between carer and resident, which
about a collection of material experienced according on the other hand has to comply with the degree of
to course but about a varied and atmospheric offer of disability. If one aims at physical contact and constant
sensual impressions that should be used voluntarily and attention, when care and supervision are needed, a
gladly. Who does not like it after a settling in period relation of 1 to 1 is necessary. For clients who can
does not have to take further part in Snoezelen. move themselves, can approach things and keep
themselves occupied with an object for a longer period
of time, Snoezelen is also possible for groups of up to
Company six clients.

The residents usually do not go to Snoezelen alone, In De Hartenberg it depends less on the objectively
but are accompanied by a member of staff. For most reserved observation but on company for the purpose
of the severely disabled that is necessary due to their of an emphasising contact in the respective Snoezelen
immobility. Often they cannot move towards something situation and the influence that such consciously
on their own or cannot get away from unwanted together experienced Snoezelen situation can have on
stimuli. Also in the beginning they might be scared the relationship between carers and residents.
of the strange room and the objects, which could be
limited if a trusted person is around. Beside the few
institutions where employees of the accompanying Instruction of the staff
service stand by the residents, group leaders of the
housing groups also full fill the task. A good company of the disabled person by the
group leaders, in the sense that the employees know
There is no question among the institutions about what is important, which principles and rules they must
the necessity of company. But what importance it has, follow and which possibilities in the Snoezelen rooms
how the accompanying person has to behave during are generally offered, does depend on a good training.
Snoezelen, varies among the institutions. In Pinsoord for With often high fluctuation of group leaders and
example they are trying to achieve the aim of relaxation temporary work of trainees, the necessary continuity of
whereby the group leader does accompany the resident success in Snoezelen can only be achieved if excellent
into the room indeed and place them in such a way training and education can be provided.
that they are able to use the materials on offer. Then
they leave the Snoezelen environment and observe
the resident through a one way mirror. They will only Technical Instructions
interfere if help is needed.
Members of staff have to know how to use different
In contrast to that distant observing method, apparatus to get all the possible effects that are
experiencing Snoezelen together is very important to produced by different devices (for example Slide-, Film-,
the De Hartenberg. Snoezelen is actually seen as a good Liquid projectors, Sound systems, Lights, Fans). Only
way to build and maintain an intense contact between when all the technical details are known and used by
client and carer. Through that even Snoezelen itself the staff accordingly then the specific dosage of stimuli,
experiences an enrichment and intensification. that takes into consideration the wishes and needs of
the disabled person, can be guaranteed. It does depend
Of course the carer shouldn’t get involved too on the staff’s knowledge about the use of the devices
much or let their own interest stand in the way of whether existing offers are generally recognised and
experiencing the atmosphere and the objects. To do used.
that it is very important that the carer can put his
own standards and ideas in the background, to give
the clients as much freedom as possible to try out and To learn Snoezelen
explore. They should not for example show them how
to move the waterbed and how to be moved on it but Disabled and non-disabled people practice
let the disabled person himself experience it. Snoezelen in different ways due to their different
abilities and needs.
It requires good observation to recognise clients’ After my experiences non-disabled people have
wishes and needs and to act on that for example by big difficulties getting involved in Snoezelen. To take
adjusting stimuli individually (switch on/off certain the shoes off alone is hard work (feet could smell
devices), changing the place or room or returning to unpleasantly). To simply lie in the ball pond or on a
the group.
waterbed, to perceive ones feelings, to accept them Types of Snoezelen
and enjoy them, is often difficult and feels unsafe
and embarrassing. One feels especially embarrassed The Snoezelen definition is a vast one and does
should someone be present and watch. Experiences allow many possibilities of application.
and sensations like for example feeling safe on a lightly
swinging waterbed, to snuggle up in a warm fur or
to dive into a ball pond and to feel comfortable and Snoezelen in Nature
surrounded, we barely admit to as adults in our every
day life. To get involved in it requires overcoming The most obvious would be Snoezelen in Nature,
inhibitions and fears, which severely disabled people which means, one does concentrate very consciously
cannot do. on sensory perceptions available in nature.

Non-disabled people often tend to recognise their Snoezelen does support the recollection of
environment very quickly visually. They ‘forget’ the experiences, how they can be consciously experienced
other senses and must be trained again to consciously for example during a particular walk through the
touch, smell, listen and taste again. They have a tendency woods, which addresses all our senses and leads to rest
to question everything and to rationalise. To be calm, to and relaxation. In the woods one can hear the rustling
relax, to perceive sensations and to enjoy them doesn’t of the trees and birds singing, one can smell the flowers,
usually last very long. The urge to be active stands leaves and wet grass, one can feel bark and moss and
in the way. They prefer things they can play with or amongst other things one can see greens and browns in
experiment (technical). constantly changing sunlight.

To provide Snoezelen in a sense of the aims and Similar things apply to the coast area with all the
principles as mentioned above, it is necessary for the sand, wind and water. Employees of the institution did
staff to experience the stimuli and range of experiences realise, that while dealing with severely disabled people
in the Snoezelen rooms and learn to handle them. That all these things could be explored again to be able to
will prepare them better for the Snoezelen experience offer them most authentic experiences.
they will have together with the disabled person. For example, one should simply take the client
for a walk in the rain or snow instead of standing him
However, in practice it is often found that new under the shower and one should let them experience
employees of the institution take disabled people to the natures own materials like earth, sand, grass or straw
Snoezelen rooms on their very first visit and get the in the natural habitat instead of sprinkling rice or
instruction on site from other present group leaders packaging materials all over them.
or they will simply work things out together with the We only realised the importance of these natural
disabled person as far as it is possible. The time for experiences during our work with the severely disabled
them to experience for themselves is often missing. after successfully using the artificially prepared sensory

objects, partly also because we do not see the disabled that Snoezelen is still very much in its early days of
person as ‘ill’ anymore and has to be kept away from experimenting even after all the years of work and
harming influences such as wind and weather. experience and that the Snoezelen room is still far from
perfect even though the equipment is of a very high
Such natural experiences are not always available standard.
and can’t be adjusted to the momentous needs of the However, one has consciously decided to take that
individual. There will still be the need for the artificially unsafe route of gaining practical experience on site, to
prepared situations. get a bit closer to severely disabled residents and to be
able to fulfil their needs. One is aware that there are no
alternatives to Snoezelen. One of the reasons for that is
Snoezelen in the living quarters the fact that one can see the danger, that there are no
alternatives to Snoezelen, and therefore in institutions
In De Hartenberg we call ‘Mini-Snoezelen’ the where it is refused, there are no offers at all.
Snoezelen that is practised in the living quarters or in
individal small rooms that are equipped for short-term For critics who may say that once Snoezelen
use. In this institution this used to be the most common becomes a habit it will quickly lose its appeal and
way to practice Snoezelen apart from the Snoezelen become uninteresting that objection will be declined
projects at the mostly fortnightly summer fair, since straight away. The euphoria and interest may die down
there were no possibilities during the rest of the year. quickly for the members of staff but disabled people feel
especially at ease in a familiar environment and are able
The room used for the ‘Mini-Snoezelen’ is darkened to stay interested in an activity they like for long periods
most of the time. Atmospheric lights and music are of time. The mentioned objection could also be raised
switched on. The intense contact with the clients regarding swimming pools or other leisure time activities.
through physical contact, playing together with soft toys
or Snoezelen objects or simply to experience rest and Members of staff did mention that continuing
relaxation together plays a very important part. Snoezelen in the form of large projects will require a
The living quarters could also have cosy corners great amount of time and personal expenditure, which
where elements of Snoezelen could be integrated. does bear the danger that those projects will be offered
on fewer occasions or even stopped completely.
Now the permanent installed room does offer the
De Hartenberg’s view on the Snoezelen employees the chance to make use of this facility without
room any preparations.

After all the success of Snoezelen at the summer

fairs and ‘Mini-Snoezelen’, one was longing in De Statement
Hartenberg to be able to provide one big room just
for Snoezelen. The summer projects did demand a long The Snoezelen room, which can be used directly by
period of preparation and vast amounts of helpers and the group leaders without any preparations, does, in my
the possibilities at ‘Mini-Snoezelen’ were very limited. opinion, make the work considerably easier but it could
One employee used the comparison that it is nice to lead to attitude of assumption or carelessness while
have a bath in one’s own bathtub but once in a while it handling the devices and objects for which the group
feels good to go to the swimming pool. With Snoezelen leaders are not directly responsible. Since the personnel
its fairly similar, one would like to experience different will have to work with and get used to an already made
things as well as leave the usual environment to ‘go out’. up offer of objects which they have not thought of or
The institution is very much aware of the fact made up, training is absolutely necessary.


To me the danger seems to be less when group Music
leaders are involved in the organisation of Snoezelen
in the form of Snoezelen workgroups and having the Music is a significant part of the special atmosphere
responsibility to schedule appointments, preparations as in the Snoezelen rooms and can be heard as
well as tidying up and cleaning. background music everywhere. The purpose of the
music is to support the calming effect of Snoezelen
and to ‘fill’ the rooms with a warm atmosphere, which
Atmosphere makes it easier to relax. Only the studio has its own
sound system, since the consciously playful way of using
While listening to the description of the rooms the music and the stimulating effect it has matter there
and the individual elements one could easily get the the most.
impression, that these things are simply available in the In all rooms are regulators to adjust the music to
room and one just has to chose anything like one would the needs of the individual resident. Condition for the
take a toy from a shelf or use a the activity on a play music to have that effect is of course that the music is
ground. quiet and calm that means it has no hyped up melodies,
rhythm, tempo or harmonies and is not too loud. A
But, based on my own experience, as soon as one Snoezelen room is not a disco even if a lot of the light
opens the door and enters a Snoezelen room it feels effects are the same.
like diving into another world. The first impression is Short interruptions between the musical pieces
one of the complex atmosphere without recognising or switching off temporarily can result in the visitors
the individual elements or reasons for the effects being surprised and missing the music therefore
straight away. Once one let the impression take effect registering music altogether more consciously. Music
and get used to it gradually only then individual objects therapist have the view that one is not very active while
one is interested in come in to the foreground and listening to Snoezelen music but not passive either. A
stimulate to see, feel, hear and experience. sort of ‘swinging along’ takes place appropriate to the
The impression is probably comparable to entering disabled person’s level. Light classical music, vocal or
a disco, a fun fair or a church where at first the entire instrumental pieces with preferably only one voice or
atmosphere and mood will be taken in and only later one instrument or one instrument in the foreground
visual, auditory and olfactorisch sense perceptions can as well as light entertaining music are very suitable as
be differentiated and put in order. Snoezelen music.

In Snoezelen it is the impression of a dream world One can put the tapes together in different ways for
in which one can dream and relax and by experiencing example only entertaining or classical music, offering
the environment one will be able to perceive ones own both types in turns or one can let very contrasting
body more consciously.Very important elements of pieces of music follow one another.
Snoezelen are colours, light, movement and most of all
music. Besides the relatively short pieces especially found
in entertaining music (approximately 3 ½ minutes)
longer musical pieces i.e. 10-20 minutes of a single pan
pipe could be played, to make it possible to listen into
a musical piece and to avoid letting it fly by as could
happen by listening to shorter pieces.
The so called principles for the arranging of the
music and the use of it is based on the experiences of
music therapist of the institution and are passed on by
him as advice to the group leaders

Snoezelen room: white room

Ball pond

The Snoezelen Pavilion in the De The new Snoezelen Centre has four rooms: a
Hartenberg Centre projector room (White room) of 6 by 11 metres, a
room for feeling with sound effects (room for listening)
Since February 1984 in De Hartenberg near of 6 by 11 metres, a corridor of 18 by 2.5 metres with
Ede is a big central Snoezelen Pavilion in operation. different materials and a ball pond room of 6 by 11
This Snoezelen Centre was intensely used up until metres. The centre is accessible through a wide door.
September 2000. Since September 2000 a completely Once through that door you come into the corridor
new room of approximately 410 metres square is in with two light effect floors and a foot carillon in
operation. between. Opposite the carillon is a combined warm and
One then decided consciously, for central Snoezelen cold air scented wall. In the corridor one can also find
premises as part of the daily activity concept. The a scented tube stand, different touch boards and feel
centre is open daily from nine in the morning until five boxes. In the corner is a mirror wall which, combined
in the afternoon. There is no set timetable. The groups with the light floor, does supply a vast offer of effects.
from the living quarters and from the daily activities From the corridor you can enter into all the other
can come into the room at any time they want. The rooms.
size of the groups is decided by the group leader, but
one can also come alone. The size of the groups and The projector room is completely covered in white
the frequency of visits do depend on availability of soft flooring. In there is an embedded sort of an island
personnel, the degree of disabilities, the behaviour with three bubble units. As well as the floor, ceilings and
of individual visitors, different activities as well as the walls are white too. Liquid-, Slide- and film projectors,
weather. Since one is at liberty to use the room at mirrored glass balls, soap bubble machine can be served
any time one can spontaneously decide to practice with a remote control.
Snoezelen. There are no restricting timetables one has
to stick to. That makes it easier to respond to clients’ The room for feeling also has a soft floor. There are
activities more consciously. touch boards on the walls as well. At different places
At the same time parents have the chance to there are soft touch objects one can crawl through.
practise Snoezelen with their children at any time
without having to make an appointment. They make There is a range of ‘touch curtains’ hanging on a rail.
great use of that. The windows have coloured Perspex glasses.

Besides the permanent available Snoezelen Pavilion In the studio the importance lies with the
there are enough opportunities to practise Snoezelen combination of light and sound. In a wall across the
in natural living and life situations in the daily contact room is a light screen installed, that translates every
with the residents as well as in temporarily installed sound into a light picture. In front of the distorted
Snoezelen rooms in the living quarters. mirror, the light organ and the drapes is a vibrating
floor that invites to feel the different sounds. An echo
sound system does add an extra dimension to the


room. With the help of a CD player music can be
played. If one uses cordless headphones, the great effect
can be enjoyed even more, it feels like being in a huge
grotto. A seating element does provide the comfort

A soft border along the walls surrounds the ball

pond. It serves as a seating or lying down area as well
as padded protection between wall and balls. On the
ceiling above the ball pond is a semi-circular mirror and
along the walls are mirrors too. One can keep occupied
by simply observing oneself and the depth effect of the
room is increased. Sound and light apparatus are as far
as possible based in a separate central room, to avoid,
visitors handling them wrongly unintentionally. That
measure was also essential for fire safety.
Experts have installed the entire Snoezelen complex
in De Hartenberg. That was necessary to meet the
terms of fire safety, servicing and maintenance etc.
Meanwhile the higher investment costs have been
proven to be justified
The cleaning does take up relatively little time; only
the ball pond requires half a day of maintenance once a
fortnight. Defects are rare up to date, the biggest cost
factor as ever is the regular needed change of projector
and light bulbs.

There is a huge interest even beyond the De

Hartenberg Centre. At certain times groups from other
institutions have the chance to come to us to practice
Many non-disabled children make use of our
Snoezelen rooms too, for a birthday party for example.


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floorplan of the first Snoezelen premises in De Hartenberg near Ede

floorplan of the new Snoezelen Centre of De Hartenberg

Description of the Snoezelen room in In De Hartenber are three rooms and a corridor
De Hartenberg Centre to link them available but one does only talk about
‘the Snoezelen room’. One can expect that in each of
There are different possibilities to equip a Snoezelen the rooms a certain atmosphere will be present or
room: rather a certain area of perception will be addressed.
An exact separation between the senses is not given
1. One does create a room to serve all the senses and can hardly be realised anyway. But that is not the
aim, but the elimination of unnecessary, unpleasant and
2. One divides the room in such a way that distracting stimuli
different areas are created in which one or two
senses can be addressed To get a better picture, I will describe the rooms’
one after the other with their special possibilities and
3. One has several rooms available in which one difficulties. A few overlaps cannot be avoided.
sense at a time can be addressed.

Such divisions depend on the space availability in the

institution rather than the content of ideas.

acoustic room with vibrant floor 5,60 m white room 5,62 m ball pool 5,60 m

colour of the room: soft yellow colour of the room: colour of the room: soft yellow

convex mirror
convex mirror plastic decoration balls

coloured spotlights convex mirror

decoration bird
mirror ball
mirror ball


support room with soundsystem

roof window with coloured glass roof window with coloured glass

colour of the room: soft yellow fibre-optic mobile fibre-optic mobile fibre-optic mobile

floorplan of the new Snoezelen Centre of De Hartenberg

acoustic room with vibrant floor 5,60 m white room 5,62 m ball pool room 5,60 m
acryl mirror
light & sound wall
Platform with bubble tubes

vibrant floor fibre-optic


acryl mirror
soft floor leaf rocking chair

ball pool
Konvexer Spiegel

soft floor
fibre-optic waterfall
leaf rocking chair slide

storage of equipment soft cabin

under the support staircase
tactile walls

water bed with room

vibrant floor
entrance with floppy cushion
mit line-lite curtain
tactile wall and

tactile walls smell wall light floor tactile walls tactile

tactile columns light floor floor chimes columns

tactile walls

Floorplan of the new Snoezelen Centre of De Hartenberg

cieling with climat control system roof window with coloured glass

plastic decoration balls

mirror ball
support room with special effects projector

platform with bubble tubes

fibre-optic waterfall

floor heating system

Cross-section of the new Snoezelen Centre of De Hartenberg


3D view of the new Snoezelen Centre of De Hartenberg

convex mirror
emergency exit
convex mirror
acryl mirror Farbspots entrance
mirror ball
coloured spotlights

ball pool Kletterrutsch

soft cabin

seat staircase
floor heating system leaf rocking chair floppy cushion

light floor

light floor

floor chimes

3D view Ball Pond

Ball Pond The white room

In the 6 by 11 metres big room, painted yellow, The room measures approximately 6 by 11 metres,
are two ball ponds. Surrounded by a 70 centimetre is 5.5 metres high and completely white.
high yellow and red border of soft play material there
are approximately 60 000 coloured balls each with a Here mainly visual stimuli in the form of light effects
diameter of 6 centimetre. One can lie on top of the are offered. Due to the white interior the room is
balls, bury oneself or other people in them completely, suitable as a projector screen for:
throw the balls, feel them individually and play with
them. A slow approach to the unknown situation • Slides
is possible since there is enough free space in the Mainly pictures of nature
entrance area (also important for wheelchair access) to
simply watch the ball pond and those already present. • Films
It is possible to walk around the pond on the 50 Due to the variety of colours, slow camera
centimetre wide edge. It is also possible to approach movements and slow movements of the animals, films
the balls by simply sitting on that edge and allowing by Jacques Cousteau about the under water World
the legs to dangle and play with a few balls. To glide without any sound are very suitable
into the balls is unusual since they will move in to all
different directions and one will sink in faster the more • Liquid projectors
one moves. Many residents have fun; others do feel The apparatus produces a round, slowly rotating
frightened that the ground underneath their bodies picture, in which multi coloured objects shaped like
is so uncertain. Experiences made here are of a more water drops float into one another
tactile nature.
All these projectors are kept in a little room on
The PVC mirrors on the walls as well as the semi- the first floor of the building and point into the white
circled mirror on the ceiling above the balls offer room through a window in such a way, that they can be
additional stimuli. projected onto three walls. One feels like standing in
One can observe oneself in the mirror on the the middle of the play of colours and lights.
ceiling while lying on the balls and throw the balls
towards the mirror. They will seem to get bigger the Further light effects are achieved by illuminating
closer they get to the mirror. rotating mirror balls as well as so called bubble units
and fibre lights. There is also a device to produce soap
A passive experience of the situation as well as all bubbles.
sorts of playing activities, are possible in this room.

Ball Pond


plastic decoration balls

mirror ball

projections window

fibre-optic waterfalll
bubble tubes
bean bag entrance

soft floor
light floor

line-lite shower

floor chimes
light floor

light floor

3D view white room

• Bubble units By choosing varied combinations of the activities

Bubble units are perspex tubes filled with water; one can create all different effects.
underneath each on is an air pump a lighting fixtures
attached. In the white room half way up the wall are besides
the mentioned mirrors other objects attached to
With the incoming air, air bubbles rise constantly adjustable rails, which serve the purpose of decoration
and are illuminated by a light which has a multicoloured as well as play, for example big wooden birds which
disc and changes colour every 15 seconds. swing once someone pulls on the string. There are also
There are three of these units in the room, all of long PVC tubes filled with air hanging down almost
them embedded on a hexagonal stage. Two of the tubes touching the floor.
are 1,80 metres high and the third one is 2,30 metres. The entire floor is covered in a soft play material.
They each have a diameter of 20 centimetres and can Two of these mattresses close to the door can be
be switched on individually or in combination. removed to allow wheelchair access if one does not
want to lift residents out of their wheelchairs.
• Mirror balls
There are two balls of different sizes, which are One thick air filled PVC tube is moving on the floor
covered in little mirror tiles and rotate with the help of along three of the walls to allow a comfortable position
a little engine. Spotlights illuminate them. that makes it easier to observe the light effects on the
This creates the effect of slowly moving light spots The room does impress with its height and white
over wall and ceiling, which can constantly change interior alone and is very popular with the group
their colour because of the multicoloured rotating disc leaders and residents. The different light effects change
moving in front of the light. These balls are also known by colours and movements never get boring and invite
as Disco balls. you to dream and simply switch off. In there the feeling
to be in the middle of a dream world is the strongest.

Soap bubble machine
Soap bubbles are blown into the room Similar to the ball pond here the different demands
automatically. of the individual visitor can be met too. The fascinating
atmosphere alone does have the effect on people to
The described apparatus and lights can be switched feel very relaxed and invites you to just watch and be
on and off via a control panel, using a remote control. amazed. Some people do only react to strong light and
The fibre lights can be switched on and off using the dark contrasts, which can be created by switching on
switch beside the lamps. and off several devices at the same time.

Others just walk about the room and touch the In the same room 3 by 4 metres a vibrating floor
different air tubes hanging down from the ceiling, playing is built in and linked with a screen. The combination
with them or approaching the lights and bubble units makes a conscious experiencing of music and sounds
to investigate those. Some do even understand the link and the playful use possible.
between remote control and light effects and try to
experiment with them. The lights of a big light organ are linked with the
The devices used in that room like bubble units, sound system and pointed at the perspex mirrors on
liquid projectors and mirror balls are also used for the wall, which then project lights onto a screen. The
Snoezelen in other institutions, since they are very observer can see the music matching light reflexes on
stimulating. In the meantime they are a permanent part that screen which measures approximately 3 by 5,50
of a typical Snoezelen atmosphere. metres.

The light organ can also be linked with an echo-

Anteroom microphone so that the light effects can be triggered
by ones own voice, musical instruments or other
Between the corridor and the white room is a small sounds, which then can be heard strongly delayed.
anteroom (2 by 2 metres). In the centre a curtain of The acoustic impression when using headphones is
phosphorescing PVC strings is hanging down as well as extremely fascinating. For residents who perceive very
a persplex mirror that is put up the wall with the same slowly, the delayed playback of their own voice is quite
strings attached to it. By illuminating them with black an experience. Once they realise the link between their
light they shine in very groovy colours. own sounds and the light effects, they become very
motivated to make new noises while under normal
These coloured strings are for the non-disabled a circumstances not everybody would have been up for
rather optical, nice decoration whereby many of our that.
visitors often grab them and play with them shaking
them back and forth, to hear the rustling noise, put In the room a vibrating floor is built that swings in
them around themselves or put them into their mouth such a way that the music can not only be heard and
etc. The thick knotted woolly ropes in the corridor are seen through the light effects but the vibrations can
treated in a similar way. also be felt with the entire body.

Tactile and Auditory room

This room is covered in soft play material apart

from one space. In there is a waterbed with a sound
floor embedded. The water temperature can be
regulated. The waterbed is the most attractive and most
used object in the room. Attached to the walls are
boards covered in all different materials and furs. They
offer various tactile experiences. There is also sort of an
igloo made of soft play material, one can crawl into.

Hanging down from the ceiling and almost touching

the floor are various soft and sound toys, attached to
elastic rubber strings. The strings are meant to make it
easier for the disabled visitors to reach the toys even if
they let go of them once in a while. There are more soft
toys on the floor. The earlier mentioned wooden birds
can be found here as well hanging from the ceiling.
Many different coloured ceiling lights, whose
brightness can be regulated with a dimmer, provide light.

In this room opening the shutters can let in daylight.

The window glasses are green, red and yellow and
create a different view into the outside world. For many
people the suddenly changing intensity of the daylight is
already a variation of stimuli they perceive and clearly
react to. The contrast of light makes one aware of
how used one was to the dimmed warm light and the
atmosphere of cosy safety, once the room turns bright
all of a sudden.


light & sound wall coloured spotlights

tactile walls
coloured spotlights

vibrant floor

leaf rocking chair soft floor

water bed with
sound system corridor

light floor

3D view Auditory room with a vibrating floor

The corridor board, which can be smelled intensely through the

tubes. Due to the flexibility of the tubes it is possible to
The corridor does link all the rooms described so reach different positions to allow wheel chair users and
far and does offer many more interesting perceptions. tall people the same comfortable position to make use
For example the biggest part is made of a light floor. of the activity.
The persplex surface is set on wooden planks set out The equipment of the described rooms is only one
in a grid format. Each square of the grid does contain of many.
a coloured light, which is linked with the sound system Which devices, materials and playing materials will
and react like a light organ to rhythm and melody. be chosen for the equipment of a Snoezelen room does
depend on the individual views but also very much from
Constantly changing combinations of the lights financial resources and spatial possibilities.
do first of all create very interesting light effects and
secondly heats the floor in the different areas to give a For the summer fairs at De Hartenberg for example
warm feeling. a water-organ was hired, which was very attractive but
much too expensive to purchase for a permanent room.
In the middle of the aisle is the carillon. It is made of
nine 40 by 40 cm PVC tiles, which are embedded in the
floor. Stepping on one of the tiles activates a bell to ring
and a light to flash. Bells and lights are located in a light
panel on the wall and can also be activated by touching
this light panel.
There are also touch boards with sponges, brushes
and other materials as well as a PVC mirror in one
corner. As already mentioned, thick knotted woolly
ropes are hanging down from he ceiling.
In the corridor besides these visual, auditory
and tactile stimuli are also so called ‘sniff snakes’ to
stimulate the sense of smell. These are two rotating
stands each of them has a wooden board attached to
them with coloured P-traps known from pipe work
fixed onto them. Attached to those are elastic PVC
tubes, similar to those used for cooker hoods. A
concentrated scent will be placed on the wooden Corridor

room with climat control system, special effects projector, pinspot entrance
with colourwheel and soundsystem with 2 x 24 CD player coloured roof window

window to white room

fibre-optic waterfall

mirror box
staircase to support room fibre-optic mobile
coloured roof window
fibre-optic mobile tactile column

tactile wall Sound and light wall

floor chimes with light floor

light floor

smell wall with blower unit

smell trays

light floor

3D view corridor with light floor and floor chimes

Some ideas like putting up large pieces of cloth in

the tactile room had to be scrapped due to fire safety
reasons. Others could not be realised due to space
restrictions. It is obvious that there are no activities at
all for the sense of taste. In De Hartenberg we haven’t
had very pleasant experiences during our summer fairs.
Hygiene is a big problem and most of the residents
do not try out food consciously but stuff themselves
with everything. It was therefore decided against that
for educational as well as organisational reasons in the
permanent Snoezelen room. But in other institutions
one can find offers like that. There a member of staff
will make food available just before a Snoezelen session.
It has happened in individual cases that disabled people
have stuffed themselves with the food until they have
felt sick but it is of course a question of the quality of
white room company.


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Hulsegge, J.;Verheul, A.: Snoezelen - Eine andere

Welt. Bundesvereinigung Lebenshilfe für geistig
Behinerte (Hrsg.). Marburg 1997, 6. Aufl.

Mertens, K.: Snoezelen – Eine Einführung in die

Praxis. Dortmund 2003

Verheul, A.: 25 Jahre Snoezelen – Entwicklung und

aktueller Stand. In: Mertens, K.;Verheul, A. Hrsg.):
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