The Benefits of a multi-sensory environment church.
Multi-sensory environments generate relaxing and calming effects but also activate different perceptions. Children with autism often have difficulties with sensory integration either by hyper- or hypo- sensitivities to sensory stimuli, which can be the trigger to meltdowns and/or challenging behaviours.
Coping skills can be learnt to self-regulate from overstimulating environments. Other factors such as controlling sound, lighting, touch, and temperature, can help. However, this isn´t always possible, or doesn´t always happen in certain environments, such as in a mainstream church. But why don´t they?
If multi-sensory environments help enhance concentration, focus, attention, have a relaxing and calming effect whilst at the same time improve creativity, social relations and general awareness, then why aren´t they used more. It is true, not everyone and everywhere have the resources, or knowledge to do this.
However, a lot of the time it´s the small things that have a huge impact. In other words, small sensory toys/items can make all the difference when it comes to having to sit for long periods of time, loud music or talking, the buzz from the microphone, the heat of a crowded room, the bright screen that flashes at the front, and the different fragrances (or smells) in the room.
Each church could (and should) be prepared with such items, as much as the hymn books, musical instruments and other resources that are available, they should provide items that will help regulate the optical, acoustic, olfactory and tactile stimuli individuals encounter. This will then help direct their focus, concentration and attention.
Even if they are not looking towards the person talking at the front, and they are fidgeting, playing or doing their own thing, if their sensory input is regulated, the possibility of them taking other information in will be much greater. As Kristen Meyer quotes “Motivation to be involved in one’s daily activities depends largely on the senses”.