A trip to the store or the library is never simple for three-year-old Xavier Kurre. The Oak Mountain toddler has cortical vision impairment and autism which makes a “simple” trip out of the home very tense and over stimulating for him.
“His emotions are over the top when we are out in public,” said Nancy Kurre, Xavier’s mother. “There’s too much noise or lights and he can be very happy one minute or sad the next.”
But that changed the first time he entered the new multi sensory environment (MSE) at the United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham (UCP).
“As soon as he walked in the room, you could see the tension in his body melt away which brought tears to my eyes,” said Nancy. “Xavier is non-verbal, but you could see the transformation in him. This room allows him to relax and experience his environment when he can’t do that in the real world.”
The MSEs are designed to promote neurological activity and to encourage relaxation by blocking out noise, controlling the space, temperature and lighting. The white padded room has tubes of water bubbling that changes colors when the child reacts. A huge padded cube can also change color depending on what side is up when the child flips it. Music builds up momentum from the excitement from the child.
“The room is all controlled by the child not a therapist,” said Gary Edwards, CEO of UCP of Greater Birmingham. “It’s amazing to see a child with disabilities who has never smiled in their life and then beam from ear to ear and giggle once they experience the MSE. We’ve even seen children begin to talk, watch negative behavior disappear and heard about reductions in medication.”
The MSE at UCP is the first one in Birmingham and was designed, built and donated to UCP by the Christopher Douglas Hidden Angel Foundation. The rooms are not as widely known in the United States compared to Europe where it was first developed.
“The Europeans research shows the MSE relieves stress, anxiety and pain for children and adults with disabilities such as autism, brain injury, mental illness and challenging behaviors,” said Sandra Fornes, co-founder of the Christopher Douglas Hidden Angel Foundation. “All the schools in Germany and a majority in Poland have a MSE.”
The University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Occupational Therapy in the School of Health Professions will conduct research with some of the children using the MSE to learn the impact and effectiveness of this unique environment on children who have a variety of ability levels.
To give a better understanding, UCP will hold a grand opening of the MSE for the public on Thursday, May 26 from 4- 6 p.m. (120 Oslo Circle, Administration Building). From 1-3 p.m., teachers will be given tours and educated about the benefits of the room.