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Creating a Multi Sensory Environment (MSE) for Special Needs


Two years ago a church contacted me after receiving a designated gift earmarked to start a special needs ministry.  The church was considering a number of ways to use the money.  One of the suggestions bounced around was to create a special needs play space either inside or outside the church building.  In search of ideas and contacts, I became familiar with Karen Pool, who is the sales manager for multi-sensory products with TFH USA (the company behind www.specialneedstoys.com).  At that time, Karen was in the in the final stages of installing a “Multi Sensory Environment” for a respite facility associated with a church on the east coast.

Since first meeting Karen I have become familiar with a number of churches who have created fantastic indoor spaces for their special needs ministry.  A couple of churches have even designed and installed a room that feels like an outer space experience, commonly referred to as a Multi Sensory Environment (MSE).    I was absolutely fascinated after seeing first-hand the surreal and almost magical experience the room provides through simulated sights, sounds, and touch.  I quickly understood how an MSE can engage someone with neurological differences so that they feel unparallel relaxation and pleasure.  Families can receive tremendous benefit by knowing that while they are attending their own worship and Bible study, their child with special needs is in such an enriching environment.  Instead of being a scary place outside a comfortable routine, a child with special needs may look forward to their time at church and in the MSE.  In addition, MSE’s are wonderful for churches that offer longer periods of care or respite events.

After several members of the Orange team had the opportunity to visit a church with an MSE, we decided it would be neat to expose other ministry leaders to this type of environment.  And because MSE’s can be considerably less expensive than a special needs-friendly playground, we thought there might be some practical use to providing a preconference workshop on this subject.

At the request of the 2012 Orange Conference, Karen Pool is going to show oodles of pictures and address the following topics in her preconference workshop, “HOW TO: Create a Multi Sensory Environment for Special Needs”.

  • How certain types of equipment and materials generate desirable experiences for individuals with special needs
  • The basic components of a Multi Sensory Environment
  • How to create an inexpensive but effective mobile Multi Sensory Environment
  • MSE materials and equipment for budgets of $500 to $20,000
  • Factors a church should consider as they determine how to outfit their special needs facility
  • Products for every budget and ideal for interactive, gross motor play areas
  • Best “bang for your buck” toys and tools for the special needs environment
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Amy Fenton Lee is a writer and speaker focused on helping churches successfully include children with special needs. She is a regular contributor to children’s ministry publications and a variety of other Christian and secular magazines. Amy is a passionate children’s ministry volunteer and the daughter of a church senior pastor. Amy is a frequent speaker at children’s ministry conferences. Amy blogs about special needs inclusion at The Inclusive Church.