The Polk County DAC received state recognition from the Minnesota Organization of Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR).  The DAC was selected for a “Life Enrichment Award” for their creation and use of the Multi-Sensory Environment (MSE Room).  

    Polk County DAC created a multi-sensory environment for the sole purpose of improving quality of life for the individuals it serves.  This room has no expectations, go goals, no measurements except either to relax a person or to stimulate a person based on their sensory diet.  This detailed and equipment rich room has increased attention spans, stimulated people to keep their head up and a smile on their face, sleep longer, eat faster and improved muscle tone.

    Polk County DAC Director Jo Bittner says the greatest challenge was locating the training to learn these skills and then finding the money to accomplish this dream. “We have had an MSE room at our East Grand Forks location since 2008 as we built it into the plans when we built the building (just east of Burger King).  We secured grants from the Otto Bremer Foundation and Hidden Angel Foundation to create these rooms in both Crookston and East Grand Forks,” Bittner explained. “Our continual greatest challenge is to keep staff trained and for them to spend the time in the room with clients. Our local hospital and some individuals from the community “rent” this space and utilize the positive impacts on their patients or community members with special needs.”  

    Clients choose whether to utilize the room. They can stay as short as 5 minutes or as long as 30 minutes (a typical length). Clients are given no direction when they enter the room: they simply sit wherever they want and move around anytime. The “instructor” in the room watches their reaction and adjusts the level of stimulation, the lights, music tempo and volume, vibration and placement of the projectors to either stimulate more or calm more based on their reactions.  

    “The MSE Room is fully equipped, although we continually add new discs for our projectors, new music and we attempt to change the room around,” Bittner says. “We make additional purchases with donation we receive or through our general fund depending on the needs of the room.”

    Bittner says the success stories motivate the DAC to continue the use of this room:  

    • John, who has Cerebral Palsy, uses a wheelchair, is non-verbal and very high (or tight) muscle tone.  John uses the room for 30 minutes twice a week. When he enters the room, his shoulders are high, muscles tight, fists clenched and generally very high muscle tone. He feeds himself, but it can take over an hour for him to manage this task.  After spending 30 minutes in this room; John was able to drop his shoulders, unclench his fists and he began to move his head side to side (usually looks down and not much movement side to side).  John also leaned forward and placed his elbows on his thighs something difficult for him to achieve due to his tight muscles.  After a session, John fed himself in less than half the time and his muscle tone was more relaxed!

    • Jamee:  She does not attend our program, but does “rent” the space once a week in the beginning.  Her mother Meloni spent several weeks learning the concepts, running of equipment and understanding reactions to the stimulation and how to adjust the level of stimulation through the use of equipment.  The room continues to be set up by DAC staff, but Meloni now conducts the sessions herself.  When Jamee first started, Mom commented she rarely looks at a camera as she typically holds her head down.  After several weeks of utilizing the MSE Room, Jamee now holds her head up more often.  She is more willing to walk without her walker; she appears happier and more engaging after a session.  Meloni is so please with her progress; they are now attending twice a week instead of only once.  Since the increase in sessions, Meloni is pleased to share that Jamee is more independent in several areas of her life.  For the first time ever, she went to her bedroom for the evening without prompting.  She is beginning to walk more independently and often without her walker, she smiles and laughs more often.  With the twice a week session, things are happening at a more rapid rate.  Jamee is also changing the colors of the room independently, a few weeks ago; she would simply push the control box away.  

    • James:  He is Autistic and a person with so much energy he is in constant motion.  He typically arrives at the DAC sweaty, twirling, and rocking back and forth and overall over-stimulated.  The plan for the MSE room is to have the level of stimulation higher than the stimulation level of James.  We actually did not witness much of an impact after a session in the MSE room, but the results/impact was simply delayed.  James rarely sleeps past 1:00AM and then he runs up and down the stairs for several hours to burn off his unwanted and often misunderstood energy or level of stimulation.  After a session in the MSE room, James slept until 5:00AM!  Can you imagine the increased quality of life by getting an extra four hours of sleep?!  He still got up and ran up and down the stairs, but this was delayed by hours and his time spent running the stairs was significantly reduced.   

    Bittner is honored for the Polk County DAC to receive this award.  She states the positive impact on just one person is worth the investment.  

    “We found increased attention spans, more attentive, less agitated people once they have spent time in this room, greater independence and happier people.  It is an investment of time and money, but has the pay back of increased quality of life and one cannot put a price on that!”