Multisensory environments in social care: participation and empowerment in sociocultural multisensory work

Sirkkola, Eila Marja Aulikki (2009) Multisensory environments in social care: participation and empowerment in sociocultural multisensory work. Professional Doctorate (Research) thesis, James Cook University.

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This Doctor of Education Portfolio Thesis reports on a set of four applied and authentic research activities directly related to my workplace. I coordinate courses at HAMK, a Finnish University of Applied Sciences that prepares students and staff in the use of Multisensory Environments (MSEs) in social care. MSEs are dedicated spaces where multisensory stimulation is controlled to match the perceived needs and interests of people with disabilities. MSEs are used internationally for sensory stimulation, pre-cognitive communication, social interaction, leisure and relaxation, therapy and education. Furthermore, MSEs have become a popular tool for many social care providers in increasing social wellness of people who are vulnerable to being marginalised.

Although MSEs are thought to hold considerable potential in the facilitation of empowerment and participation, very little research documenting evidence based practice is available to inform practitioners. This research, therefore, seeks to investigate MSE use in Finnish social care with people with moderate to profound and multiple disabilities. The research focus is the promotion of client participation and empowerment, with the added goal of using research findings to inform the development of university and other course materials for the preparation of students and staff.

I began my research with a qualitative pilot study to collect information on the current nature of MSEs in Finland. A semi-structured questionnaire was given to 23 MSE practitioners. Even though the results of this study were not translated into English, they strongly influenced the formulation of my research questions. This was because the results made it clear that the way the MSE was used in Finland was different to the way it was used elsewhere. MSE practitioners tend to be guided by a particular form of social pedagogy called sociocultural animation. They also challenge the notion of the MSE being a dedicated space, choosing to continue MSE type activities into everyday environments. I therefore, introduced a new term 'sociocultural multisensory work' to describe this Finnish style MSE experience.

The three research questions at the core of this work are as follows:

1. In what ways can participatory action research (PAR) be applied with people with moderate or profound and multiple disabilities in the context of the MSE? 2. What is the nature of sociocultural multisensory work? 3. What are the implications for staff education in regard to develop MSEs and sociocultural multisensory work?

The first study relates to the first question. It consists of a survey of the MSE research literature to identify whether or not any methods currently exist where client participation and empowerment is employed. There is also a focus on the possibility of using participatory action research for MSE research. The analysis of 42 studies employed Kemmis and McTaggart's (2000) five aspects of practice to sort and critically analyse the literature. The study revealed that even though the participation of people with vision impairment and multiple disabilities has not been explicitly employed in research, MSE practitioners did express interest in developing more effective communication strategies to promote participation. Key strategies identified included multidisciplinary teamwork, staff education that explicitly teaches participatory research knowledge and the application of an ongoing reflexivedialectical perspective on practice. The literature review also revealed that there were precedents for using PAR in MSE research. The precedents were both at the individual and social levels. The research was both qualitative and quantitative. However, the participation of the clients was at a rudimentary level with the focus more on adhering to the epistemological demands of the paradigms.

The second study also relates to the first research question. It reports on an innovative, four-month multimedia music and dance project, conducted in a Finnish MSE at a vocational special school in a city in southern Finland. This project involved 12 adolescents with moderate to severe learning disabilities in a participatory action research activity that culminated in a community concert. The course adopted a sociocultural approach to develop students' use of multimedia. Participants were purposefully given only minimal assistance in learning how to use the multi-media equipment (computers, digital and video cameras, lighting system). They composed their own digital music on computers. They then prepared an accompanying dance performance. Synchronised lights and pop music effects greatly enhanced the overall multisensory experience. Throughout the whole project regular opportunities were provided for collective student reflection using multimedia. The results helped to demonstrate that it was possible to organise an activity in the MSE where practice could be viewed "as socially-, historically- and discursively constituted by human agency and social action" (Kemmis & McTaggart, 2000, p. 587).

The third study relates to research questions two and three. In this study focus group interviews were used to investigate the ways that 12 experienced Finnish practitioners working in three MSEs with adults with profound and multiple disabilities (PMD) apply sociocultural animation. A synthesis of the interviews underlines the essential roles of clients' free choices in sensory activities and the need for high-level communication between interdisciplinary MSE team members. Results indicated that although much of what the practitioners do is consistent with non-Finnish ideas, much is also distinctly Finnish.

The main finding of the three research projects has been to better describe the emerging concept of sociocultural multisensory work. An outcome of this research has been the development of the idea of happiness capital, which has helped to produce a useful teaching and planning tool. 'Happiness capital' is derived from the theories of 'social capital' and 'cultural capital' (Bourdieu, 1984; 1990; Coleman, 1988; Putman, 1993;1996). Prior to the introduction of the concept of 'happiness capital' little acknowledgement was given to the importance of happiness as a precursor for participation at either the individual or group level. Linking happiness capital to Bronfenbrenner's (1979) ecological systems theory, with its five nested developmental contexts provides a much more sophisticated and systematic way to consider wellbeing in the MSE.

In addition to the primary analysis of each research project, I also subjected the three research projects and the portfolio to a secondary analysis using bricolage. This became my fourth study. A concern from the primary analysis of the results was that valuable nuances of the information were being lost through reductionism. Bricolage is a complex, multimethodological, and a multilogical form of inquiry used especially in social, cultural, political, psychological and educational domains (Kincheloe, 2005, p. 323), and provides another way of sifting information in order to better understand the dominant forms of power. Research bricolage allows us to reconsider how these dominant forms of power impact on all acts of knowledge production and it helps to spotlight the dangers of abstracting phenomena from their sociocultural and temporal contexts.

The goal of this study was to investigate MSE use in Finnish social care with people with moderate to profound and multiple disabilities and in the process use the findings to inform future development of university and other course materials. The significance of the findings is discussed.

Item ID: 32587
Item Type: Thesis (Professional Doctorate (Research))
Keywords: multisensory environment; social pedagogy; people with disabilities; vocational education; participation; empowerment
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Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Chapter 2: Sirkkola, Marja, and Pagliano, Paul (2009) Increasing the level of participation of individuals with vision impairment and multiple disabilities: an analysis of the Multisensory Environment literature. Journal of the South Pacific Educators in Vision Impairment, 4 (1). pp. 15-24.

Chapter 4: Sirkkola, Marja, and Pagliano, Paul (2011) Multisensory environments in Finland: experiences of 12 interdisciplinary staff members working as service providers for adults with vision impairment and additional disabilities. Journal of the South Pacific Educators in Vision Impairment, 5 (1). pp. 26-33.

Date Deposited: 30 Apr 2014 05:27
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130312 Special Education and Disability @ 33%
13 EDUCATION > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130399 Specialist Studies in Education not elsewhere classified @ 33%
13 EDUCATION > 1302 Curriculum and Pedagogy > 130213 Vocational Education and Training Curriculum and Pedagogy @ 34%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9399 Other Education and Training > 939907 Special Needs Education @ 33%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9305 Education and Training Systems > 930501 Education and Training Systems Policies and Development @ 34%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9399 Other Education and Training > 939999 Education and Training not elsewhere classified @ 33%
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