Highly reverberant rooms are irritating to almost everyone and while many people are able to withstand or filter this experience some of the time, it’s particularly challenging for those on the autism spectrum. Compound the inherent echoes with sound entering a room from adjacent rooms, hallways and perhaps activity on other floors and it could be untenable. Certainly not an atmosphere conducive to any type of therapy. Music therapy in particular.
A reverberant room would be an auditory disaster if chosen for a music therapy session. In particular if participants have autism or related disorders. So, when the Pacific Autism Family Network (PAFN) in Vancouver, British Columbia looked to create a music therapy space, it had to formulate a plan that would address all of the sensory sensitivities including sound. PAFN’s owner and executive director Esther Thane (BMT, MTA, AVPT) said: “In the Music Therapy Space, the lighting is on dimmers to be adjustable for individual preferences. Our company colours are vibrant yet not overwhelming, with one corner of one room piled up with sensory bean bags. Since the room is soundproof for recording purposes, it eliminates all auditory distraction from the hallways and neighbouring service providers.”
The clients who receive services from ET Music Therapy are quite varied, from pre-school to school age children, and adolescents to adults with autism, all with very diverse needs. Thane worked closely with the center’s founder Sergio Cocchia on the plans for the space. “We had meetings in the early blueprint stages of what sound/lighting requirements would be conducive to creating a positive therapeutic space for our clients. Since he is an owner of a recording studio, the acoustical elements were of prime concern for him as well.”
They went beyond sound proofing and proceeded to apply professional grade acoustic treatment to the room. A selection of Broadway acoustic treatment panels from Vancouver-based company Primacoustic were installed. The high-performance, fabric covered acoustic panels feature high density 6lb per cubic foot (96 kg/m³) glass wool; this is six times greater density than typical foam panels for balanced absorption throughout the audio listening range. Additionally, all Broadway panels are laboratory tested for acoustic performance and Class-A/1 fire safety by meeting stringent ASTM-E84 and Can-UL S102 requirements for flame spread and smoke development. This makes Broadway panels safe for use in commercial, government and institutional installations.
Acoustically treating the space would served the mutual benefit of attenuating the sound created in the therapy room for the comfort of the users, while it also functioned in its more traditional role of optimising the sound in a room for recording purposes. Thane said: “Individuals with autism benefit from acoustically treated rooms as they provide a safe environment where outside distraction is minimised. Some individuals with autism may be overstimulated or sensitive to certain noises, especially abrupt, unplanned noises. Within the safe cocoon of an acoustically treated music therapy space, an individual with diverse needs can feel safe and secure, and predict that the only sounds produced, will be produced by him/her self and the others in the room! This helps with self regulation and feelings of trust.”
The music therapy program has been a fantastic success as shown by the formation of a Friday night rock band. “They feel at home in the space, free to create, record, express themselves without judgement. They can create original compositions, record covers of their music preferences, and if they need to scream or pound on a drum for a cathartic release, they can do that too! Without the fear of disturbing others in the building.”