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by Millie Smith and Stacy Shafer

Dr. Lilli Nielsen has spent years researching the attributes of the "Little Room" that she believes contribute to increased motor activity and corresponding sensory and cognitive skill development in that environment. Here are some of the factors that seem to be crucial:

1. Ventilation

The unit should not be air tight. A small crack between panels is important, especially if side panels are completely solid.

The length of the ceiling panel should not be more than two feet. If longer, the oxygen supply may be limited and the student may get sleepy.

2. Sound

Solid side panels may help mask outside noise and may increase attention to auditory events within the room caused by movement by the student.

The "something different" aspect of the auditory environment may result in increased vocalizations for some students.

3. Resonance (when resonance board is used with "Little Room")

The resonance board underneath the student and "Little Room" moves a tiny bit each time the student moves. This may encourage movement and it may increase awareness of movements.

4. Dimensions

The standard Nielsen "Little Room" for a child who cannot sit independently is one foot high. For a sitting child, the height is two feet. The two foot length and width of the ceiling and side panels is the same when sitting or reclining. For students whose feet extend beyond the two foot length, the frame is extended without ceiling or side panels up to four feet so that movement of the feet and legs results in contact with objects hung from the extended frame.

The small size of the environment ensures that objects and panels are accessible. Small movements by the student, random or intentional, should result in contact with some stimulus.

Many children seem to like the security of a small environment and create these environments for themselves if they are able. Students who cannot create these enclosed environments for themselves may also enjoy this aspect of the "Little Room".

5. Observability

The Plexiglas ceiling allows easy visual access to the student. Students in "Little Rooms" should be visually monitored at all times for safety, for assessment of skill development and for evaluation of appropriateness of object selection.

6. Placement of Items

The distance between objects and parts of the student's body can be adjusted by raising and lowering objects.

Continuity can be maintained by keeping objects in the same place for a period of time. This may encourage development of spatial memory and may help transform random movements into intentional movements.

Novelty can be introduced carefully by adding one new object in a familiar context so that significant landmarks are not lost.