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Caden’s Lighthouse: Where children chill and parents connect

Rachel Ricci, founder of Caden’s Lighthouse, in the gym area of her new centre.
Montreal - Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Rachel Ricci, founder of Caden’s Lighthouse, in the gym area of her new centre.

By Wendy Singer

“Welcome to my lighthouse. Thank you for coming,” says 9-year-old Caden Ricci Beneli to every visitor he meets at Caden’s Lightouse, Montreal’s first public multi-sensory Snoezelen room and adapted gym.

Located in Montreal West, Caden’s Lighthouse opened in March, just weeks before the pandemic forced the city to shut down. This Multi-Sensory Environment (MSE) Snoezelen room provides relaxing spaces that help reduce agitation and anxiety but stimulate reactions and encourage communication. It does so with the use of light, sound, smell, touch and taste, all catering to the preferences of each person. The MSE room is proving helpful to children with challenging behaviours, anxiety, autism, learning disabilities, mental health issues, brain injury, as well as the elderly who experience dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Parents spend an hour or two in the room with their children. Teachers and therapists find the space to be an ideal environment to conduct assessments and therapies.

Diagnosed with autism when he was three-and-a-half years old, Caden, now 9, and his family’s first experience in a Snoezelen room at the West Montreal Readaptation Centre (CROM) was positive. “Caden was tired and agitated before going. After, he was paying more attention, he slept well that night where before he was waking up all the time,” said his mother Rachel Ricci, founder of Caden’s Lighthouse.

Caden visited CROM’s room two more times. When his government services ended at age 6, Ricci and her husband started researching Snoezelen rooms, with an intent to furnish their basement with some equipment. Instead, they decided to open a public multi-sensory room so all families could benefit from it. Ricci is now certified in The Snoezelen MSE Training Program.

Caden’s Lighthouse has three rooms. Upon entry, you are in a clean, colourful gym equipped with a ball pit, hip hop activity box, therapeutic swing and adapted climbing wall, where children can release energy before entering the calming areas. “This room is totally failure-free. There’s no stress in here,” said Ricci.

Next is the MSE room. As I entered, I noticed a gentle watermelon aroma and felt instantly calmed by the soft white lighting. Bubble tubes, vibrating panels, fibre-optics and image projections all added to the warm ambiance. Made in the United Kingdom, there are no chemicals on any of the equipment or mats.

The third room, coined “The Secret Room,” is a black-light audio-visual room with a tactile panel with lights, textures, a magic carpet with fibre-optics and a crash mat. “Kids can chill, take a nap,” said Ricci.

A full-time mom, Ricci describes her son as a funny, quirky, happy little boy; a teddy bear who loves cuddles, hugs and kisses and is sensitive to people’s feelings. He lives in movies and often brings favourite lines into conversation. Prior to attending Giant Steps School, Ricci took him to over 20 hours of therapy per week. “My whole life became what my son needed,” she said. “He was non-verbal and is now speaking. They are not full sentences and not so clear, but I’m grateful for and happy with that.”

Ricci’s vision for Caden’s Lighthouse is twofold. “My goal is to create a community of autism parents and children where we can be who we are without judgement. Here, I am learning from moms that were in this before me. I have gotten so much advice and a deeper understanding of Caden and his needs. New moms are coming in fresh and craving a community; they come here and exchange ideas.”

Lighthouses guide sailors who are stranded in dark, rough waters. When they see the light, they know they are going to be ok. Caden’s Lighthouse is there to ensure families that they too will find their way past the storm and enjoy the light.

Caden’s Lighthouse is open to all families by appointment, one at a time in order to meet all COVID-19 safety requirements. For information, visit cadenslighthouse.com.