Sue James from Isle of Man, UK, talks about ‘A Sense of Calm’

A Sense of Calm is a 60 minute DVD which features, ‘6 tracks of specially-created, flowing images, set to specially-composed music, designed to promote relaxation through sensory stimulation.’ Each DVD also comes with a booklet which gives information on how best to use the DVD.

At present ‘A Sense of Calm’ is being used in schools, care homes, and by carers at home to both adults and children. The DVD helps individuals relax, especially individuals who are on the autistic spectrum.

Adele Devine, who teaches children on the autistic spectrum and who is the managing director of SEN Assist, made the following comment about the DVD.

“The DVD creates the atmosphere of the sensory room in the classroom, which is perfect for this time of day when the children need to calm after being out at play.” (www.senseofcalm.com)

The Sense of Calm website describes the benefits of using the DVD with autistic children.‘Occupational therapists and special needs teachers have found that the tempo of the gently flowing images and the soothing music on “A Sense of Calm” can help relax children and adults with Autism and Asperger’s in the same way they benefit from a session in a sensory room. Sensory rooms, however, are expensive and not really practical for home use. The “Sense of Calm” DVD however can be used at home on any TV connected to a DVD player, or a digital projector, for a fraction of the cost and it can be used at a moment’s notice, as and when it is needed.’

The co-founders behind the DVD are husband and wife team, Peter Higgins and Sue James. Autism Daily Newscast asked Sue how she first met Peter and why they invented ‘A Sense of Calm?’

 Sue James

Sue James

“Peter and I met when we were still at school in Southport. I was at the Girls’ High School and Peter was at the Boys’ Grammar School at the opposite ends of town and a group of girls and boys used to meet in town – Peter and I became friends when we used to travel home on the bus together, we then started dating and got married after Peter had finished University. ‘A Sense of Calm‘ came about because Peter’s Mum was diagnosed with vascular dementia. Before his Mum was actually diagnosed, we noticed she was becoming slightly withdrawn and sensory defensive.

Peter Higgins

Peter Higgins

“Peter, who is dyslexic and has some sensory defensive problems, noticed that his Mum was reacting to similar sensory problems and when she was diagnosed with dementia it all started to make sense. As the dementia progressed, Mum started to get very agitated, frustrated and angry and when she was taken into a dementia unit for assessment, the occupational therapists and mental health nurses took her into a sensory room. Peter and I were invited in for a session with her in the sensory room and it was amazing how it helped to calm her. Because Peter is dyslexic and understood what it was like to be sensory defensive and having studied Psychology as part of his course at University, he understood how the sensory room could help.”

Having seen the positive benefits of the sensory room both Sue and Peter wanted something that they could use at home. Peter started to construct images on a DVD and at this point they contacted Pete Baikie, a composer and family friend, to create the music for the DVD. We asked Sue what experiences she had with autistic children and what feedback she had been given.

“Although we originally designed the product for Pete’s Mum, when we showed it to the Occupational Therapists and Mental health professionals on the Isle of Man they got very excited and told us it would be very useful for a number of conditions including Autism.

“We then consulted my sister, Lyn Dance who is head teacher at The Milestone School, which is a community Special School in Gloucester that provides for approximately 290 children with a wide range of special educational needs and they are now using the DVD. Lyn is also SEN advisor for Gloucester council”

When you purchase a copy of ‘A Sense of Calm’ for £32.50, £2.50 is donated to a charity of your choice; one of the nominated charities is The National Autistic Society. Autism Daily Newscast was interested to learn how this link had been made.

“We approached a number of charities that represented conditions where ‘A Sense of Calm’could help, two of which were Mencap and the National Autistic Society (NAS). We met the NAS at their head office in London and asked if they would be happy for us to use their logo and to be one of the four charities featured on our website. We gave them a couple copies of their DVD and sent it out to some of their members, who gave a positive review that appeared in their Communications magazine, from which a number of parents, schools and day centres purchased ‘A Sense of Calm’.”

When talking to Sue she also wanted to make the following point about sensory defensiveness.

“A sensory element that is often overlooked is the effect of memory. From his own experience (being Dyslexic) and with his Mum’s illness, he realised that certain environments and images that provoke bad memories, can cause us to be sensory defensive, so relaxation aids that rely on memory association, like sunsets, beaches, or walking in a forest, might not be relaxing to someone who remembers being bitten by sand-flies on a beach, doesn’t like water, or had been scared by a weird man in the forest! This is why we used abstract images. It does not rely on those memory responses that are individual to the person.”

You can watch sample clips from the DVD over on the website.
Due to the popularity of A Sense of Calm the company will release a second DVD, ‘A Sense of Calm 2’ on the 20th November.