Myth-Busting the ‘magic’ of multiple multi-sensory rooms

Tania's note: as many of you know, Joanna Grace is a Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, (normally) running training events throughout the UK, and occasionally further afield. In 2010 she set up The Sensory Projects that work towards a future where everyone is understood in spite of their differences. The Sensory Projects, share the knowledge and creativity required to turn inexpensive items into effective sensory tools for inclusion. Multiple Multi-Sensory Rooms is Joanna’s sixth book about aspects of the sensory world. We asked her a few questions to find out more about why she wrote it and what is inside it She's soon appearing on an episode of SNJ In Conversation, so get in touch if you have any questions for her!

Why is your book called ‘Multiple’ multi-sensory rooms?

The multiple relates to all the different types of sensory room we have now, most people think of a sensory room as a dark space with a bubble tube and some fibre optics but there are amazing rooms around now, big spaces for running and swinging in, white rooms, dark rooms, rooms with immersive 4D projection, and we have sensory gardens and all sorts of sensory spaces. A lot of confusion occurs when people talk about a multi sensory room and assume everyone means the same as them by that term. In the book I look at lots of different rooms.

Why did you write it?

Unlike my other books this was not one I wanted to write. The other books are on topics I am passionate about. My work at The Sensory Projects focuses on inexpensive resources, anything under a pound usually, so sensory rooms were out of my remit. But pressure built up from a number of sides and it seemed best to get it over with!

Are you not a fan of multi-sensory rooms then?

Oh no, I love the rooms, you can do extraordinary things within them and the stories you hear about some of the lives that have been changed by time in a sensory room are breathtaking. But they can be very expensive and it might be possible to do some of that 'magic' with improvised resources instead.

When I first saw fibre optics I thought they were the most beautiful thing, it was a kind of magic. But the magic of the title refers to those amazing transformations that take place within the rooms, and in general, the rooms themselves have very little to do with that magic.

In truth, the magic lies with the people, always in the people. Those fantastic transformations come about when people meet and really connect. Sometimes the rooms help that happen, sometimes they are a hindrance. 

Will people find guidance about what they should have in their multi-sensory rooms in the book?

To inform the writing of the book I went back to the start of multi-sensory room practice and studied the history of the rooms and all the research that has been done into them. Once I had done that I then conducted a research study into how the rooms are currently used in the UK and the outcomes of that study inform the guidance in the book. I did ask people if there was any particular piece of kit they would recommend but what scored highest was the ability to create a blackout. Darkness was very useful to people in focusing visual attention and reducing stimuli that could distract from a connection between two people. 

There were other things like this that people using the rooms today valued especially highly, for example a lot of people said that they did not get interrupted when they were in the sensory room, where as in the classroom or in the living room they were often interrupted. The lack of interruption meant they could really embed themselves in a deeply connected sensory conversation – and when you do that, that is when you start to see the magic begin to happen.

How is the book set out?

The book has five sections:

Section one considers the history of multi-sensory rooms and examines how some misunderstandings about the rooms confused the way we understand the rooms today.

Section two looks at the research that underpins the use of multi-sensory rooms, staggeringly despite 50+ years of the rooms being around there is very little methodologically sound research to justify their use, Joanna unpicks why the rooms have gone unchallenged for so long.

Section three looks at the future of multi sensory rooms and gives examples of alternative sensory spaces big and small that could be made at home. 

Section four reports the findings of Joanna’s own research, highlighting key factors that limit the impact of multi sensory rooms and the characteristics of the rooms most highly prized by the people who use them today. This chapter will be of particular use to people considering creating a sensory room and people managing the use of an already existing sensory room.

Section five is a surprise, it focuses on the magic and gives examples of people doing amazing things in multi sensory rooms.

The book is not a how-to guide or a 'what to buy' guide. The book makes you think. Reading it will help you to evaluate your current use of multi-sensory rooms and improve it, whether you are in the latest state of the art multi-million-pound room or you are crouched under your dining room table with a torch. I hope it will be a fascinating read. 

Joanna’s book is published by Routledge and is available here and on Amazon UK here

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