Residents produce video for special-needs kidsA mother’s resolve to bring clarity and focus to her daughter’s life has led to the creation of a video that’s being used in schools, hospitals, nursing facilities and homes across the country. Submitted photos On the left is Chris Bye, business partner and president for the local company that promotes MeMoves. Next to him is Roberta Scherf, founder of MeMoves, who began her work as a way to help her daughter. John Scherf is in the foreground.
By: Phil Pfuehler, River Falls Journal
A mother’s resolve to bring clarity and focus to her daughter’s life has led to the creation of a video that’s being used in schools, hospitals, nursing facilities and homes across the country.
The 43-minute DVD is called “MeMoves.”
The video is divided into categories called Joy, Focus and Calm that are formatted into 13 sequences that show people of all ages and colors, one at a time, making simple “geometric” hand gestures to the soothing, slow beat of various musical instruments.
The background is stark black. There’s no narrative.
The video creators hope that as participants mime the simple gestures and absorb the sounds, they’ll experience feelings of slowing down, relaxing and attentiveness.
“The beauty of using the video is that you don’t just sit like a couch potato and watch it all the way through,” said Roberta Scherf. “It can be done in segments of 10 or five minutes, even as little as two, and you are involved with what’s presented. The movements are meant to engage users so that they connect to themselves and the world around them.”
Engaging, calming, connecting, focusing: These are the physical and emotional states that MeMoves aims to bring out.
Scherf’s daughter Rowan was born 18 years ago. In early childhood she was diagnosed with an array of medical terms that meant little to Scherf: Alpha child, pre-dyslexic, autism spectrum, sensory integration disorder, and tactile defensiveness.
“What all those things had in common was that they described (how) social interaction, communication and sensory processing were difficult for Rowan,” Scherf said.
One thing Scherf knew was that she had to do something to make her daughter’s life fulfilling.
“I had spent five years struggling with my daughter who was here, but not here,” said Scherf, a long-time town of Troy resident with her husband John, and older son, Sam, a 2007 River Falls High School graduate.
“As a very young child, Rowan was not comfortable being held or making eye contact. She tried very hard to retain new pieces of information from one day to the next.
“I knew that she was incredibly bright, with tremendous receptive abilities, but she struggled to express herself and was socially isolated from her peers.
“School was a hard place for her because she was different. She was so smart and funny and sweet and gifted. But to be in a room full of children, and not really be able to learn and share, was devastating.”
But Scherf was not a mother who gave up in despair. She did medical and academic research, much of it on the Internet, to familiarize herself about brain development, music and movement therapy.
“All of the research that I was investigating was based on the importance that rhythmicity, repetition, imitation, simple active movements, and music have on learning,” Scherf said. “Rowan and I did an activity that combined all those things.
“She went from not being able to read single letters to reading words and then chapter books. She started making eye contact, asking to be held, and spoke more fluently and easily. Her life changed. And that made me wonder if there was a way to take some of these ideas and put them into a simple format that might help other children as well.”
Scherf said MeMoves evolved in stages.
“Over a period of years we worked on developing prototypes, testing them, and then released an early version which we licensed to another company,” she said. “The whole time we kept working toward MeMoves. Everything about MeMoves was carefully designed to set up the core chemistry for a calm and attentive state.
“Our nervous system can respond in a stressful manner, activating ‘fight or flight,’ or respond with a calm state. Every single part of MeMoves uses rhythmic, slow, clean, simple, repetitive, uncluttered visuals, music and movements in a non-verbal program that activates and supports a calm and attentive state.
“MeMoves focuses on the emotional state of the child, rather than any specific behavioral outcome. At its core is the belief that a calmed and centered child, especially one with special needs, will be able to learn more easily and express themselves more clearly and directly.
“Imagine your most stressful day, and consider this the ‘everyday’ level or ‘baseline’ for many children. MeMoves shifts the baseline, reducing this hyper-aware state as it focuses the users’ senses on a singular activity. MeMoves fully engages and calms, filtering out overwhelming external stimuli…It doesn’t cure anything, but it changes everything.”
Scherf eventually formed a company out of her home called Thinking Moves.
Her business partner and Thinking Moves president is Chris Bye, a 1987 RFHS graduate, who earned an MBA in marketing and strategy from UW-Madison.
Bye has taught business classes at St. Thomas University in the Twin Cities, managed the Small Business Development Center at UW-River Falls, and was a cofounder of the local business consulting firm the Navigator Group.
Bye listed three reasons -- the challenge, the right chemistry, and a product that matched his values -- for teaming up with Scherf.
“Bringing an entirely new product originating in rural Wisconsin to national awareness was an extremely intriguing opportunity,” he said. “Given a marketplace dominated by large corporations and big-box retailers, the odds of a new product starting in the proverbial garage and succeeding are remarkable slim. I felt very strongly I was supposed to work with Roberta to help MeMoves and the company Thinking Moves avoid the mistakes I have seen many startups make.”
The MeMoves video was released last January. Before that, Scherf and Bye took their prototype on the road.
They traveled the country, going to conferences and conventions, and showed the MeMoves prototype to educators, therapists, coaches, medical professionals and parents.
The wanted feedback and to figure out how best to use MeMoves. What they heard went beyond positive and favorable.
“What we had produced seemed to confound the experts,” Scherf said. “They wanted to know how we came up with the concept and how we put it together.”
In less than a year, Scherf and Bye said the MeMoves DVD has been sold to some 350 school districts in 47 states, including Wisconsin.
It is also being used in clinics, hospitals, households, therapy centers, assisted living centers, nursing homes, daycare centers, residential treatment programs and for counseling practices.
Aside from the U.S., Bye says MeMoves is being used heavily in Canada, and to lesser degrees in Mexico, Japan, Australia, Singapore, England and Hong Kong.
“The reason it’s taken off is that the video is simple, authentic, affordable and it’s easy to use,” Bye said. “Anyone can play it on a DVD player, so it’s old school, reliable technology and we can reach just about anybody with it. There’s nothing like it around.”
Mary Olson, a social work adjunct instructor at UW-River Falls and assistant dean in the school of social work at St. Thomas/St. Catherine universities, has a 3rd grade son, Ethan, with autism who attends Westside Elementary School.
Olson found MeMoves so compelling she bought one to have at home and also one for Westside to use.
“The video format provided him with the visual stimulation he needs to sustain attention for an extended period of time,” said Olson, who is also board president of the Western Wisconsin Autism Advocacy and Consulting Center.
“The combination of colored graphics of the movements along with modeling by a person keeps him engaged throughout the segments. I really appreciate the diversity among the people modeling the movements. (It) brings a social quality to his viewing.
“(Nathan) even started initiating use of MeMoves with spontaneous verbal requests, which was significant, given his limited verbal skills. MeMoves gave him an opportunity to learn new motor skills and make progress in his awareness of when he needs movement.”
Patti Phillipps, pupil services director in the Baldwin-Woodville School District, first heard about MeMoves at a recent River Falls autism conference.
“I am a firm believer in sensory integration for all students,” Phillipps said. “We use the video with our smart boards in some of our elementary and special education classrooms.”
The MeMoves package is available for $59.95. The multi-sensory program includes the DVD, a music CD, textured puzzle cards to trace by hand, and a user’s guide.
MeMoves App, another media version, can also be downloaded from iTunes for $2.99 and used on touch-sensitive computer and cellphone screens. The same MeMoves music and shapes show on the screen and users follow along by tracing the patterns with their fingers.
Here are options to either find out more about MeMoves or to make purchases:
--Call the business office number at 715-377-9827.
--E-mail Scherf at email@example.com, or Bye at firstname.lastname@example.org.
--Visit this website: www.thinkingmoves.com to see clips of the MeMoves video; its history; uses for parents in the home and for teachers at school; the research data supporting the concept; and national reviews on the product from teachers, parents, educators, physicians and psychologists. The site includes a link to an ABC video interview with Roberta Scherf.