By Tara Thompson
Therapy has been looking a little different for us lately and we couldn’t be happier about it.
Rewind to a couple of years ago and therapy was about squeezing in as many physio and OT appointments that funding allowed, followed by me taking mental notes on absolutely every skill that was worked on during the session.
I would then work tirelessly, coming up with fun plays ideas to encourage and motivate Willow on a daily basis. While I don’t regret how hard we both worked in the initial couple of years there comes a time when you just burn out. Willow got older and became very aware of the ‘sporting activities’ her older sister was taking part in. Family dynamics changed. I wanted to incorporate some new activities into our day-to-day routine to change things up and incorporate therapy in new ways.
I feel like when you’re a special needs parent sometimes you can feel trapped in the therapy world and it’s hard to look beyond all the necessity therapy appointments. I hate to admit it, but I just felt that, because of limitations due to Willow’s cerebral palsy and behaviour, that there were just things that she wouldn’t be able to participate in like ‘typical developing’ children.
Well, I am learning fast that if Willow wants to do something, she can, and inclusion is right there at our fingertips.
Within the last couple of months Willow has began taking part in horse riding, independent swimming classes, yoga, gymnastics and music therapy. She gets so much enjoyment out of every single one and actually does the best therapy without even knowing it.
Horse riding (hippo- therapy)
I wanted to get Willow into riding as I figured it would be really good for her core strength and would be something new and enjoyable for her to try. Two months later and I can’t imagine her ever stopping. The physical benefits are amazing; core strength, balance, posture, flexibility, coordination, muscle tone, gait improvement. But what I have been most impressed by are the physiological and emotional benefits. The calmness Willow shows when she is on the horse is something I have never seen in her before. She is relaxed and so trusting of the horse and her trainers. She is focused and attentive and lasts a good hour on the horse. But best of all her confidence and self-esteem have greatly improved.
Willow has participated in swimming lessons since a very young age and has always enjoyed being in the water and the freedom that it gives her body. Up until recently she was in a class where the parents also got in too. This meant that she was a good year or so older then all of the children. She now swims independently with just her teacher. This has allowed her to work more on building core strength and coordination while achieving therapy goals and increasing fitness levels, as the class is one on one. Also, it is another activity where she has shown an improvement in confidence as all she sees is that she gets to go in the water by herself just like her big sister.
I looked into yoga as I thought it would be a great way to stretch her muscles out. It certainly hasn’t disappointed in that regard but it turns out there are also endless other benefits. Fine and gross motor skills, balance, bilateral coordination, improved muscle memory and focus, core strength, breathing and relaxation techniques to assist in her frustration and the gentle stretching can help to reduce tightness caused by spasticity. After every class her yoga teacher asks her how she feels and she replies with a beaming smile, “happy”.
I had no idea that a lot of gymnastic teachers were actually trained to work with special needs children. Turns out it is common for gymnastics centres to offer adapted programs for children with additional needs. Some of the physical benefits a program like this can offer are improvements to muscle strength, stamina, breathing and flexibility. But it is the self-confidence Willow shows in being able to participate, social inclusion and general wellness overall.
Willow has been participating in music therapy for over 2 months now and each week is able to do so many of the gross motor skills that we work on with ease. She is so distracted by the enjoyment of participating in the songs and dances that she is completely oblivious to how hard she is actually working. Along with these physical benefits she is also partaking in social and communication interactions, following routines and directions and improving her memory and attention span.
All of these activities combined have had a noticeable effect on Willow’s mood and temperament. She shows confidence and the physical gains and improvements have definitely been noticeable. We still have the ‘typical’ necessary appointments and I still work a lot at home with her but changing up our routine has had many benefits for both of us; it has allowed us to be more social and enjoy the ride that the special needs journey takes you on.