I often wonder what Brennen can do when he feels stressed. I mean internally, how does he cope? He can't get up and go for a walk. He can't talk or write and unload his thoughts like I can. It's horrible to think of him being trapped in that way.
Brennen is generally very happy and calm. He doesn't seem to be frustrated about his situation, but I think it is so important to provide him with lots of opportunities to relax and unwind. We love getting cozy at night, letting our bodies wind down from a stressful day. Brennen loves bedtime, and he knows his nighttime routine. He gets his jammies on, has his medicine, a drink, and brushes his teeth. Then he's ready for a snuggle on the couch, where he sings to himself until he closes his little eyes. He loves being tucked into bed, and he sleeps soundly all through the night. Sleep is so important to him, and we try to keep him well-rested. We use a sound machine for white noise (or water sounds, or birds.. anything soothing and relaxing that you can drift off to sleep to). We even have a CD of quiet flute music that his Music Therapist recorded for him.
When I think of all the therapies and treatments that Brennen has been through, I find it hard to believe that until recently, massage therapy was not one of them.
We know that he responds well to gentle touch. My Mom is famous for giving Brennen the "spa treatment". Any time he is over there, she gives him a full body massage with creams, oils, and soothing music. I think my Mom enjoys it as much as Brennen does. It is relaxing for both parties, and is such a great way to feel connected. Affectionate touch is a powerful form of communication, and is a wonderful way to bond with a child.
Knowing how much Brennen enjoys untrained massage, we decided to look into actual massage therapy. We started taking Brennen to the Academy Canada Massage Therapy clinic, and he has been thoroughly enjoying his weekly massage sessions! The sounds, the smells, the low light, the warmth of the room.. he is so tuned in to what is going on around him and so in tune with Stephanie, his Massage Therapist. She has been so wonderful with him, and was eager to treat Brennen from the first time we met. She is gentle, kind, and attentive to his body and how he reacts to her touch. She is curious and compassionate, asking questions about his history and getting to know his personality. She is comfortable with Brennen, and he is comfortable with her (which makes me comfortable with her!).
There are so many known benefits to massage therapy, aside from the fact that it just plain feels good! For a child like Brennen, simply sitting in his wheelchair for extended periods can be exhausting. Something as 'simple' as holding his head up, for him is not so simple. His little body is exerting so much energy all the time, and that has to take its toll. Massage therapy improves circulation, stimulates growth, eases aches and pains, and increases the flexibility and function of muscles and joints. When you give a child a massage, you are stimulating their central nervous system. Their brain produces more serotonin, a feel-good chemical, and less cortisol, a stress hormone. As a result, your child's heart rate and breathing slow down and they become more relaxed.
Massage Therapists can make a positive difference in a child's life. They provide a safe and loving touch that can work in addition to occupational therapy (OT) and physiotherapy (PT) to aid in the development of gross motor skills and to improve muscle tone in children with disabilities.
Performing Swedish massage on a child with cerebral palsy can help regulate muscle tone by decreasing tone in spastic muscles and increasing tone in muscles with low tone.
Massage supports respiration and deep breathing patterns. It enhances the immune system by increasing circulation and lymph flow, and helps children relax and learn to calm themselves. Over time, massage also helps a child become more accustomed to tactile stimulation and aids in body awareness.
It has become obvious to me that Brennen has everything to gain from massage therapy. We all have a basic human need for contact and compassionate touch, and children with special needs are no different. Massage provides our little ones with the positive experience of touch, and it has the potential to greatly improve their quality of life.
Amy Norris is a Registered Massage Therapist, and is one of the massage therapy instructors and clinic supervisors at Academy Canada. Amy says, "The school welcomes clients to the student massage therapy clinic to assist the students in learning how to treat clients with a variety of conditions and disabilities. Students are supervised by a Registered Massage Therapist and must perform an initial assessment on clients to determine if massage therapy treatment is safe and appropriate. We also offer outreach opportunities where we schedule full clinics for community groups, organizations or workplaces - these are done either at the school or on-site at locations organized by these groups."
I asked Amy what her students gain from working on clients with disabilities.
She said, "The students in the massage therapy program learn about treating a variety of conditions from musculoskeletal injuries like strains and tendinitis, to central nervous system disorders like multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. In class, students practice these treatments on each other in a simulated environment. Having clients like Brennen come in to our student clinic allows the students to experience treating the actual conditions. They get to palpate (feel) muscles in altered states that they do not normally get the opportunity to work with in the classroom while treating classmates. They get to see the effectiveness massage therapy has on these conditions... and an opportunity to truly bring relief and comfort to those living with these sometimes debilitating conditions. The majority of clients that come to student clinic have everyday muscle aches and pains, and although they bring great value to their learning environment, their experiences are just not as unique and rewarding as working with clients like Brennen."
This has been an amazing experience for Brennen, as well as for Andrew and I. Seeing the benefit that Brennen receives from his massage, and how calm and relaxed he continues to be after each session brings us so much comfort. We know he is in good hands, with people who truly care about his well-being, and that is worth more than I can say.
If you think that massage could benefit your child with special needs, I would highly recommend Amy and her students at Academy Canada. Call the school at 570-2746 and be sure to leave a message on the answering service - students return calls before, after or between classes. There are so many potential health benefits to massage therapy, and choosing to be proactive about your child's health is never a bad choice!