Alternative Therapies

Theraplay Indianapolis

** I have been trying to post this for a week now but the entire household had/has fallen ill with as my husband puts it “ravaging toddler flu”.

Last week I had just about had it with therapies for Lola. She had everything from her traditional physical, speech and occupational therapy, but then she also had hippotherapy and patterning therapy. I’m also enrolled in a speech savvy program offered by Lola’s First Steps provider.

We are busy people.

And I mean real busy.

But in truth, I have no one to blame this on other than myself — and I’m OK with that.

Ever since Lola began having seizures two years ago, she has been enrolled in some type of therapy (yes…even in Costa Rica). Rob and I made a vow that Lola’s well-being would come above anything else…especially in these first three years because that’s when the child’s brain is the most plastic. And I’m proud to say (even though I’m about therapied out) that we have kept our promise to her. We sacrificed an additional income so someone could always be home to accommodate her therapists. We have spent ungodly amounts of money, gas and time taking her all over the city. Yet seeing how far Lola has come makes it all worth it.

Over the past couple of years, we have tried out many different alternative therapies. You may wonder why we are trying alternative therapies when Lola already receives traditional therapies. The traditional therapies have worked fine, the therapists are great and she is thriving, but we are “think outside the box” kind of people. We like to challenge Lola’s brain in ways that aren’t typical. And as long as it doesn’t hurt her, as long as we aren’t going broke and as long as she continues to improve then why not? Now some have worked better than others, some we left but have reintroduced again and some we feel are genuine life changers. Unfortunately, you won’t know what works best for your kid until you try it out. And rather then looking back 20 years from now saying, “I wish we would have done this or we could have done that”, I’ll be able to rest my worried mind knowing that we did everything we could to get Lola on a path of recovery and health. Here are a few types of alternative therapies Lola has tried out:

Craniosacral Therapy

According to Wikipedia, “Craniosacral Therapy (CST) is form of bodywork or alternative therapy focused primarily on the concept of “primary respiration” and regulating the flow of cerebrospinal fluid by using therapeutic touch to manipulate the synarthrodial joints of the cranium.” We took Lola to a woman who practiced CST on adults and was just beginning to accept children as patients. To be honest, it’s hard to say what this did for Lola. Some critics call CST “quackery” as they believe there is no valid evidence that this therapy does anything beneficial to patients. But as with any type of alternative therapy, you truly are the best judge in regards to how it helps your child. Lola tolerated it quite well in the beginning as the practitioner only lightly guided her neck or touched her skull, but because we couldn’t actually see a difference in Lola after several sessions, we decided to try other types of therapy instead.

Patterning Therapy

On a chilly afternoon many months ago, my mom, Rob, Lola and I were perusing Barnes & Noble — myself in the Special Needs section. I was scouring the shelves for a specific book when I noticed a title that stood out, “Kids Beyond Limits: The Anat Baniel Method for Awakening the Brain and Transforming the Life of Your Child With Special Needs”. What I liked about this title was that the goal was not to help me cope with the fact that my child has special needs, it was to guide and teach me about how to help my child with special needs.

ABM is a neuro-developmental therapy that helps pattern the brain through various movements of the body. The thought is this patterning makes it so the child’s brain will be able to acquire new skills through the theory of neuroplasticity. While we were not able to find an actual ABM practitioner in Indianapolis, we were able to find a physical therapist who practices many of the same types of ABM techniques. What I like most about this method is that Lola is looked at as an individual not as a child that “should be” accomplishing a specific goal based on her age. Her abilities were assessed and that is where Eli (her therapist) began. And the movements Eli guides Lola through are never forced because that forcefulness disrupts natural brain patterns. Anything Eli does with Lola is based on the openness of Lola’s body.

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From afar it doesn’t look like much is going on (which again can lead people to believe this is quackery) as Eli and Lola engage, but to me, this has been an extremely beneficial therapy for Lola. And the wonderful thing about Eli is she can explain tiny correlations like how a simple back scoot across the floor is a precursor to walking. Her knowledge about the body and the connections to the brain is quite remarkable. Everything Lola does with her body is for a reason and Eli helps put this into perspective for us.

It Takes Two to Talk by Hanen Centre

The Hanen Centre is a Canadian-based charitable organization that specializes in speech development in children. They believe that the parents are the greatest tool when trying to build on a child’s language development. They train speech language pathologists all throughout the world and these pathologists hold seminars and classes in an effort to spread the Hanen Centre practice. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to take this course through our local early intervention First Steps provider.

The It Takes Two to Talk course is 6 – 8 weeks and it includes three video taping sessions generally within your own home by the Hanen certified SLP (speech language pathologist). In these videos, we are communicating with Lola and trying to utilize the practices we have learned through the class. We then go back to the class-setting with the other parents and we evaluate our techniques in an effort to improve our parent/child interactions. The SLP teaches the course in two hour increments each week via Hanen materials (videos and a book we are able to keep). There is always class participation, discussions and homework to help the interactions between you and your child.

This class has been extremely beneficial to us. The techniques we learn are all basic, but have been crucial in Lola’s speech development. When you are a parent of a child with special needs, you don’t know what to do to best help them. You always do what you think is right, but it’s hard to know. Before Hanen, Rob and I would simply bombard Lola with language with the thought that she would eventually take it all in. What we’ve learned is that while providing her with rich language is beneficial, we need to slow it down. My favorite lesson from Hanen is OWL which means Observe, Wait, Listen. This means give your child time to process the speech, the expectations of what their response should be and just being patient. On Friday night, I took Lola to the YMCA for an evening swim. On the way home, we were practicing our words and sounds. I would give Lola a word like KEYS, allow her time to process the word and just when I thought that she wasn’t going to say it, I would hear a very excited, “KEYS!”. Before Hanen, I would have most likely went on to the next word not giving her an opportunity to even come up with a response. But she needs more time and just by giving her brain that extra 20 seconds to process the word, she is now able to say it.

Sadly, our last class is next week but I must say I’m quite impressed with the invaluable tools the It Takes Two to Talk program has given us. An added bonus from the class is that you get to keep the book so if I’m ever feeling lost about how to help Lola and her speech development, I can simply look up other strategies to try out.

Hippotherapy

Using my ever trusting Wikipedia (sarcasm) again, “Hippotherapy is a form of physical, occupational and speech therapy in which a therapist uses the characteristic movements of a horse to provide carefully graded motor and sensory input. A foundation is established to improve neurological function and sensory processing, which can be generalized to a wide range of daily activities.” I wanted to provide accurate informationmwhen describing these therapies which is why I felt it best to quote a source rather than try to come up with my own description. Hippotherapy is relatively new to our household, but I can see the profound impact it is already having on our daughter.

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We are lucky enough to live in a bigger city which means there are numerous options when it comes to seeking out alternative therapies. We found a non-profit pediatric outpatient rehabilitation agency called, Children’s TherAplay Foundation Inc. At TherAplay, patients are seen for a wide-range of disabilities. They focus on occupational and physical therapy, but through application of the tool hippotherapy other issues such as speech delay and sensory disorders seem to improve as well. At this time, Lola is being treated as a physical therapy patient with hopes that this will be an additional strengthening tool in her quest to learn to walk.

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What I like about TherAplay is that they incorporate both traditional in-the-clinic therapy as well as the tool of hippotherapy in each session. Lola generally starts out with 30 minutes of traditional physical therapy which to her is more like playing. She gets to play on the trampoline, walk up stairs, bounce on balls, swing on a gigantic swing and so much more. The next 30 minutes are spent riding on the horse (this week it was Gideon). There are always three people surrounding her as she rides — her physical therapist, a sidewalker and a horse handler. When she first began riding, her tiny hands would be up near her shoulders in a classic tactile defense mode, but at this weeks session, her hands were calmly touching the saddle. She was chatting Lola speak with the girls surrounding her and she even leaned over to pet Gideon several times. The beautiful thing about the tool of hippotherapy is that she has no idea how hard she is actually working. Everything from her balance to her core as well as ironing out some of the sensory components through the carefully monitored movements of the horse. They change gait patterns as well as Lola’s position on the horse all in an effort to achieve the maximum functionality outcome.

Hippotherapy

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Lola has only had a handful of physical therapy treatments utilizing the tool of hippotherapy, but I can already see tiny changes within her. Immediately after each session her speech is spot-on. She mimics every syllable of words I say and she literally talks the entire way home. I have also found that some of her physical movements are not as taxed because of lack of strength. She can easily climb on the fairly high couch we have and she has become more daring with her walking (even took about four unassisted steps when walking to the mirror). My favorite improvement I’ve noticed is her increase of eye contact. She just seems much more present and engaged with us which is something, I as a mother, have hoped to see for a very long time. Even as Lola transitions into a longer day preschool, the tool of hippotherapy will be one that will stay in her schedule.

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As with any therapy, it’s hard to know if the therapy is unlocking these abilities or if this is just within Lola, but regardless we will continue to seek out alternative therapies for our daughter if we think she will benefit from them. While she doesn’t realize how full her tiny life is with obligatory commitments, someday we will show her pictures and explain to her the amount of hard work she put in as a young child. Again we don’t know where these therapies will take her in life, but I can sleep better at night knowing that we’ve done everything we can to lay the path to independence for Lola. Only time will tell what level of independence she will achieve, but regardless…she will have a team of people behind her cheering her on as she gets there.