My clients have special and often misunderstood needs. Children who have difficulties with motor control and sensory integration very often strike others as very strange, maladjusted people. I’ll share a flash of insight I had recently, following a dentist’s appointment.
I had been given an anesthetic, which left one side of my mouth unable to move or feel properly. No matter how much I focused on moving it, it did not move. The typical connection between my brain and my facial muscles had been temporarily severed, and for as long as that drug remained effective, no amount of will or concentration could remake that connection.
For those who do not grasp this starting point – that a child who suffers from motor or sensory integration delays is not behaving strangely for attention, and is not stupid or crazy, and can improve dramatically with the help of an intervention – it is very important that we spread the word about what is possible for our children. When we can establish a healthy, cooperative working relationship among therapists, parents and children, what we can accomplish can make a tremendous difference in a child’s quality of life, as we did with a little boy named David (made up name).
David hated water. The feeling of water on his skin was upsetting to the point where he was having difficulty functioning in his daily life. If it was raining, he would strenuously resist going outside, and, having come out, would take a very long time to walk around puddles and keep his feet dry. He would refuse to socialize near swimming pools or on beaches, because even proximity to that much water was unbearable. When it was time to bathe, he always struggled and sometimes even fought his mother because he was so terrified. In short, David’s extreme aversion to water was costing him dearly by the time he came to me.
I worked with him for only ten sessions, but in that time we took vital early steps and managed to alleviate the most onerous aspects of David’s condition. By starting with very small quantities of water and introducing the sensation in ways that he could expect and brace for, David and I made wonderful progress together. He can bathe and walk in the rain now, for example. After ten sessions, his family returned to the UK, but not before an emotional goodbye. We still keep in touch, and David continues to make wonderful progress.
Often, my work takes me to international schools around Shanghai. As I enter, security personnel quite naturally ask me why I am entering the school, and here I have always hit a snag. I cannot say that I am a teacher; I am not. I begin to explain that I am somebody who comes in to help children to control their bodies and adjust to being touched. I speak and demonstrate as the security officers, patiently interpret my explanation, and, almost always conclude, “Oh! You’re a massage therapist. Please, come right in.”
My point is not that the security officers are especially ignorant, and certainly not that they doubted that I do something valuable. Rather, it is that we need to expand the discussion surrounding physical motor issues. With higher awareness will come a greater ability to reach children who can benefit, and with that a greatly enhanced quality of life for children across Shanghai.