Wednesday, May 18, 2011

By Hand

"Man, through the use of his hands, as they are energized by his mind and will, can influence the state of his own health."   {Mary Reilly, 1962}

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called Giving Them What They Need, So They'll Give Us What We Want.  I talked about making sure that children had plenty of sleep, fresh air, exercise, and healthy food in order to support their behavior and ability to succeed in school.

We also have needs that are less tangible, but no less important, as one of my young friends reminded me this past week.  She is a little girl who strikes me, in addition to her sensory processing issues, as being lost and depressed.  Her parents are divorced, her father lives far away, and her mother travels all over the world for her work.  She is often in the care of nannies.  Her attitude is habitually one of indifference, which I think she adopts as a form of emotional protection, and I have found it especially challenging to form a warm connection with her.  She may or may not answer when she is spoken to, and if she leaves the gym to get a drink of water, she may or may not decide to return, but instead wanders into the office area and goes through the items on my colleagues' desks until I go find her and bring her back.

When I first evaluated her, I was quite concerned about her handwriting, so our work together has always included time spent correcting her habits of letter formation and her tendency to reverse letters and numbers.  Her participation in OT has generally been perfunctory and she has rarely made eye contact or initiated any conversation with me.

A couple of weeks ago, coming down with a bit of spring fever myself, I decided to give us both a break from writing and pulled out a potholder loom.  I was mainly thinking about how improving her eye hand coordination and the motor planning in her fingers would support my writing goals. I was halfway expecting her to tell me she wasn't interested and that it looked too hard. To my surprise, she dug right in and worked with absorption and intensity, although weaving the loops correctly was quite challenging for her and she made many mistakes that she had to go back and fix.

The next week, as I pulled out the loom, she sighed happily, "I can't wait to take this home!" and wove with furious concentration for 15 minutes without a break.  When it was time to go, she ran to her nanny for a hug, something I had never seen her do before.

This child needed to connect to a part of herself where no one had abandoned or neglected her, and nothing irritated her skin or hurt her ears.

 Through the act of weaving, she discovered that she could tackle an unfamiliar task and stay with it until she had mastered it.  She could create something unique by making choices while staying within a specific, structured set of rules.  She could recognize and correct her own mistakes, gaining a sense of accomplishment and independence.  She could make a positive impact on her environment with a tangible result, transforming a shaggy, chaotic pile of loops into an orderly piece of fabric.

She could look forward to showing her finished project to her admiring nanny, brother, and mother with pride, dropping her pretended indifference.

Using her will and imagination to direct the work of her hands, she opened the door to a whole colorful, creative world inside of herself, and could begin to heal.

Crafts and hobbies allow us to connect to the deeper parts of ourselves.  Becoming absorbed in the act of creation helps refresh and renew our minds and spirits and recharge from the stress of every day life.  Planning, organizing, making choices, solving problems, using our hands in skilled pursuit of a goal, and looking forward to the reactions of our loved  ones as they admire the finished results of our hard work can be an enormous source of pleasure, satisfaction and pride. The special needs children I work with tend to have a severe shortage of pride and satisfaction in their lives.

Children with sensory processing issues who struggle in school, and who are consistently unable to meet the grown ups' expectations, are particularly vulnerable to succumbing to the belief that they will fail.  Success at a craft, with a tangible result, can be a huge boost to morale and very  motivating.

Just as it's important to work on correcting a child's impairments, it's critical to help him identify, and practice utilizing, his strengths.  A child who feels useful, competent, and confident in his abilities is a child who has the internal resources to face a challenge thinking "I can!" instead of "I can't."

What talents and abilities does your child possess that would allow him to shine?


Regula said...

Let's go on and on with crochet, knitting, weaving and and and. There is always something that needs fixing inside of all of us. Working by hand is medicine.

Anonymous said...

OT at it's finest!