It happens every morning: a mother picks up her child, sets the child on her lap, and begins to brush the child’s hair. It’s a simple task that’s easy to take for granted. But to Annie it’s a revelation. When she first began receiving treatment at Children's TherAplay, Emma was unable to hold up her head independently.
A little over a year ago, she and her husband Bryan began bringing their two-year-old daughter Emma for treatment at The Children’s TherAplay Foundation, Inc. Because Emma had such little core strength and coordination – despite early intervention and other therapies, she was unable to hold her head steady or sit up – Annie wondered if the equine-assisted occupational and physical therapies could possibly make a difference.
Before Occupational Therapy
But within weeks she became aware of subtle differences in her daughter. And she wasn’t the only one. Emma’s feeding therapist noticed that Emma, who has been tube-fed since she was in the neonatal intensive care unit, was not only becoming more vocal but also more willing to try different feeding techniques.
As Annie explains, “She used to get food in her mouth and gag. But that’s not even an issue anymore! Now she’s in love with cinnamon pretzel twists.”
The trunk strength Emma was gaining from equine-assisted treatment at Children's TherAplay was helping her sit up more, keeping her airway clear so that she was more comfortable breathing, speaking, and now – approximately a year later – eating small bites of food. What a change!
“She’s come so far!” enthuses Annie. “Emma used to feel like she was afraid she’d choke, but now she’s confident. Now she’s willing to taste and nibble things.”
Annie shared, “The horseback therapy and the work that Emma has done with [Occupational Therapist] Abby and [Physical Therapist] Sam has been the most beneficial we’ve seen, and she’s had many therapies including aquatic therapy and early intervention. Even her early interventionists have talked about the improvements they’ve seen. Emma has so much more trunk strength and head control.”
Occupational Therapist Abigail agrees, “Emma has been blossoming since she’s been here [at Children's TherAplay].” Generally Emma wears an external trunk support and uses a boppy cushion to help her stay upright during the equine-assisted portion of her treatment. But not always. The boppy stayed in the clinic recently when Emma held herself up, with only the back brace as support, for the entirety of her on-the-horse treatment!
“And now she wants to do more”
Not anymore! Someone is holding her head up all by herself! The strength and coordination Emma is developing in treatment at TherAplay has carried over to her life at home.
When Emma first began receiving treatment at Children's TherAplay, her movement was evaluated at the neonatal stage. Now, Annie tells us, “When she’s laying on the floor playing, you’ll see her pick her shoulders and head up off the floor – she’s really trying to sit up!
And thanks to improvements in head and neck control, Emma is more aware of and able to engage with those around her. Now that she’s able to look at people, she’s more motivated to talk – and Emma has a lot to say. Annie reports that during Emma’s treatment in the Children's TherAplay clinic she can hear her daughter happily “jibberjabbering” away.
“Emma’s really been getting stronger and really been encouraged by that, to see that she can do some of these things. And now she wants to do more.” Like stand up and hold onto the couch, which she can now do with only minimal assistance, all the while grinning from ear to ear.
“The most beneficial therapy we’ve done for her”
This brings us back to the simple task of a mother brushing her small child’s hair. A little over a year ago, when Emma first came to Children's TherAplay, brushing her hair was a two-person operation. But no more.
You can hear the warmth in Annie’s voice when she paints the picture, “I can actually sit her in my lap and brush her hair. When we tried to do it before, it just was impossible. She’d fall over. She just had no control to be able to do that. And now she just does.
“I can’t say enough about how awesome everything you do over there is. It’s the most beneficial therapy we’ve done for her. I’m really glad we started when she was so young. Emma couldn’t sit up or walk or stand and I wondered if [the treatment could be] worthwhile, but everyone there is so adaptive and finds ways to work with her. Everyone is always thinking about what they can do to help her the most, and then they make it happen.
“We really do love you guys.” Right back at you Annie!