WE started hippotherapy. It is occupational therapy on horses — the concept being for every footfall the horse makes, it sends a hundred movements back up through the body, which in turn can result in the child needing to chew more, drooling, using their jaw muscles or, in some cases, talking.
In our case, Bodhi started to talk.
In the first week he called his sister ‘Phoenix’ by name and we all froze on the spot. After more sessions he started to even say ‘I love you’ and started repeating most words which we said to him. We realised then he has a phenomenal memory and recalls things on sight.
He started picking up magnets and listing numbers correctly, he was memorising pages in books, which we found out by accident one day as he went off mid-read to look for another book he saw earlier that month which had the same image. He found the page and held them together side by side to compare.
As the sessions progressed he started counting one to ten, calling all of our names, saying ‘Bye now’ when he wants you to go or is ready for one adult to go so he can focus on another.
He understood most of what you were saying to him and was very slowly beginning to now follow direction. Gradually I began to not have to replace bottle tops from chewing, he needed no medication to help him sleep as he was actually sleeping.
Bodhi is extremely picky with food and can go days without eating and then gorge. It is not as simple as “he will eat when he is hungry”, or constantly offering him foods, a concept even family don’t understand.
With sensory processing disorder, your body is trying to process either the texture, taste or smell, and simply cannot eat some things. If you push it, it can lead to vomiting and then the flat out refusal of all foods which then leads to bigger problems.
So you begin to bulk buy things he will eat, you let him eat what he wants because he is actually eating, you praise and encourage him when he is trying and you take it day by day. If it means letting him eat pasta and cleaning his hands after each individual piece, that is what you do. Have confidence in the fact that there will come a day when, after watching others, he will try it with a fork; you have to pick and choose your battles.
You have to offer the same food each time that he likes, if the brand or packaging changes you are screwed, as it means your child will refuse that food going forward.
He used to like McDonalds chips, he would take the little white packet from a happy meal and have a few. My husband made the rookie mistake of ordering him a large chips one day and, because they came in a red cardboard package, he has refused them ever since. You keep things the same or risk the refusal.
The therapies and movements in hippotherapy are done through the encouragement of play working different parts of the body. Each session may require him to sit backwards or sideways even at times on the horse.
So if his eating was poor at the time then the therapist would work his core muscles by getting him to stretch up on the horse. The difference in his appetite would be extraordinary after those sessions. I found it amazing as he loves certain crisps, but any time he was attending therapy here he would have lost any inkling for crunchy foods and would ask for things like yogurts with the opposite texture. The therapy was obviously fulfilling a sensory need so it took away the need to be crunching, it was amazing to see.
It took us quite a while to get to this stage, he was vomiting on arrival up until the third session of hippotherapy. But I know now if I hadn’t pushed him out of his comfort zone, there may still be no speech. The sessions here were the huge leaping pad he needed that put in the groundwork for his first year in school.
If you missed any of our series, you can catch up online at www.eveningecho.ie
You can also follow Lenore on Out in the Sticks with Six, on Facebook.
See next week's Women on Wednesday, as we continue our series.