Every single child is unique. They each have individual challenges that require their own strategies to overcome and high needs children are no exception. Children with difficulties like ADHD, anxiety, depression, oppositional defiance disorder and those who are on the autism spectrum face challenges every day that demand solutions. Therapy provides opportunities for these children to overcome difficulties and happily, there many different types of therapy so each child can have what suits him best. Many therapies utilize creativity to build the relationship between the therapist and child, thus offering opportunities for growth. Three alternative therapies for high needs children will be discussed here: art therapy, music therapy, and animal therapy.
Art Therapy: Seeing a Child in Color
Art has been used as a definite venue of therapy since the 1940s. Pairing the creative processes of art with social interaction in a therapy setting provides an ideal environment for developing the skills of high needs children. Art requires children to be engaged with their environment and the people in it. It encourages the use and further development of sensory perceptions, motor skills, cognitive processes, and social interactions. High needs children, such as those with autism or Down’s syndrome, often experience difficulties in basic communication and interpersonal skills. Art offers a safe and stimulating way to convey their thoughts and feelings without having to actually talk, which is especially helpful if they are uncomfortable in the social setting of therapy to begin with.
Providing an atmosphere of healthy freedom and self-expression can set the stage for beneficial conversation between the therapist and the child later in the session. Age-appropriate art utensils are laid out on a table. The therapist will generally ask the child to draw something particular, such as a food or a toy the child likes. Once the picture is complete, the therapist prompts some conversation about the picture, thus encouraging social interaction. The information gleaned is used to determine what is behind the drawing, i.e., the child’s emotions and thoughts. A picture often goes beyond what it is as a picture because children are creative. Just as tone of voice and word-choice convey how a person feels, the way an object is represented in a drawing can convey how the child feels. The therapist then uses the picture as a means of communication with the child.
Music Therapy: Feeling the Heartbeat
Music is universal. It is rare to find a person who does not find some enjoyment in at least one style of music. However, what makes music an ideal therapy is the fact that the child does not need to have musical skill.
There are a variety of ways music can be used in a therapy session. A session may involve experimenting with instruments, listening to music, writing music, or simply discussing lyrics to a song. Also, there is not a specific style of music that must be used, so the therapist can plan according to the preferences of the child. Because of the wide range of options for each session, this mode of therapy is extremely flexible and easily adapted to the particular needs of a child.
Music therapy has also been proven to be widely effective. Even in healthy people, it reduces stress and encourages wellness on many levels. For high needs children, it offers a place for development without being pressured to do particular things or develop at a certain pace. As with art therapy, music therapy can be used for determining a child’s feelings. The movement involved with creating music, such as finger movement on a keyboard or guitar, improves motor skills as well.
Furthermore, people naturally react to music. Music can evoke different emotions and can affect physiological processes, such as heartbeat and breathing rate. Music taps into the areas of the brain that regulate speech. Therapists are able to use music to improve verbal skills from pronunciation to expression. Music is also a tool for learning. It has been successfully used to increase the attention span of several age groups. Because of the brain’s fascination with beat and melody, therapists can teach daily life skills and social behaviors using music, improving general task performance and motor skill simultaneously.
Animal Therapy: Into the Eyes of Another
Animals and humans have long bonded with each other. It is through this bond that animal therapy takes place. A child learns many behavioral, motor, and social skills as they bond with an animal. Animals often look to humans as caretakers, thus the bond is natural, unforced, and somewhat liberating for the child. A high needs child can thrive in this sort of a relationship because they are free to be exactly who they are. This comfortable bond between child and animal establishes room for a more comfortable relationship between the child and therapist.
Animal therapy is unlike the previously discussed therapies because it involves another living being. Many different animals can be used, including horses, dogs, rabbits, and even exotic animals. The therapist and child determine goals to be attained with the animal, such as grooming a certain amount of time, walking a certain distance, or being comfortable touching the animal. These goals may appear small or insignificant, but as a child learns to groom and exercise the animal, motor skills are being developed. The child becomes more comfortable doing these things and although it is interaction with an animal, it is still a form of social interaction that builds social skills. Animal therapy also improves focus and attention span.
At the root of all of these therapy options is primarily a relationship of trust with the therapist. But a secondary goal is social interaction. In all of these therapies, the setting may be group or individual. Individual settings provide more one-on-one time and more in-depth interaction, whereas group settings are more likely to provide more opportunities for social interaction with other kids. In either case, it is important to introduce a therapy and setting that will be best for the individual child because they are all different.
What types of alternative therapies have helped your child? Have you tried any yet, or would you like to in the future? Let me know in the comments below!