Massage for Children with ADHD
It was a great honour to be invited to speak at ‘The Many Faces of ADHD’ conference held by ADDISS (the National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service) on November 3rd 2011. My contribution to the conference was the idea of Andrea Bilbow, Founder and Chief Executive of , as she had read my book Healing Touch for Children and recognised the importance of sharing the for .
Indeed, a review of my book on Amazon, supported Andrea’s suggestion. Although I do not know the reviewer, her words are poignant:
“I have found this little booka godsend. My son has ADHD and I have used the massage and aromatherapy mixes to try and calm him down before bed, and it seems to be working (touch wood). Before I started this it would take him around 2 hours to settle down to go to sleep, and bedtime was an absolute nightmare. He now goes to sleep within half an hour of going to bed. For the last 2 weeks, I have been able to go to bed before 10 myself, which was unheard of before. My only hope is that it keeps working.” Amazon Review.
With over 12 years experience of working as a complementary therapist, I have not worked with families with children with ADHD. It was important, therefore, to spend some time researching the condition and related learned and behavioural difficulties. In simple terms, my findings showed that in relation to other children their age, children with ADHD may experience three main symptoms:
- Difficulty in holding attention
- Impulsive behaviour
This in turn may lead to other problems including:
- Poorer academic performance
- Difficulty in social settings
- Anxiety disorders
- More susceptibility to substance abuse
- Speech problems
Touch and ADHD – Research
My research then led me to studies about the power of touch and ADHD and the most significant research was carried out by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami.
- In one study 28 adolescents with ADHD were provided either massage therapy or relaxation therapy for 10 consecutive school days. The massage therapy group, but not the relaxation therapy group, rated themselves as happier and observers said they fidgeting less following the sessions. After the 2-week period, their teachers reported more time on task and assigned them lower hyperactivity scores based on classroom behaviour.
- Another study involved 30 children and adolescents between the ages of 7 and 18 (M = 13) diagnosed with ADHD. The children were randomly assigned to a wait-list control and a massage group. The latter group received massage therapy for 20 minutes twice per week over the course of one month. Mood state improved for the massage but not the control group based on smiley face and thermometer scales. The massage group also improved in classroom behavior in the areas of anxiety, daydreaming and hyperactivity.
- Results show that massage therapy benefited children and adolescents with ADHD by improving short-term mood state and longer-term classroom behaviour.
Although the numbers in these studies were small, the positive results were significant enough for me to gain more confidence in continuing my research for the presentation.
The ADHD Conference – On the Day
As I began listening to the morning speakers and chatting to parents of children with ADHD over the coffee break, I felt humbled by the many challenges they face every hour of every day. It came as a surprise to me that around two thirds of children with ADHD also have other developmental disorders and learning difficulties such as Autistic Spectrum Disorders and Bipolar.
Parents at the conference looked tired and grateful for the chance to share experiences and information. The speakers introduced helpful tips and suggestions and answered questions about coping with sibling rivalry, creating structure in the day, getting a child to sleep at night and controlling symptoms through medication. The need for parents and children to develop resilience and coping strategies was one of the key messages of the day.
My Presentation – Healing Touch for Children
An audience of around 20 parents and health professionals gathered to hear my workshop. We began by looking at the power of touch over different cultures and generations and I was able to show a photograph of Indian women massaging each other in the home. There was much agreement about touch being an intuitive, comforting response during difficult and stressful time. And this led naturally to a discussion of the scientific research into the power of touch for children with ADHD conducted at thein Miami (see above).
The research is supported by the work of Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg, a Swedish researcher and author of TheFactor, Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love and Healing who believes that the feel-good effect of touch is linked with the release of oxytocin and other mood-enhancing chemicals during gentle massage. Although research is still on-going, Kerstin suggests that this release of oxytocin into the bodies of those giving and receiving gentle touch could be one of the reasons why touch has such a positive impact on bringing feelings of calm, empathy and harmony to the atmosphere.
– and ADHD
With parents in the audience now very interested, we continued by looking at the role of oxytocin in bringing calm and peace to active children is central to the work of the Massage in Schools Programme in bringing positive touch to school age children all over the world. Teachers and children agree that a regular 5-7 minute peer massage can promote sensitivity towards others, raises self-esteem and confidence and helps everyone concentrate and focus on their lessons.
Parents had many sceptical questions about this programme in relation to children with ADHD. However, one mother volunteered how much her daughter with ADHD had been noticeably calmer and happier in lessons since the programme was introduced into the school. And one father told us that his son had enjoyed massage in school so much that he asked his Dad to give him a sleepy massage whilst they read stories at bedtime. And it worked – his son was now sleeping much better at night and he feels that the massage has helped build a stronger emotional bond between them.
Experiencing Positive Touch
It was now time for a demonstration of the ‘weather massage’ followed by hands-on practical in the room. This is a creative massage introduced as part of the Massage in Schools Programme which links massage moves to aspects of the weather – such as drawing a large circle on your partner’s back to represent the sun, or the pitter-patter of raindrops. A few of the parents were reluctant to join in, but they were very happy to observe and ask questions. We all noticed the sense of calm descend on the room during the short 5 minute massage and parents were enthusiastic about discussing ways in which they could use some form of story massage with their own children, to suit their own particular needs.
We talked about starting slowly and gently, maybe with a simple stroke on the back at bedtime. Then gradually building up the massage at the child’s pace focusing on a story or song that would hold their attention. Keep the massage time short and frequent – through clothes if that is easiest. We also looked at some of the self-help massage and reflexology moves suggested in my book Healing Touch for Children. Massage is not the answer to all problems, but it may help complement other ‘tools’ in helping parents and children develop resilience and coping strategies.
The Healing Power of Touch – Spreading Smiles
The day after the ADHD conference I received this email:
“Thank you so much for your interesting talk yesterday and especially for the hands on practice session, which I was immediately able to put to use last night on my 8 year old child with multiple special needs.
I created a story about snow, rain and wind in Australia, with bewildered kangeroos and kuala bears wondering why there had been such strange weather happening in their normally sunny country. My child laughed and laughed at the scenes of animals running around excitedly in the snow, celebrating their first snowfall ever.
And this morning when I reminded him about the massage, a full smile came to his face – so rarely do I see this with a child who has so many challenges to deal with! I was thrilled. Thanks once again.”
These heart warming words reminded me, yet again, that it is such a privilege to share the healing power of touch with parents and children.