ONCE a week, a rather strange scene plays out in the principal’s office of the Alpha School for Autistic Children in Woodstock.
On the floor of an emptied-out school office, four adults sit on the floor, each with a child on the lap. While the therapists gently squeeze the children’s heads, shoulders, backs and arms with their hands, the children themselves seem locked in their own world. They squirm, crawl away, whoop and giggle and stare into space with almost expressionless faces while playing with blocks or puzzles, often seeming oblivious of their therapists.
When a stranger enters the room, one child might jump up and hide under the principal’s desk.
Yet since the group of craniosacral therapists started treating 10 of the children voluntarily in February, their teachers have noted marked improvements in their behaviour.
Principal Alletta Pierce said: “All of them have shown some sort of change- some very subtle, some negative, but change all the same.
“Autistic children are usually very withdrawn, yet after the craniosacral therapy most of them became more aware of the people around them.
“One boy who never talked before has started to verbalise (imitating speech and words), another older boy started reading, another one became less aggressive and started playing with the family dog.
“One boy ventured out of his home and started exploring the family garden, something he would never have done before. A child who previously would have become upset and thrown tantrums for the tiniest reason is now starting to smile and reach out to people.
Nerina Kearns, a teacher at the school, told of how a four-year-old boy in her class improved.
“Initially he had severe mood swings. His behaviour was erratic and he seemed unsettled. Then as the treatment progressed, his behaviour evened out. He became a lot more verbal and started imitating sounds and noises.
He started taking part in the class activities a lot more. He is far more stable emotionally – for the first time he is able to act on emotions and cry when he’s upset. His toilet training regressed, but that could have been due to anxiety.”
Nellian Bekker, one of the therapists, said their therapy on the children was free of charge, as their work was part of a study project.
“As far as we know, craniosacral therapy is not done on autistic patients anywhere else in South Africa.
“We work with the central nervous system, the cerebro-spinal fluid (around the spinal cord) and the neural tubes around nerves. We try to find restrictions in the nervous system that prevents the nerves from functioning properly and release these restrictions.”
The therapists themselves also noted changes in their young patients. Brigitte Weltz said: “One of my patients started playing with her sister, another one recognised the neighbour and two started writing.”
Pearce said it took the children quite a while to adapt to the therapists, but that more and more children were included in the therapy.
“We would like to expand the treatment to all 60 pupils in the school, but that wouldn’t be possible without additional funding.”
Apart from extra speech therapy and music therapy, the children at the school’s class activities are designed to teach them the kind of basic behaviour that non-autistic children learn automatically by mimicking the behaviour of those around them.
For information about the project contact Brigitta Weltz email@example.com