The Baby Alex Foundation
Funding Cutting Edge Pediatric Brain Injury Research and Pediatric Brain Injury Patient and Family Support.

Alex's Therapies - Sports Related



On this page, you will find some of the therapies we have used with Alex to help him build his brain and body following his brain injury. We do not recommend attempting any of these therapies without consulting your doctor to be sure that the therapy may be appropriate for your child's health situation.

Therapeutic Riding

 

 

Therapeutic Riding combines horseback riding skills and the natural movement of the horse to improve neurological function, sensory processing, strength and balance in children who suffer physical and cognitive challenges. Although these riding lessons may involve trained physical and occupational therapists, they often do not. Trained riding instructors may conduct these therapy sessions with excellent results.

 

Alex began taking therapeutic riding lessons at the age of 6. We have seen significant improvements in his strength and balance on the horse. With each lesson, his legs and core grow stronger, his ability to post and turn around while seated on the horse have improved, and his connection to the horse has increased. He uses his weak hand for a variety of activities unique to horse therapy, such as for grooming the horse, patting the horse, and holding the reins.

 

We are also witnessing a lovely relationship growing between Alex and his horse partners. At first, he was afraid of the horses and distrustful of their movements. Over time, he has become accustomed to their large stature and has learned to trust in their good and responsive natures. He feels more connected to them and as a result has learned to relax in the saddle and take more advantage of his riding lessons.

 

For more information on adaptive sporting events for the disabled, which includes information on equine therapy, click here: www.disabledsportsusa.org

 

To find a therapeutic riding center near you, search key words “therapeutic riding” and your state.

 

Goals and Benefits of Therapeutic Riding:

  • To strengthen core muscles
  • To improve balance
  • To build self-confidence
  • To encourage fulfillment through human/animal connections
  • Improve sensory processing



Aquatic Therapy

 

Aquatic Therapy for children with disabilities uses the natural properties of water to increase balance, coordination, flexibility, range of motion and many other areas affected by physical or neurological damage. Although usually taught by trained aquatic therapists, aquatic therapy may be done by parents and caretakers as well, by simply playing, walking, running, floating and swimming in water.

 

We have used aquatic therapy for Alex since he was an infant. Initially we used a variety of flotation devices to ensure his safety in the water. We played with him, floated with him, and helped him reach out for objects in the water. About the time he was 3, we enrolled him in the intensive ISR (Infant Swim Resource www.infantswim.com) swim lessons to finally teach him to float and swim without a flotation device. Alex benefitted tremendously from ISR swim lessons, and has been swimming independently ever since. Since he now swims, we are able to work on his strokes.

 

Because Alex has epilepsy, we no longer swim with him in chlorinated pools. Although we have not read any formal study on chlorine and epilepsy, we found that the strong chemicals in the pool were aggravating his eyes and giving him headaches. We stopped swimming in chlorine and now only swim in bodies of fresh or salt water.

 

There are many aquatic therapy programs throughout the country. Simply search keywords “aquatic therapy” and your state to find one near you.

 

 

Goals and Benefits of Aquatic Therapy:

  • To improve balance, coordination and flexibility
  • To improve range of motion of affected limbs
  • To improve sensory integration
  • To decrease pressure on weight bearing joints
  • To improve fitness
  • To build self-confidence and independence

Within this category is waterskiing. Alex attended a free waterski clinic with Leaps of Faith, which offers adaptive waterskiing and snow skiing. It was awesome! Visit the Leaps of Faith website.



Other Therapeutic Sports

 

In the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, the author Dr. John Ratey writes that exercise improves learning in three ways: “first, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to find one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus.

 

In other words, exercise makes you smarter.

 

It also produces chemical changes that calm the nervous system. It helps the brain focus. It reduces stress. Sports and exercise are fun, serve to build self-esteem, help in making friendships and serve to reduce the feeling of isolation that some children with disabilities may feel. If you have a child with a disability, get out there and exercise to the best of your abilities. Play. Dance. Laugh. Love.

 

Here are a few exercises we have tried with very positive results.

 

Running

Running has always been Alex’s sport of choice. Although Alex learned to walk just before he turned 2, his balance was poor. He had to constantly shift his weight between his feet to keep from falling down. For him, running was easier than walking. The natural movement of running meant that once he got his legs going, he didn’t need to think too hard to keep them going and he got to where he wanted to go with relative ease. He fell often, and we have used a variety of hand and elbow pads, braces and supportive shoes to help protect him.

 

Karate

Karate combines mental focus with physical movement and has been recommended for years for children suffering from ADHD. Additionally, children with brain injuries benefit from all exercises that require body parts to cross the middle line of the body. In other words, moving your right hand to the left side of the body helps engage the right side of the brain (although it is the left side of the brain which controls the movement of the right hand). Alex has been doing karate since he was 3 and we have seen good results with his balance, strength, focus and self-confidence.

 

Biking

Riding a bike can be close to impossible for children with brain injuries. There are therapeutic biking programs as well as programs that teach disabled children to balance on a two-wheeled bike. To find one in your area use keywords “special needs bike camps” and your state. To see an excellent program, check out the iCan Bike program in West Hartford, CT. For Alex, we finally switched from a bike with training wheels to a recumbent (seated) tricycle. In fact, the entire family is making the switch because it is a lot more comfortable to ride in a seated position than hunched over handlebars. When Alex is 8, he will be eligible for a special needs bike camp, which we hope will help him learn to ride a two-wheeled bike. Biking has helped strengthen his arms and legs, and his core.

 

Triathlon

There are all kinds of triathlon events for kids these days. Many of them require that the kids run through the water (rather than swim), then ride any type of bike (tricycle, etc) and then run, with assistance if needed, to the end. Our kids compete in these races during the summer. We also create our own triathlons with our kids, their friends and cousins, and so create our own rules. The only rule is that you complete the three sports that make up the race (usually swimming, biking and running) with good sportsmanship. Sometimes we compete in teams, to build a sense of belonging. It is amazing to watch the kids come together to help each other finish. It is all about completing the task and not about winning. Our mantra: You win if you participate! For an inspirational story about triathlon teams, visit the Hoyts’ website (www.teamhoyt.com) or Conner and Cayden Long, the Sports Illustrated 2012 Sportskids of the Year (www.Kidzworld.com). To view Alex's YouTube triathlon training video, click on the icon to the left.

 

Yoga and Stretching

Yoga and stretching are incredibly important to improve physical function for children with disabilities. Although these exercises may be done initially with trained physical and occupational therapists, most of the work needs to be done at home because disabled children need to be stretched every day. Last summer, Alex hit a growth spurt. His body was growing so fast and his left leg’s ligaments and muscles were so tight, that his foot ended up getting pulled in toward his right leg. In a matter of a few months, he was practically unable to run. We put that left leg into a cast from knee to toe to stretch out and fatigue those misbehaved muscles. After a couple weeks, we removed the cast and were amazed. We had never seen Alex walk so well. Six months later, even with a brace designed to keep that leg stretched out, his foot is turning inward again. Another growth spurt. We are looking at another cast. Even if we need to cast him twice a year, that beats surgery to lengthen those muscles and tendons. Regardless of the additional therapeutic approached you may take with casting and bracing, nothing replaces yoga and stretching to keep your child function at his best.

 

Tennis and Beyond

Although Alex has difficulty using his left hand in tennis, he naturally makes an effort to hold the racquet and balls with lefty. He runs around the court, he coordinates hand, arm, leg and eye movements, and he has fun. Tennis is a great sport to move limbs across the center line of the body. Other sports, such as baseball, lacrosse and football serve this purpose as well. If your child wants to give them a shot, go for it!