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Touch Our Children, Teach Our Children












































Touch Our Children, Teach Our Children

By Karrie Osborn




Children. They are our most precious gifts, yet so many are not given the love and compassion that is their birthright. It’s hard to imagine denying a young life the comfort of touch, but we see it every day. From those abandoned with AIDS on the streets of Africa to the cases of abuse we see on our local news each evening, children are suffering worldwide without the comfort of touch.

As a caring parent, you know touch is the tool of love. But as a massage therapist, you know more than most how important touch can be to the developmentally and physically disabled, to the abused, to the abandoned and unloved, to the socially challenged, to the scared and scarred and, of course, to the average, healthy child. It’s a simple message with resounding impact: touch heals.

Tiffany Field, Ph.D., the undisputed expert in the field of touch and children from the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, has devoted the majority of her research to this very area. Her studies on massage and preterm infants are renowned for opening the door to massage as a researchable, therapeutic tool for health, but her other work with children has reminded us just how important the simplest touch can be. Her group continues to lead the way in new avenues of research.

And it’s not just Swedish massage that’s making a difference with children. All sorts of bodywork therapies are having an impact. Within these pages we’ve talked in the past about energy work and its effects on the childhood disorder of craniosynostosis, we’ve witnessed the comfort massage brings to terminally ill children and we recently explored how a form of reiki helped a young cerebral palsy client.
Fortunately, more is being tried every day. Just as you’ll see in this issue’s article on Jonathan Clark and his work with autism or Jeff Bisdee’s efforts to bring Watsu into the therapeutic mainstream at his clinic, therapists are not afraid to match therapy with condition to find a suitable and healthful outcome.

As mentioned earlier, we’re not just talking about children with physical and emotional challenges. We’re also talking about the benefits of touch on the healthy child. We know touch can create stronger bonds between parent and child, and that without it, children fail to thrive.

We also know, however, touch has become virtually taboo in our American schools. Teachers are afraid to touch students, to give a comforting pat on the back, or a hug when the child is distressed, for fear of how it will be interpreted. Touch, unfortunately, can be abused and has, and the result is a society where fathers are even afraid to give their young daughters a bath. How can we counteract this dilemma? Teach and practice healthy touch.

Around the world, we are seeing programs where children learn to massage each other in preschool, we are seeing teens prone to violence take another path through healthy touch and we need only take a look at indigenous cultures to see how touch can be revered and respected within the family.

There is so much more to learn and so much more to do; it’s obvious the surface has only been scratched. We know touch is an incredible thing. How will you let it impact your world and your clients’ world? What correlations have you made in your work with children?

Below is just a smattering of published studies regarding children and massage from the Touch Research Institute. Its Web site - www.miami.edu/touch-research/index.html - is one massage therapists should keep their eyes on.

• Asthma: Field, T., Henteleff, T., Hernandez-Reif M., Martinez, E., Mavunda, K., Kuhn C., & Schanberg S. (1998). Children with asthma have improved pulmonary functions after massage therapy. Journal of Pediatrics, 132, 854-858.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Field, T., Quintino, O. & Hernandez-Reif, M., & Koslovsky, G. (1998). Adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder benefit from massage therapy. Adolescence, 33, 103-108.
Autistic Children: Field, T., Lasko, D, Mundy, P., Henteleff, T., Talpins, S., & Dowling, M. (1997). Autistic children's attentiveness and responsivity improve after touch therapy. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 27, 333-338.
Cocaine Exposed Newborns: Scafidi, F., Field, T., Wheeden, A., Schanberg, S., Kuhn, C., Symanski, R., Zimmerman, E., & Bandstra, E. S. (1996). Cocaine-exposed preterm neonates show behavioral and hormonal improvements after massage. Pediatrics, 97, 851-855.
Cystic Fibrosis: Hernandez-Reif, M., Field, T., Krasnegor, J., & Martinez, E. (1999). Cystic fibrosis symptoms are reduced with massage therapy intervention. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 24, 183-189.
Diabetes: Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., LaGreca A., Shaw, K., Schanberg, S., & Kuhn, C. (1997). Massage therapy lowers blood glucose levels in children with diabetes mellitus. Diabetes Spectrum 10, 237-239.
HIV Exposed Newborns: Scafidi, F. & Field, T. (1997). Massage therapy improves behavior in neonates born to HIV positive mothers. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 21, 889-897.
Preterm Infants Develop Better: Field, T., Scafidi, & Schanberg, S. (1987). Massage of preterm newborns to improve growth and development. Pediatric Nursing, 13, 385-387.


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