Mary Atkinson is from Chichester, West Sussex. She is listed on the FHT’s Accredited Register of Complementary Therapists, offering aromatherapy and reflexology.
Mary is the author of several books on massage and runs FHT accredited CPD courses. She is co-founder (with Sandra Hooper) of a therapeutic intervention for children called Story Massage. This combines the creativity of storytelling with the benefits of positive and respectful touch.
Story Massage has been used successfully with many children in the UK and abroad, including those experiencing trauma in the aftermath of the tsunami in Japan, and the recent earthquake in Nepal.
This case study focuses on the use of Story Massage in Westfield School in Leominster, near Hereford. It is a maintained Special School for 50 pupils with severe or complex learning difficulties within the age range 4 to 19 years. Mary and Sandra worked with Nicky Morris, a teacher in Hedgehog Class (4 to 8 Years), with children experiencing physical, social and learning difficulties. This case study focuses on those children with specific learning difficulties facing individual problems including lack of engagement, low self-esteem, verbal dyspraxia, disturbed sleep patterns and tactile defensive behaviour around unexpected touch.
Story Massage is given through clothes, and no oils are used. In many schools or organisations, this is a child-on-child activity but at Westfield School, the teachers and teaching assistants have parental permission to use Story Massage with the children.
The pupils at Westfield have a wide range of complex needs and we have found that Story Massage brings benefits for all pupils. Story massage is very effective and very easy to put in place across a school. The main benefits at Westfield Special School have been increased levels of engagement; understanding and acceptance of appropriate touch; peer working across phases; and enhancement of the literacy curriculum.
Nicki Gilbert, Head Teacher, Westfield School
With the consent of parents, 5-10 minute Story Massage sessions were introduced into the school day for the 12 children in Hedgehog Class. Massage stories were created using the ten simple massage strokes to accompany familiar stories such as Jack and the Beanstalk and The Little Red Hen. These were presented on a PowerPoint presentation with colourful pictures. Story Massage strokes were adapted for use on different areas of the body that are safe and appropriate for each individual. Children were invited to engage in the activity in whichever way was most meaningful for them on that particular day. Some enjoyed giving and receiving the strokes, whilst others preferred to sit and watch the pictures, say the words out loud or make actions in the air.
After a week of regular Story Massage sessions, the children were engaging more fully in the activity. Parents were invited in to the school to find out more about Story Massage and they were keen to be involved as they could see the potential benefits for their children. A new massage story was introduced every two weeks and parents were given copies to use at home. After a month of daily Story Massage sessions in the classroom and at home, the children were showing noticeable improvements that have continued and developed over the academic year. One of the most significant changes has been a sense of calm in the classroom after a session, with children feeling more relaxed and able to concentrate.
Story Massage is now a popular part of the school day with pupils choosing their favourite massage stories and engaging in the activity according to their ability. It is now used in all the classes in the school, bringing individual benefits for learners ranging in age from 4 to 19.
After an academic year, the pupils in Hedgehog Class showed these specific benefits:
- A boy can now sleep at night if he has a Story Massage at bedtime.
- Another child who is tactile defensive has gradually started to accept touch after being introduced to Story Massage. He is now happy to accept touch in other situations too.
- A girl has autism and fleeting attention in all situations. Story Massage has helped her concentration and engagement with story books.
- A boy with verbal dyspraxia and has gradually started to read the story at the same time as the massage takes place. This has boosted his confidence and self-esteem.
- For several children the combination of words and touch has helped them to remember a sequence of events, actions or words.
Three key points:
- Story Massage can help bring a sense of calm to children with specific learning difficulties;
- Story Massage can help encourage meaningful engagement in activities;
- Story Massage can help autistic children understand and accept appropriate touch.