The power of reflexology for SEND children


How symptoms associated with non-neuro typical children, autistic spectrum disorders or those diagnosed with developmental delay or learning deficits can benefit from regular reflexology

Global delay & learning deficits

My son, was diagnosed with a ‘global delay’ early on due to having hypermobile joints and low muscle tone. He didn’t walk until he was almost three and all developmental progress was slow. His first tooth finally appeared at 14 months and the entire process was agonising for everyone. 

‘Global delay’ is the term used when a child isn’t hitting developmental milestones in one or more areas.  With my son it included gross motor (due to low muscle tone), which led to fine motor challenges (creating issues with self-care and eating). As well as speech & language delays. It seemed across the board he wasn’t quite where he needed to be. 

Toilet training struggles


At the age of almost five, it became apparent he had digestive transit issues as well. He had always presented with a slightly distended tummy but he was having regular bowl movements and no one had voiced any concerns. However, despite successful toilet training with No’ 1,sorting No’2 was proving to be a considerable challenge. It was after months of getting nowhere, I managed a referral to his consultant at the hospital who upon extensive examination and a number of X-Rays diagnosed ‘severe faecal impaction’. Despite regular movements, what we had seen was an overflow scenario and he was literally ‘full of it’ from top to bottom.

The PACE clinic at our local hospital had over 250 kids on the books at that time, in our area alone, with parents suffering the same situation. Ours was a particularly severe case and it would take over a year to sort – possibly a lot longer and there were no guarantees! 

Faecal Impaction

We set about a programme of careful nutrition, a gluten free diet, pints of a drug called Movicol (to loosen the stools) and daily reflexology. Having trained with the Bayly School of Reflexology back in 2004, I had long used my knowledge to help with his various childhood symptoms, but my experience really came into its own with this situation. 

I would stimulate the colon, lymph system and intestine reflexes on a daily basis (sometimes twice daily) and to the astonishment of the consultants, Santi was clear and toilet trained in under a year. It took significant effort with added extras such as juicing raw beetroots before school (to aid digestion). He had many days out of school and on the days he did go, he took up to seven changes of trousers and pants with him for his Teaching Assistants to deal with the inevitable. At times of major ‘clear out’ he was kept out of school, it took three stints of up to 8 pints of Movicol Paediatric a day to fully break and evacuate it all.  I did not use nappies – as in the long term it would set us back with toilet training. It was SO tough, looking back I don’t know how we got through but the pain was worthwhile. The regime worked. 

Had it not been for my knowledge of anatomy and very careful management of his diet and fluid intake as well as reflexology he would no doubt still have issues. We met many children with parents along the way, I always tried to offer as much guidance as I could and encourage them to carefully manage nutrition. My results came from my full commitment to the regime. It is my belief, that had I not been able to complement the medical treatment with Reflexology and stimulating the bowel, we would not have arrived to the healthy boy I have today. 

Digestive transit issues associated with special needs kids

My son is not diagnosed with autism or any other ‘syndrome’ but he does attend a special school to help compensate with his learning difficulties.  The challenges we face on a day-to-day basis are similar to children on the spectrum. He has sensory processing challenges and various other developmental and neurological difficulties. Throughout our journey, I have gained an incredible amount of insight, knowledge and experience of the world of SEN (special educational needs), and the struggle that many of the kids and parents face both emotionally and medically. 

For my son, the doctors did not give any concrete explanation of how or why it happened. In my view it is threefold: 1) a slower peristalsis and digestive transit due to muscle tone, 2) less activity in his early years than an average toddler due to hypermobile joints and difficulty moving around, 3) IBS related symptoms due to his various challenges / anxiety playing a factor. 

The picture is similar with many of the other children I have met. It is very common for children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome to suffer from low muscle tone and faecal impaction. It is also very common for children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism (ASD), Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) to suffer from anxiety related gut / brain issues which create IBS type symptoms. 

Reflexology – a little goes a long way


Relaxation, as all of us know, is such a crucial aspect to reducing stress and anxiety related issues. In my experience with non-neuro typical children there are complex issues that result in a host of digestive transit challenges. The brain gut connection is so fundamental. If you consider that people with anxiety related issues suffer from IBS and related problems, then it is logical that children who are stressed - due to sensory challenges - are likely to have similar problems with their gut. Many have very sensitive systems and need a very ‘clean’ diet. It is important that parents are empowered with techniques to combat these situations. By looking at diet and learning some simple reflexology techniques parents can really start to support their child’s digestive transit as well as create a state of calm – which is going to be hugely beneficial. 

Quite often it is impractical to offer a ‘full Reflexology treatment’ to children – especially those with hyperactivity or other challenges. In my experience a small amount of reflexology, on a regular basis can assist in a number of ways. Firstly, the relaxation benefits of treatment as it is incredibly calming, and this is invaluable. Stimulating the solar plexus point provides relaxation, the spine works on the neural pathways, the digestive tract tackles anxiety related IBS symptoms and the lymphatics system increases elimination. This all goes a long way to good health and on small feet can be treated within 10 minutes. 

Every little helps with a child with learning difficulties, developmental delays, special needs or any of the many syndromes and other diagnosis that are appearing. 

Helping parents

Parents of SEND children have to be incredibly resilient.  I think we would all agree that creating a space of calm would be top of our list.  Whilst a full reflexology treatment on us (as parents) would also be wonderful, equipping ourselves with as much knowledge as possible to support our children is often our priority. All we want to do is the best we can for our kids. Reflexology is non-invasive and hugely empowering for SEND parents. Encouraging knowledge share of how Reflexology can help support SEND families is one of the pillar stones behind Raising Spirit.