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Peace In Our Hands™

Healthy Family Living's™
dove logo is formed by three human hands, representing that our programs are about relationships expressing the
Peace In Our Hands™

Why HFL's Work is Needed Today

Caring, respectful touch is vitally important to babies and young children. Beyond its role in babies’ physical care, giving and receiving touch is one of the primary ways parents and babies form secure, loving attachments. When parent-infant attachment is healthy, the benefits literally last a lifetime. As Dr. Daniel Siegel notes in The Developing Mind, “Human connections create neuronal connections. The quality of attachment has a direct affect on the development of the domains of mental functioning that serve as our conceptual anchor points: memory, narrative, emotion, representations, and states of mind. Attachment relationships serve to create a central foundation from which the mind develops. Insecure attachment may serve as a significant risk factor in the development of psychopathology. Secure attachment appears to confer a form of emotional resilience and makes healthy self-regulation possible.”

Most parents love their babies and do their best to care for them, but they simply may not know how to create the healthiest possible relationship. Child development expert Dr. Bruce Perry, Senior Fellow at the Child Trauma Academy in Houston, Texas, says that a majority of attachment problems stem not from abusive parents, but from parental ignorance of how to provide optimal care during early childhood. He estimates that one in three infants have an impaired attachment with their primary caregiver. These infants grow into adults who have difficulty in intimate relationships. Years of psychotherapy may be required to undo the damage caused in a few crucial months in early childhood.

Even parents who intuitively attune to their babies needs and form good relationships can benefit from learning Touch Communication infant massage. Research shows that babies who regularly receive massage sleep more deeply, suffer fewer digestive upsets, and are more content and secure over all. Family stress levels are reduced and quality of life enhanced as a result.

How do AFHFL programs support healthy, loving parent-child relationships? Both of our programs, the certification training for Instructors of Infant Massage, and Deepening Interactions with Families and Their Children with Special Needs, provide extensive practice in developing the ability to be empathetically “present” with parents and children, to attune to the their cues and needs. AFHFL program participants learn to model respect and compassion by listening carefully to parents and responding to their concerns. They develop the ability to guide parents in “reading” their children’s facial expressions, body language, and emotional tone, and help parents access a relaxed, caring frame of mind when enjoying TC with their children. Parents learn to adapt TC timing, stroking, rhythm and pace to the ever-evolving needs of their growing child.

Dr. Perry affirms that parent-infant attunement can be taught. Dr. Siegel describes attunement as “that state where one feels understood and in communication at the deepest level. It is nonverbal, and between infants and parents depends on the parent’s sensitivity to the infant’s signals. This ‘essence of secure attachment’ describes how two people’s ‘being’ with each other permits emotional communication and a sense of connection to be established at any age.” AFHFL-trained teachers help parents and their children join in the “dance of attunement” that nurtures loving relationships.

Children and families with special needs require compassionate, skillful support. Unfortunately, the number of infants and children with special needs is growing in California and elsewhere in the United States. Center for Disease Control data shows that 17% of all children in the US suffer from developmental disabilities (physical, cognitive, psychological, sensory, or speech impairment.) Statewide, about 14% of all babies born suffer from alcohol or drug exposure. The incidence of low birth weight babies and premature births has increased steadily since the 1980s. The M.I.N.D. Institute at University of California Davis Medical Center reported in October 2002 that the rate of childhood autism has increased 273% in California from 1987 – 1998; the National Institute for Child Health and Development reports national autism rates of 1 in 500 to 1 in 1000, increasing 10-17% per year. Other neurobehavioral disorders are also on the rise.

It can be especially challenging for parents to understand their premature, drug exposed, brain impaired, autistic, or medically fragile children, as their behavior can be erratic or disorganized. Parents of children with special needs often suffer from guilt, fear about the child’s future, and reluctance to love a child who may die. Parents who have been abused or neglected themselves may have little or no understanding of how to relate to their children. Expert guidance and support by Early Intervention specialists trained to adapt Touch Communication to a spectrum of special needs is essential for these families. As the HFL instructor teaches the parent to “read” their special needs child’s expressions, and the child learns that the parent is attuned and listening, their shared communication enhances the child’s interpersonal, emotional, mental and physical health and development. Through TC, parent and child deepen their understanding and so deepen their attachment.

Special needs expert Dr. Elise Elliott writes: “Massage therapy has been found to improve the clinical course of children with all sorts of medical problems, including asthma, diabetes, cancer, autism, skin problems, juvenile arthritis, eating disorders, and other psychiatric syndromes.” Studies show that infant massage classes can dramatically reduce child abuse. An example: in a 1997 program in Douglas County, Oregon, infant massage was taught to families at risk of abuse by social service staff during the project year; confirmed cases of abuse dropped from 104 to 15. The demand for Early Intervention specialists who can support special needs families through Touch Communication is strong and growing.

Sometimes “miracles” occur through Touch Communication: Andrew’s Story
When Danni Verona, HFL Special Needs program trainer and occupational therapist, met Andrew and his mom, his behavior was consistent with his autism diagnosis --- he often yelled, acted erratically, and avoided physical contact and human interaction. Over three months, Danni and Andrew’s mom gradually introduced Touch Communication to the toddler. Andrew learned to voluntarily lie down on his special pillow and rest peacefully while his mom gave him a full body massage, using the rather quick pace she discovered Andrew liked best. In contrast to non-autistic children, Andrew didn’t look at his mom throughout the session. But on this day, as her hands stroked smoothly up his neck and cradled his face, he looked into her eyes and gave her an open, sunny smile. Afterward, Andrew engaged in a lively game of “chase and catch me” with his mom, playing happily in a way that had once seemed impossible.
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