by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Imagine never leaving your crib until you were 7 years old. No cuddling, no crawling and climbing, no playing or interacting with others. There’s a young girl I’ll call Sally living in a local orphanage that was rescued from that life. Think of all the growth and development that takes place before reaching the age of 7. These are the years when you learn how to interact with your environment and the people around you. Crawling, climbing and then walking are also a huge part of early development. This is when the muscles and coordination starts to develop. The physical development isn’t the only area affected by this type of neglect this is also a time of emotional development. With minimal to no social interaction a large void exists, it’s hard to develop a sense of self worth or love if no one shows you any type of love or affection. It’s almost like spending the first 7yrs of your life in solitary confinement.
When Sally was removed from that environment and moved to the orphanage she could move around in her crib but her muscles were very weak and underdeveloped. Since she had recieved almost no socialization her speech was impaired and she could only talk baby talk. At first no one knew exactly what to do. The director consulted with a local child psychologist that told him since she missed her infancy treat her like a baby as that’s what she needs, assuring him that Sally would grow out of it. Though everyone at the orphanage were sceptical they followed the Dr.’s advice. To everyones surprise it seemed to work. slowly Sally began to walk more and her speech began to improve, though she was still far behind other children her age. Soon they enrolled her in a ‘special’ school. It was their belief that it would help her to progress, but after a year at the school not much improvement was seen. The next year instead of enrolling her in back in the ‘special’ school the ‘house mother’ took over Sally’s teaching. She made amazing progress and was able to begin 1st grade the next year.
Sally is now 12yrs old and is in 3rd grade. She still has minor issues with speech, coordination, and self esteem, but is making progress. She began taking ballet lessons with the other girls in the orphanage. In the beginning it was almost painful to watch as Sally would try to stand on her toes, pirouette, run and leap gracefully. A few weeks later, with encouragement from both the instructor and her ‘sisters’ at the orphanage she has progressed remarkably. She can now not only stand up on her toes and pirouette, she can also balance on one foot. Her run and leap has also significantly improved.
Physical therapy can come in many ways, it doesn’t always have to involve weights and machines. The ballet classes with her ‘sisters’ has improved both her mobility and coordination. She has also been playing soccer with the other kids.
The staff at the orphanage also decided to move Sally from the girls room to the teenagers room in the hopes that she will start to pick up on the behavior of older girls.
Sally has had to overcome many obstacles in the 5 years she has been at the orphanage. The effects of years of neglect and abuse can’t be resolved in a week or even months, but with a lot of love and encouragement can be overcome. Sometimes the best medicine is the love in your heart, especially when given generously and freely.