Ideas to help babies in orphanages physically and emotionally
Working with Babies in Orphanages
During recent years Agnes Wenham has been working in orphanages for babies. She teaches nurses and therapists basic professional baby exercises to overcome the paucity and limitation of movements in weight-bearing joints, suffered by most of the orphaned babies. She also shows how to address the postural faults seen in some of them. To get good results she stresses the importance of daily exercise sessions for gaining the desired results before the infants are nine months old.
The following article from the South African Society of Physiotherapy’s newsletter, Physio FORUM December 2004-January 2005 describes work with babies with urgent needs
Babies in trouble
Due to loss of father and mother through AIDS a very large and increasing number of babies suffer seriously in our orphanages, writes Agnes Wenham.
In time-honoured fashion, babies deprived of their mothers are brought to orphanages for security, food and cleanliness. Because of financial constraints, there is always just a minimum of trained and untrained staff in these homes, although visitors are welcome to cuddle the babies. When you look at these babies they are touchingly sweet and beautiful. What strikes you as a little unusual is the lengthy look at you, pointedly… searchingly… wondering whether you might be the mother they so desperately need. When I assessed these babies before giving them baby exercises, I was struck by the fact that they were all (practically 80%) quite unusually stiff. In the three homes I have worked to date, I could only half-lift their little arms, their hands were, most of the time, fisted, the legs often unusually crossed and stiff. Because all the babies were judged as medically healthy, their muscles could only be tight from the agony of missing their mothers. A few of them with the HIV virus are expected not to live, nowadays. When my helpers and I gave the babies basic N-N* exercised three times a week, combined with posture promoting and generally stimulating Orthotoys**, the doctors, matrons, nurses and myself were always surprised by the babies’ progress. Within weeks, sometimes days, they started to play with little toys, moved their legs in preparation to stand, and were heard to make the first babbling noises. At Ethembeni (House of Hope), an orphanage of the Salvation Army with 45 babies, I started a short course in baby exercises and the use of Orthotoys this year. I teach those who already have a medical backgound and look forward to showing a nurse of two in other orphanages how you can arrange to give daily special exercises and encouragement.
In this present disastrous emergency, we already have over sixty orphanages in Johannesburg, South Africa, for babies and urgently need more. Today we know how often deep and repeated bad experiences in babyhood are the reason for lasting psychological problems in childhood and adulthood. We can’t undo the loss of parents but we can and must give deeply troubled infants the therapeutic and encouraging attention they urgently need. If we don’t do this there is little doubt that we will have to face an increase of emotionally disturbed children and adults in our midst, who tend to be troubled and give trouble in many ways, who need special teaching and special arrangements. Dr John Bolby, the well-known English psychologist and psychiatrist for children pointed out to the United Nations in 1956 that this would be much more costly than providing added care in baby homes and orphanages. It seems to me that these homes have an urgent need for a motherly assistant matron, with some helpers who can attend to the daily emotional and physical needs of each and every infant. What we have learned – to put all babies on a big mat once a day to encourage their movements – is no longer enough. These troubled infants do not kick or turn over. They are depressed and well documented as being behind in all the normal milestones. Even in the very best of the homes, they weigh less, move less, smile less, cry less and babble less. This month, I am pleased to say that the committee of Ethembeni offered me a second room in which to install new, stimulating and posture-promoting Orthotoys for their babies. It is easier to show nurses and helpers how to use equipment than to teach basic baby exercises. Orthotoys could be made in protected workshops for many orphanages. This is one reason why I am seeking more financial support to offer more therapeutic assistance in orphanages.
* D Neuman-Neurode, the originator of promotive, preventive and corrective baby exercises. He was asked by doctors to open a state-registered school in Berlin (1920-1945).
** Simple gymnastic equipment I have designed on orthopaedic principles and shown at many international congresses for physiotherapists and doctors of orthopaedic and sports medicine.