Tiny Tim's Legacy by Deborah Sarginson, RMT
Why would you want to come here? I was asked this question again and again when I met the parents of the young patients at Tiny Tim’s Children’s Centre. They did not understand why someone would travel all that way to see rain, rain and more rain. They know that Tiny Tim’s has made a positive impact on their child’s life but did not really understand that it is an exceptional working concept that would be of interest to someone all the way from Canada.
I have always wanted to visit the United Kingdom but the reason I decided to go to Tiny Tim’s was, well…to explain, I need to tell you about Tiny Tim’s Children’s Centre located in Coventry, West Midlands, UK.
Tiny Tim’s Children’s Centre is a registered charity, funded by public donation and the centre itself. It was established in 1997 by Stan Duncombe, a retired osteopath. He noticed that parents of children with disabilities quickly ran out of their National Health
Services coverage for physiotherapy treatments. To continue with private treatments would be very costly for most families. So there was essentially a ‘hole’ for the much needed care for children with disabilities and special needs that needed to be filled. Duncombe thought he could do something about it. Hence, Tiny Tim’s Children’s Centre was born.
When you walk into Tiny Tim’s reception area you can see through the glass doors into the soft play area. Parents or guardians pay £2.80 (approx. $5.60) for their child (under 10 years old) to play for 1 hour ½ in the soft play area called the Purple Planet. Play groups and classes from special needs schools come to play here, also. Parents can watch their children play while visiting with other parents in the cafeteria/viewing area. The Purple Planet is run by trained chef, Sarah Hemings and her cheerful staff who offer healthy snacks and meals in the cafeteria. It is the cafeteria and the birthday parties booked during the off hours that help to fund the treatment area of Tiny Tim’s.
The psychosocial aspect of the Purple Planet is extremely important to a family with a child that has special needs. This is especially true for the family that may not have had any previous knowledge or contact with the condition their family is now dealing with. Here they may interact with other families having similar challenges. More importantly, the child can see what is possible. The child has a chance to get out of their usual environment to explore a different environment, experiment with different textures and explore the play structures.
Patients of Tiny Tim’s can play in the Purple Planet before or after having their treatment. The child (always accompanied by parent or guardian) may then have a session with the physiotherapist and then have a massage. Other complimentary therapies may be offered to the child as needed. Some of the conditions seen at the centre are Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, Autism, Chromosomal Abnormalities, Down’s syndrome, Epilepsy, Juvenile Arthritis and Tourette’s syndrome. Many of the children are even treated to a few songs played on guitar and sung by the Massage Therapist/General Manager, Alan Inger. The children who receive these free treatments range in age from 0 to 18 years of age.
The treatment area, located on the other side of Tiny Tim’s consists of a sensory room for children that need sensory stimulation, a clinic treatment room with 3 treatment tables and a physiotherapy rehabilitation room and an office. At present, plans are in the works to expand the Purple Planet’s cafeteria/parental viewing area and the kitchen to be able to provide more room for the over 3,000 annual visitors.
During my second week at the centre, a very shy 6 year old girl came in with her mom for the first time to meet with Alan to see if she could receive treatments from the centre for the weakness and low tone on the left side of her body. As Alan took the patient history from the mom, the little girl curled around her. Her body language made it clear that she was uncomfortable with the new surroundings and did not want to be there. The little girl did not talk but got her mother to tell us the answers to some questions when asked. She did not want to get on the table for a massage and did not want to leave her mother’s side.
Alan took out his guitar and began to play and sing some children’s songs to her which she obviously enjoyed. Alan asked her if she would like to have her hands massaged, which she seemed unsure about so I asked her if she would like to smell the oil (scented with the essential oil of lavender) which she did. Then I asked her if she would like me to massage her hands with the oil. Her little face lit up and she nodded that she would. I finished massaging her hands and asked if she would like her feet massaged, too. She let me massage her feet but nothing else.
A couple days later she came in with her mom, again. I sat on the table and asked if she would like her hands massaged. She let me massage her hands, most of her arms, feet and lower legs to her knees but nothing else while she semi-reclined on the massage table. Alan played a few songs for her that she seemed to enjoy very much, and then it was time for her physiotherapy session.
The first session began with letting the child jump up and down on a rebounder (small trampoline). She jumped up and down for a few minutes then began her own pattern of scissoring one leg in front of the other. Next, she was asked to jump on one leg then the other. I played a game with her to help build strength in her weak arm. We threw a giant (18”x18”x 18”) die (dice) up over our heads to try to get it to roll to a specific number. Lastly, she played catch with a ball, first two handed then with one hand (her weak side). After the session when Alan was walking the mom and child out, he overheard the little girl say to her mom, ‘I like it here’.
I saw her one more time before I left. She actually undressed to have her massage but still only semi-reclined. She let me massage her feet, legs, hands, arms and her tummy but not her back. She did not want to lie down or relax for her massage. I hope that for her next massage she will progress to having her back massaged, too.
Meeting this little person was a gift and thrilling for me because I learned that I could put the child’s fears to rest (helping her mentally) so that I could help her physically which is in turn helping her spirit to thrive. There are no guarantees but it seems promising that she can be helped with her left side weakness as well as out of her shyness. Sometimes, it takes a few sessions with a child before they trust that you will not harm them. I can understand that most of these little people are terrified when they first come to the centre. Some of them have been poked and prodded by the medical field, in an effort to help them, since they were born and they don’t want any more of it.
Another child, an 11 year old male, who has Muscular Dystrophy (Duchene’s), is in a wheelchair has come in weekly for a massage since he was a baby. This child is very sociable and inquisitive but I think is in constant pain or discomfort. This youngster has to be carefully hoisted out of his wheelchair on to the treatment table. He moans sometimes when he gets massaged on his arms and his legs that are kept bent for comfort but are hypertonic with some edema. He receives a visceral abdominal massage for the constipation that he suffers from. He doesn’t like it very much but he knows it helps him. I gave him a face massage to finish off with the last time he was in. He closed his eyes and fell asleep. The face massage is his reward and is so very relaxing to him. This child, I suspect, does not have a mother figure in his life. As a mother myself I feel that this child benefited from interacting and being touched by a mom.
These are just two of the many children I massaged during my three week practicum. Sometimes, it pulls on your heart to know what these little people and their families go through daily to survive. The parents and/or sometimes the grandparents of almost every child that I massaged briefly told me their story and how much Tiny Tim’s has helped their child/grandchild. These parents are very grateful for the centre and the difference it has made in the child’s life. I have met some lovely brave little people and their families which have been very rewarding. It has made such an impact on me that I would like to utilize the knowledge gained during my time at Tiny Tim’s in my own practice here in Manitoba, Canada. I am not sure what form it will take on but I will be working with children who have disabilities and special needs.
So, when one of the children or their parents asked me why I came to England, I told them ‘I came here to meet you. I came here to learn from you so I can help children in Canada.’ That is why I came to Tiny Tim’s Children’s Centre.
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Deborah Sarginson, RMT offers Massage Therapy in the peaceful atmosphere of a quiet family neighbourhood.
Call to book your massage: 204-293-6850