Holistic approach and reflexology for adults on autistic spectrum
My name is Monika Frackowiak and I’ve been treating clients using complementary therapies for over 7 years now. It is exciting, varied and perhaps the most relaxing job I’ve ever had. I utilise multiple strategies which enables me to offer effective treatments for a range of clients. In particular, those who are less independent, less mobile, survivors of serious illness, those with a terminal illness diagnosis and autistic spectrum clients.
Does working with clients on the autistic spectrum bring unique challenges?
All my clients are unique and I always develop a treatment plan which will be most beneficial for each individual, but yes there are particular challenges which autism brings. Firstly, the client may not be able to express themselves, what their problems are, or have a detailed conversation regarding problems and types of treatment. So, the initial consultation may be with a parent or other care provider. Secondly, it is important during treatment to enable the client to be who they are, for me to accept their behaviours and to observe their verbal and non-verbal signs to ensure I am aware of what they are not comfortable with, to ensure they can tolerate and enjoy the treatment.
Can you give us an example of a client you work with?
Yes, I can tell you about Hilary*
I firstly had a consultation with Hilary’s mother who told me her daughter was autistic and in her 30s. Mum was looking for a therapy which would improve Hilary’s IBS symptoms and anxiety and hopefully improve her sleep. Ideally she wanted it to help her to feel better overall. We agreed I would provide 30 minute weekly or bi-weekly treatments. Following the consultation I developed a treatment plan and the sessions started with reflexology as there is a great connection between our gut and the brain. The digestive system is easily upset, often due to stress.
Reflexology is one of the most holistic treatments I offer with physical, mental and emotional benefits. It is a zone therapy which opens the “zones” (the energetic channels that run vertically through the body) in order to connect reflexes located on the feet to get a response in the body. It is based on alternating reflex stimulation and relaxation techniques. Regular treatments bring balance and harmony into our health and well-being.
I needed to work slowly with Hilary and to ensure that she was comfortable staying in the room and on the bed. Whilst treating her we talked and I found out about her interests and music taste, I always play her favourite music. As she likes to draw I provide drawing materials too, to stop her becoming bored and restless.
As with many people on the autistic spectrum she has sensory sensitivities and has very sensitive feet. Initially she kept her socks on during treatment and she wasn’t so comfortable with me working on the top of her feet. We made a deal that I would work on the soles of her feet and she would continue the session. She loved it, I had listened to her and trust was building between us.
As I developed rapport so the treatment progressed. Once she was comfortable with working barefoot I introduced aromatherapy by asking about her favourite fruit and flowers to find aromas she would like. A combination of reflexology with aromatherapy gives great results and a rather swift and positive response of the body to the external stimuli.
Benefits of my unique sessions
For the first 2 sessions Hilary’s Mum came in the room. Hilary was distanced initially but allowed me to treat her. Fast forward to now and Hilary is a happy and relaxed client, attending the session on her own and engaging with me. She is motivated to come back and willing to let me expand the treatment I give her. This means I can reduce more symptoms; she enjoys and notices this and is becoming more relaxed and sometimes sleepy and sleeps better at home too. Hilary’s toe nails were short and bleeding due to her being unable to stop picking them a lot, but she doesn’t do this anymore, they’ve grown and Mum feels this is a really important improvement.
As a therapist I consider having a gentle, understanding, empathetic and adaptable approach is essential for successfully treating adults with autism. It’s a win win! The client enjoys the sessions and has improved health. I find it enjoyable and stimulating to work with autistic clients and have the satisfaction of knowing I’m making a difference, which at the end of the day is why I’m in this job!