As you likely know by now, our youngest daughter has Spina Bifida. We do a substantial amount of weekly therapy and in January we had the opportunity to attend our first intensive therapy session at Napa Denver. Intensive therapy is different than weekly therapy because you attend every day for several hours each day for three weeks. The goal is to “overload” your child with therapy to achieve an increase in strength and skills quickly. Some kids can gain more progress toward their goals in three weeks than they would in 12 months of traditional therapy. I won’t keep you guessing and just tell you now that our Napa intensive experience was wonderful. We saw drastic changes in our daughter and ultimately it’s what got her walking with her walker consistently. In this blog I’d like to give a quick recap of our intensive time and a few tips for any families preparing for their own intensive therapy session.
Since Bryn is only two, our intensive consisted of two hours of therapy each day – one hour of DMI/PT and one hour of OT. Most kids do 3-6 hours each day which makes them total rockstars in my book. If you are a weekly Napa kid, you should expect to get different therapists for your intensive then you have weekly. I was initially a little worried about this because Bryn does not typically do well with new people. Once we got going I understood better that it’s truly a gift to have another incredible therapist take a look at your child and be able to push them in different ways then what they are used to.
I imagine that each therapist runs their sessions different, but for us, it was always a mix of things we were working consistently on each day and new exercises. They used a variety of techniques (obstacle courses, whole body vibration, DMI floats, etc.) to keep Bryn interested and challenged. Before we began, we talked about certain goals we had in mind for Bryn and what it would look like to accomplish them.
As I said before, the intensive is three weeks long. The first week was basically Bryn getting used to her new therapists, their exercises, and the way they run their sessions. She pushed back a lot this week and was often unhappy. The second week she was much more comfortable and seemed to understand that we would be there every day of the week. The third week was when she started to settle in, do more of the hard work, and have more fun with it.
At the end of the three weeks, your therapists take the time to make sure you are comfortable with the at-home exercises they are giving you. They also take the time to celebrate your child and all of their hard work in a really personal and special way.
Tips From Our First Intensive
- Bring extra toys – Bryn needed constant motivation to do what was being asked of her. I can see that as she gets older this may subside some as she understands therapy more, or maybe she will just acquire a longer attention span. Of course the Napa center has a million toys and you are in no way required to bring your own. For Bryn though, we would choose 3-4 different toys each session and go through them all in the first 30 minutes. The remaining 20 minutes we relied on things I brought from home that I knew she liked and of course her favorite music from my phone.
- Motivate however you need to – AND DON’T FEEL GUILTY ABOUT IT. Putting that in all caps because I am just now coming around to the idea. If your kid needs the promise of a cake pop to get through a session then they should get a cake pop. If your kid needs to “watch” a show while in therapy, by all means start it up. If you are so lucky to get to sing the same song over and over and over to keep your kid going then it’s your lucky day. 😉 This is hard work our kids are putting in and they deserve to be rewarded for that and we deserve to not feel guilty about it.
- Take care of yourself – Following up on the last two tips, you have got to watch out for yourself as the parent during the intensive. While it’s not as much physical work for you as it is for your child, it is incredibly hard mentally. Most of the families attending these intensives will have traveled in for them, possibly raised the money to do so, put their lives on hold to be there, and sacrificed a lot. You are then getting your kid to the Napa center (sometimes forcing them) to do hard work for several hours of the day while you sit by. You may even be their main source of motivation during those hours. It can feel like the success or failure of the intensive is on you. It’s also unbelievably hard to watch your kid put in the hard work struggling to do things that come easy to most other kids. It was highly emotional for me. Lean on the other Napa parents and therapists. They are wonderful in so many ways and are the only ones that can understand what you are going through. Treat yourself to whatever it is that will lift your spirts and keep you going. Use your own therapy and self care to make sure you are taken care of.
- Give your child a break – Maybe this changes as your child grows and can handle more without a nap, but we were instructed to let Bryn rest each day after her two hours were done. We did some spinal stim here and there and we would put her in the stander depending on how tired she was. We did not follow any sort of strict schedule. We gave her regular epsom salt baths to help her body be at its best. We also let her have a bad day if she was having one and didn’t push too hard.
- Understand the process – I read a few tips about how the intensive was going to work and what your child would gain from it before ours started. I did not fully understand it until it was over and maybe not even until we were a month past it. Your child will work incredibly hard during the three weeks and they will certainly gain skills and strength from everything they are doing. With that said, you will NOT see changes overnight. You have to understand that it’s a long game and you cannot get your hopes up to meet milestones during the intensive. In general, the intensive will do a beautiful job of setting your child up for future success, which is exactly how it worked for us! Our daughter is leaps and bounds ahead of where she was before the intensive in gross motor development and also just in overall personal growth.
- You will want to do another intensive – When we were wrapping up our first intensive, we asked what we should expect for the rest of the year. Our therapist told us that they recommend 3-4 intensives per year! We were so burnt out and had relied so heavily on our family to make this one happen, we couldn’t imagine doing even one more that year. But after only one week I was already ready to do it again! The Napa center is so sought after, I don’t expect we will be able to do another intensive this year. But… if there is an opening, we are ready!