My new e-book, The JointSmart Child: Living and Thriving With Hypermobility, Volume I, is just about ready to launch. One of the book’s major themes is that safety awareness is something that parents need to actively teach hypermobile young children. Of course, physical and occupational therapists need to educate their parents first. And they shouldn’t wait until things go off the rails to do so.
Hypermobile kids end up falling, tripping, and dropping things so often that most therapists have the “safety talk” with their parents on a regular basis. What they don’t speak about as often are the long-term physical, emotional and social impacts of those injuries.
Yes, injuries have more than immediate physical effects on hypermobile kids. Here is how this plays out:
- The loss of mobility or function after an injury creates more dependency in a little person who is either striving for freedom or unsure that they want to be independent. Needing to be carried, dressed or assisted with toileting when they were previously independent can alter a child’s motivation to the point where they may lose their enthusiasm for autonomy. A child can decide that they would rather use the stroller than walk around the zoo or the mall. They may avoid activities where they were injured, or fear going to therapy sessions.
- A parent’s fear of a repeated injury can be perceived by a child as a message that the world is not a safe place, or that they aren’t capable in the world. Instilling anxiety in a young child accidentally is all too easy. A fearful look or a gasp may be all it takes. Children look to adults to tell them about the world, and they don’t always parse our responses. There is a name for fear of movement, whether it is fear of falling, pain or injury: kineseophobia. This is rarely discussed, but the real-life impact can be significant.
- Repeated injuries produce cumulative damage. Even without a genetic connective tissue disorder such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, the ligaments, tendons, skin and joint capsules of hypermobile children don’t bounce back perfectly from repeated damage. In fact, a cascade of problems can result. Greaster instability in one area can create spasm and more force on another region. Increased use of one limb can produce an overuse injury in the originally non-injured limb. The choice to move less or restrict a child’s activity level can produce unwanted sedentary behavior such as a demand for more screen time or overeating.
- Being seen as “clumsy” or “careless” rather than hypermobile can affect a child’s self-image long after childhood is over. Hypermobile kids grow up, but they don’t easily forget the names they were called or how they were described by others. With or without a diagnosis, children are aware of how other people view them. The exasperated look on a parent’s face when a child lands on the pavement isn’t ignored even if nothing is said.
In my new book, I provide parents with a roadmap for daily life that supports healthy movement and ADL independence while weaving in safety awareness. Hypermobility has wide-reaching affects on young children, but it doesn’t have to be one major problem after another. Practical strategies, combined with more understanding of the condition, regardless of the diagnosis, can make life joyful and full for every child!