In August 2013 magicians Bruce Glen and Sam Angelico with occupational therapist Ashleigh Hines and CEO Maggie Haertsch undertook training with Breathe Arts Health Research in the UK. The team learned the techniques of their Breathe Magic program so that the program can now be available in Australia for young people with hemiplegia. Ashleigh Hines will be undertaking her PhD on this work so that we understand more about it’s therapeutic benefits in an Australian context. She has shared with us her journey.

There is only one word that can describe my experience with the Arts Health Institute so far and that is magical! My journey began in August 2013 in London where I attended two magic clubs for children run by Breathe Arts Health Research. I observed the hard work and enjoyment of children with Cerebral Palsy learning magic tricks to increase their bimanual hand use. I also observed the magical finesse of famous Magicians and learnt from Occupational Therapists (OTs) who have specialist knowledge on motor patterns.
Together, a fantastic team has developed, with a unique opportunity for a fun and therapeutic bimanual intervention.

The children attending these clubs have a diagnosis of Spastic Hemiplegia, causing stiffness, spasticity and sensory loss to one side of the body, particularly the upper limb. These children experience difficulty with many tasks that require precise and coordinated movements of both their hands. These children are often slow at completing a task, implementing a range
of compensatory tasks to try and get the job done with their unaffected limb. Of course, two hands are better than one. The whole theme of the magic club is, firstly to have fun and to learn magic, but also to encourage the use and movements of both of the child’s hands.
OTs work with children with hemiplegia to increase the use of their affected hand so that the children are more able to participate independently in activities of daily life. The goals that these children want to achieve are usually quite simple, for example opening a packet of chips, buttering bread or holding the shampoo bottle while putting shampoo into the other open hand. These are simple tasks that we often take for granted. At the magic clubs, the motivation to practice and perform magic provides implicit encouragement to use both hands throughout the day. All the magic tricks taught have been specially chosen because of the unique movements and positions they require both hands to be in, and for both hands to work together – otherwise there is no magic.

The impact the magic club has, including the magic performance at the end of the two-week program, is staggering. Many of the children made great gains in the use of both their hands in everyday tasks straight after the club as well as three months after. Research continues to be undertaken by Dido Green (an OT) and colleagues in collaboration with Breathe Arts Health Research in London, and we at the Arts Health Institute have been given the gift to bring the magic to Australia.

We will also be undertaking research to make sure the program is encouraging bimanual hand use, and we are also aiming to look into the psychological gains the club offers as well. This is a very exciting time for the Arts Health Institute and I feel so lucky to be a part of it!

Ashleigh HinesOccupational Therapist, and PhD candidate