Skateboarding as therapy.

“Push To Heal” verbally articulates and visually demonstrates the connections between skateboarding and neuroscience, and highlights skateboarding as an activity that can heal the human brain from past trauma.

This short film, made in association with Hull Services and the ChildTrauma Academy, provides a snapshot of how and why skateboarding should be viewed as a viable option as part of a new kind of therapy for high needs children based in Bruce Perry‘s psychiatric research. His clinical practice focuses on examining the long-term effects of trauma in children, adolescents, and adults and has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain. Basically, Dr. Perry and his staff have designed a process for creating brain maps of children who have experienced chronic or complex trauma. The maps can identify specific areas of the brain that have not been adequately nurtured and, in fact, may have been wounded.

Bruce Perry’s framework is called “Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics”. This approach often involves patterned, repetitive somatosensory activities that help develop the child’s capacity for self-regulation before moving on to therapies that will help with more relational-related problems and then developmentally further into more cognitive-behavioral based approaches. Somatic senses include the sense of touch, proprioception (sense of position and movement), and haptic perception (which according to James Gibson is “the perception of the individual in the world adjacent to his body through the use of his own body”). As I have written before our mind is a product of our body, therefore our cognitive development arises through our movements while experiencing the world.

So by following the Neurosequential Model the staff at Hull Services, a charitable organization in Canada, began noticing that skateboarding contributed immensely to the children’s progress and wellbeing. This is a new treatment alternative for anyone working with high needs kids, and is a tool for advocacy in terms of the general benefits of skateboarding to individuals and society. As Joel Pippus, School Transition Counselor at Hull Services, says the time spent in the skatepark seemed to be having a positive impact on the overall treatment kids were receiving and began referring to time at the skatepark as helpful in that process.

In “Push to Heal” Dr. Emily Wang (Director of Trauma Informed Services, Hull Services) shares their fascinating research into how skateboarding fits within the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutic Care. Skateboarding, due to its social aspects and high sensory stimuli, can help to create regulation in the lower domains of the brain (the brainstem and the diencephalon), which in turn effects positive changes within the higher regions of the brain (the limbic system and the neocortex); enabling development that can be beneficial for people suffering from dysregulation due to trauma and prolonged stress.

Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics

Skateboarding itself incorporates many different sensory stimuli—vibrations, sounds, motion, speed, the wind against your face—and demands multiple skills such as balance, strength, coordination and agility. Couple these with the social aspects of skating within a skatepark or in a taught session, and you also have to think about etiquette, social keys, body language and communication. All of this accumulates as an all-encompassing experience that is highly regulating for the body and brain. This information is processed initially in the brainstem and the various different aspects mean that the diencephalon, limbic system and the neocortex are all receiving positive and soothing stimuli. By allowing the brain to function in this way, you are creating the perfect environment for self-regulation; enabling yourself to learn new skills and manage complex emotions.

At Hull Services they also make use of “Milieu Therapy” an attempt to bring about therapeutic change by the manipulation of the environments. So by utilizing the skatepark as a specially designed place in which therapeutic events and interactions occur, social skills are enhanced and the patient can build his/her confidence. This way,  by using skateboarding as a tool, a warm and welcoming space can be created to learning and living. As social worker James K. Whittaker says, the living environment becomes both a means and a context for growth and change informed by a culture that stresses learning through living.

As we have seen, definitely skateboarding has the power to change lives with projects like this and others (Skateistan, Free Movement, Unity Queer Skateboarding or Fast Brains Academy). So please do yourself a favour and watch this wonderful movie to understand the power of our brain on sports…

*(Picture: skateboarder pushing himself through the city, photo by Fred Mortagne).

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