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  • Writer's pictureMegan Cottrell

How Craniosacral Can Help School-Age Kids With Speech, Regulation, Head Injuries and More

Updated: Nov 10, 2023


How crainosacral therapy can help school age kids thrive with learning differences, disregulation, concussions, speech therapy, oral function and sensory processing disorder

More and more, parents are realizing how transformative craniosacral therapy can be for their children. For many, bringing their children in for CST sessions has helped them amplify the work they’ve been doing in other areas, like a steroid shot giving their body a boost along the way! Just a few of these areas we’ve noticed lately are mentioned in this article: speech therapy, nervous system regulation, learning differences and concussion support.


Craniosacral Improving Speech Therapy Outcomes for Children


We have relationships with several speech therapists throughout Grand Rapids, especially when working with babies, children or adults who are getting a tongue tie treated. These partnerships have been really interesting and exciting, watching how the two therapies can work together to support oral function.


Recently, Kelly did a couple of lunch and learn events at two local speech therapy clinics that we highly recommend for myofascial support, Duncan Lake Speech Therapy and Building Blocks Therapy Services (meet both of them in our series The Five Ws of Tongue Tie). Several of the therapists noted that referring their clients for craniosacral therapy led to some huge gains in their therapy progress. Kids who had been coming in for a while to work on a specific issue but seemed to have plateaued in their progress saw significant changes and growth after just a few sessions of craniosacral therapy.


Why would that be? Craniosacral therapy can calm the nerves and ease tension throughout the body. The process of speaking includes so many muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons or fascia, and sometimes, there can be some unresolved tension. Tight fascia in the neck or shoulders could actually be pulling on the tongue or cheeks, making it much more difficult for a child to get their mouth into the correct position for optimal oral function. By unlocking that tension with the gentle bodywork of craniosacral therapy, the mouth can relax and more easily perform the correct movements. Craniosacral therapy can help oral function and alignment, allowing the teeth, tongue and lips to rest in the most optimal position. This can also help with airway function and development, allowing children to breathe and sleep better, a key component to short and long term health.


We recently did a Lunch and Learn with therapists from Building Blocks Speech Therapy. Kelly described working with patients that had been referred by Building Blocks, and one of the speech therapists chimed in right away:


“It’s amazing how immediate the shift we see in clients is once they start craniosacral therapy!”


Another therapist chimed with wide eyes, “immediate!”


It was refreshing to see their enthusiasm for the work, how much it supported their efforts and the gains they saw for their clients.


We love helping our clients reach their goals and see the changes they are looking for in their bodies. If you’re wondering if craniosacral therapy can help your child with their speech therapy goals, feel free to reach out to talk with us.


How Craniosacral Therapy Can Help With Nervous System Regulation, Overwhelm, Sensory Processing Disorder and More


It’s no secret that the world is overstimulating! There’s a lot going on. Many kiddos we see have sensory needs and extra support regulating their nervous system. Those needs can present in a variety of ways. Some can be diagnosed as a specific disorder, but oftentimes, we can recognize it in a child’s day to day behavior.


Even as adults, we don’t perform well when our nervous system is disregulated. Think of when you get into a fender bender, discover you forgot to make an important payment, or burned dinner on the stove. In those moments, if someone stopped you to ask you to answer some math questions, you might get them all wrong, or maybe even explode! Children have nervous systems that aren’t finished developing, and due to a variety of factors, sometimes their nervous systems need a little more support staying regulated.


These are some of the behaviors we commonly see in kiddos who need some help regulating their nervous system:

  • Sensory overwhelm - overwhelmed by sounds, tastes, textures, lights, etc.

  • Trouble with impulse control - grabbing, shouting out, etc.

  • Explosions or tantrums

  • Withdrawing or hiding

  • Trouble keeping their body still or focusing


Some of these can be symptoms of something like sensory processing disorder, autism or ADHD, but to some extent, all of those connect to the need to calm the nervous system. Any child who is experiencing these symptoms, whether in the long term or short term, can benefit from strategies that calm the nervous system, like craniosacral therapy.


Nervous system regulation issues can make it really difficult for kids to pay attention, sit still, practice impulse control or navigate social situations. Our nervous system being in a calm state is so essential for us to be able to navigate the world. When our nervous system is in a constant state of stress or heightened awareness, it hijacks our ability to regulate our behavior and responses. Kids may know the rules or how they should respond, but literally can’t, because their brain and body have them on high alert, as if a tiger is chasing them.


Craniosacral therapy is highly beneficial to those with sensory processing disorder or nervous system regulation issues because it works directly with the central nervous system, bringing a state of calm and relaxation. Kids become less reactionary when they are less overwhelmed and are able to respond in a more thoughtful way than they would when they feel threatened or reactive.


The body’s central nervous system regulates our stress state - whether we're relaxed or experiencing fight/flight/freeze due to stress. That, in turn, regulates the autonomic nervous system - all the ways our body responds automatically to stress, like increasing our heart rate, controlling our breathing, dilating our pupils, etc. Craniosacral therapy works to calm the central nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, bringing us out of fight/flight/freeze, and allowing us to relax, think more clearly and engage in meaningful relationships. For more on craniosacral therapy and the central nervous system, check out our post Why Does Craniosacral Therapy Treat Such a Wide Range of Issues?


When the Central Nervous System is in a more regulated state, our senses are less heightened and intense. We also may be able to focus on senses that may be blocked when in a state of fight or flight. This downgrade in intensity is really helpful for children with sensory processing disorder, who are often trying to navigate the world with so much coming at their nervous system!


Craniosacral Therapy Can Help Heal Head Injuries and Concussions and Prevent Long-Term Damage


With increased research on the potential long-term side effects of contact sports like football, parents are increasingly hesitant to allow their children to play these popular sports. While more teams and coaches are taking precautions to prevent head injuries or concussions, they do happen. When they do, craniosacral therapy can help heal any damage and prevent long-term effects. Car accidents are another common cause of head injuries in young people.


A head injury can be so frightening for parents because of the potential long-term consequences and the fact that you can’t see what’s happening. You may notice change in your child’s mood, irritability or sleeping habits. Or you may not see any symptoms at all, but wonder how it could be affecting them.


Our lead therapist and owner, Kelly O’Brien Pahman, has first-hand experience with brain injuries and the healing power of craniosacral therapy. She experienced a TBI in 2008 after a car jacking, and spent months dealing with mental fog, pain and impulse control problems as her brain healed. Receiving craniosacral therapy had a profound effect on her ability to heal and begin to function normally again. Kelly highly recommends craniosacral therapy for anyone looking to heal their nervous system, but especially for the difficult, painful recovery from a brain injury.


Craniosacral therapy is a very gentle, non-invasive way to support a child’s growing brain after a head injury. Craniosacral therapy calms the central nervous system, which can sometimes get stuck in fight or flight after a traumatic hit to the head. In addition, it helps improve the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid, a clear body fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.


Both everyday falls and bumps, as well as more serious head injuries can impair the flow of cerebrospinal fluid that normally washes and helps restore the brain, creating a kink in the flow that can cause waste products to build up around the brain. Researchers have found certain markers of a concussion or traumatic brain injury, but the build up of waste in the cerebrospinal fluid can also create problems. Imagine being unable to take your trash to the curb. Eventually, your house is going to start to stink and be a less pleasant place to live and get things done!


In a 2017 study, former NFL football players who had been diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome saw significant improvement after receiving craniosacral therapy. The players reported less pain, better reaction time and memory, as well as improved sleep. Sleep is another way that the body removes waste material, and since craniosacral therapy can also help improve sleep it can further influence the body’s ability to heal itself. We often have kids and adults fall asleep on the table or call us later to let us know how much better they slept after CST!


Craniosacral therapy can also help ease a lack of impulse control and brings a sense of calm while healing from a brain injury. In addition, it can help with the mental fog, as well as pain, headaches and migraines associated with concussions and other head injuries.

If your child is playing a contact sport and you’re wondering about their brain health, craniosacral therapy can be a great addition to their schedule to help support their nervous system and optimize athletic and academic performance. Along with the appropriate immediate medical attention required, craniosacral is also really beneficial to help heal concussions and can help relieve post-concussion symptoms.


How Craniosacral Can Help Children With Learning Differences or Disabilities


Going to school can be tough enough as it is, but for kids with learning differences, school can present an extra challenge. Whether it’s a child with ADHD who struggles with attention, a kid with autism who might have social challenges or disabilities such as dyslexia affecting how we take in written information, craniosacral therapy can help optimize brain function and make things a little easier for kids who have struggles.


As explained in the examples above, craniosacral therapy can optimize brain health and function in two ways. One, it improves the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, allowing the brain to “take out the trash” so to speak and function better. Two, it can help bring our central nervous system to a state of calm, activating the parasympathetic nervous system which brings down our stress response and allows us to relax.


These two types of support for the brain can be very helpful for children with learning differences. Having a learning disability can be a very stressful experience for a child. Often, they have anxiety over their ability to perform in school or meet behavior standards. That anxiety, in turn, makes it harder to do what they need to do! It can be a vicious cycle.


A craniosacral therapy session often helps our clients with learning differences to find a state of calm in their bodies that’s very helpful in their ability to concentrate and focus.

In addition, removing waste products from the brain can help alleviate some symptoms of learning disabilities. Similar to concussions or folks who have recently experienced a viral illness, children with ADHD and other learning disabilities show increased waste products in their cerebrospinal fluid. Improving the body’s ability to clear these waste products can alleviate symptoms of learning disabilities, making it easier to concentrate and think more clearly. Many of our clients, both adults and children, mention improved ability to focus after a craniosacral therapy treatment.



But Does My Child Have to Lie Still the Whole Time During Craniosacral Therapy?


One question parents often have when bringing their children in for craniosacral therapy is whether or not their children have to be still and quiet the entire time. The answer is no! We regularly work with children, and we recognize their need to move, play, talk and interact. Our skilled and adaptive therapists know how to work with children of all ages, making sure they get in the maximum therapy time without having to lie perfectly still or be totally quiet. We make it fun and effortless for kids to get the help they need. For more about sessions with babies, toddlers and children, read our post Does My Child Have to Sit Absolutely Still for Craniosacral Therapy?


In addition, if you’re looking for craniosacral support for your child, but don’t live close enough to come for treatment, be sure to check out How to Find a Craniosacral Therapist for a Baby or Young Child and also How to Find a Qualified Craniosacral Therapist Near You.


Scheduling a Craniosacral Therapy Appointment for Your Child


We would love to see you and your child in our office for a craniosacral therapy appointment. At their first appointment, the therapist will do an intake and ask about related health issues and symptoms, as well as show your child around the office and give them options of where they’d like to be or what they might like to do during their treatment time. We also offer family round robin sessions where multiple kids and even parents can get treatment, with breaks for play. Treating kids is an important value for our practice and we are intentional about hiring quality staff that are great with kids!


If you have any questions about getting craniosacral therapy for your child, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d be happy to answer your questions and talk about the best options for you. Book an appointment online and we look forward to seeing you in the office!


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