disabled girl doing magic

Disability Innovations: How magic is helping children with hemiplegia grab life with both hands

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

Breathe Magic

Breathe Magic is a creative approach to traditional therapy which uses magic tricks to put the fun back into children’s recovery and rehabilitation. They run ‘Magic camps’ in the school holidays for children aged 7 to 19 with hemiplegia, teaching children specially selected and scalable magic tricks as part of a fun and effective intensive therapy programme. The two week programme focuses on learning to use two hands by combining magic, circus skills, costume design, fabrication and theatre production in a targeted way, to improve motor skills and hand function.

At the end of the two weeks the children have the chance to show off their new skills to family and friends in a performance at a professional theatre. After the camp the budding magicians attend a once per month Saturday club for six months to help sustain their new skills, provide an ongoing peer support network and ensure lasting impact of the progress made.

The Secret Behind the Magic

Breathe’s approach to intensive motor therapy is well-researched and has shown clear clinical benefits and improved outcomes for participants. delivers clear clinical benefits and improved outcomes for participants. The programme is also in line with the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines for the management of spasticity in children, as it follows the HABIT (Hand-Arm Bi-manual Intensive Training) model which is a task focussed intensive bi-manual therapy.

Over the 10 days (60 hours) children work together with magicians, Occupational Therapist’s and physiotherapists on a one to one basis within a group setting, to learn and practice magic tricks which develop motor and bi-manual skills. Every trick requires the children to practise precise movements that incorporate the rehabilitation exercises therapists often ask children with hemiplegia to do to improve hand and arm function. Time old tricks such as the ‘cups and balls’ trick require the young magicians to turn a cup over in their hand and to pick up the ball using the thumb and forefinger. This helps to develop essential movements such as forearm rotation, grasp and release, and co-ordination. Similarly, rope tricks involve stretching movements and movements to increase dexterity.

The real magic is that these tricks can only be mastered with plenty of repetition – practice makes perfect! The repetitive nature of practising magic tricks helps to build up the child’s strength and dexterity in their weaker hand/arm. Every child has their own ‘Magic Diary’ to record the tricks they learn each day, and the tricks they should practice at home each evening. Although children know that the camp is designed to improve hand function, the real focus is always on learning magic and having fun, rather than doing the ‘boring repetitive exercises’ that children usually associate with therapy.

What are the results?

Turning the exercises into magic tricks helps children stay motivated and engaged, meaning exercises are no longer a chore but something children look forward to doing. And the results found are pretty impressive.

The programme shows sustained benefits across functional motor and psychosocial outcomes for the young people. The programme also addresses additional associated problems such as; parent/child relationships, psychosocial difficulties and self-esteem. 
The young people are often able to do daily living activities for the first time in their lives after completing the programme, such as getting dressed independently and cutting up their own food.  This increased independence resulted in parents and carers reporting a 50% reduction in extra time needed to support their child, equating to up four hours each day! The research results from the programme have been published in peer reviewed medical journals and presented at conferences around the world.

The performance skills taught as part of the camp are designed help to increase the children’s communication skills, self-esteem and general emotional wellbeing. Children and parents also reported increased confidence and a more positive outlook, which resulted in numerous additional benefits, such as improved performance at school.

Breathe Arts Health Research

Breathe Arts Health Research was founded in 2012, and is the social enterprise behind Breathe Magic. It is run by a small team of staff, which includes clinicians, academics, artists and business professionals.  The team work together with frontline staff, patients and their families to deliver new healthcare programmes which bring the arts and science into healthcare to improve health outcomes.

Breathe Magic has now been commissioned as a clinical service by the NHS Lambeth Clinical Commisisoning Group and NHS Wandsworth Clinical Commissioning Group, they are piloting adapted versions for children with mental health problems and adult stroke patients. Other Breathe projects include bringing music and poetry into hospitals, clinical healthcare settings and community centres, as well as putting on high quality performing arts programmes in hospitals in partnership with leading cultural organisations such as the National Theatre and the Royal Academy of Music.

Why we like It

We love how Breathe AHR combines magic and fun with therapy – words you rarely see in the same sentence! It not only has clinical benefits, but giving children magic skills also hugely boosts their confidence by teaching them they can use weaker limbs for tricks which even their friends at school can’t do! The magic camps ‘can do’ and fun approach to therapy focuses not on a child’s impairment but on talent and potential, teaching children to grab life with both hands!

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk.