"With a tap and a clap and a wiggle, wiggle, wiggle..." my eight-year old daughter, Nancy, claps her hands, taps her magic wand and with a flourish worthy of the great Debbie McGee, a little yellow ball appears from under the red cup.
I applaud loudly, not only at this amazing magical feat (I honestly don't know how she does it) but because my girl used her right hand, a hand that since birth has resigned itself to being little more than a clenched fist.
Nancy was born with hemiplegia, a form of cerebral palsy which affects around one in every thousand children. It's a neurological condition similar to a stroke, which for Nancy is a consequence of being born nine weeks premature, and means than one side of the body is weaker than other. Nancy has had all manner of physiotherapy and botox treatments over her eight short years.
She took her first steps the summer she turned four and can now run, jump and disco dance with the best of them. But it's her fine motor skills, the ones she needs to live a truly independent life, that now need attention.
Nancy has always used her right hand, or her 'helper hand' as her therapists call it, as more of a prop. While she is remarkably adept at managing with one hand, there are certain struggles that she faces every day. She finds holding a tray difficult, which means school dinners can prove tricky, and she has a unique way of opening a packet of crisps (she squeezes the bag with one hand until it pops), while fastening zips and buttons is an eternal battle.
But earlier this year we found out about a new kind of therapy. Breathe Magic is a project aimed at kids with hemiplegia and run by the Breathe Arts Health Research, an arts and health organisation in London founded by managing director, Yvonne Farquharson.
"We've worked for over six years designing, delivering and researching how integrating magic into therapy could benefit young people with hemiplegia," explains Yvonne. "Over the camp's 10 days, specially adapted magic tricks are taught which incorporate the therapeutic skills required to build up the motor skills within the hand and arm."
Yvonne works alongside Dr Dido Green, the organisation's Director of Research and Evaluation, from Oxford Brookes University, and a crack team of occupational therapists, magicians and mentors, who all help to produce the magic camp each summer.
"The tricks, which have been developed in collaboration with occupational therapists, academics and Magic Circle magicians, enable the young people to master daily living skills, such as dressing independently, and therefore gain independence." says Yvonne.
While the kids are having fun learning and performing tricks, they forget they're having intense occupational and physiotherapy to improve their bi-manual skills. For many children, Nancy included, physio has been a part of their lives since they were tiny, and it's often seen as a real chore.
Before the camp we had to list some targets that Nancy would like to achieve. She said that she would like to be able to tie her own shoelaces and make a fruit salad by herself.
Alongside performing tricks, the kids learned how to make their own magician costumes and conduct the day-to-day activities that we all take for granted, such as dressing themselves and cutting up and eating food independently.
Nancy enjoyed every single minute. For the first time in her life, she was able to spend a considerable amount of time with other children who all face the same difficulties that hemiplegia brings.
At the end of the camp, which runs each day over two consecutive weeks, the children perform a grand magic show at the Magic Circle in London. The opening film shows some of the children before they started magic camp tackling everyday tasks. One little lad struggles to open a plastic container, while a young girl wrestles with a packet of crisps, her weaker hand unable to grip it. At the end of the performance, the film shows the same children on the final day, including Nancy chopping up a fruit salad, succeeding in all these tasks. There wasn't a dry eye in the place.
As I watched my girl performing her now-legendary cup and ball trick in her top hat and hand-made waistcoat, a smile a mile wide plastered across her face, I think about how far she has come in just two short weeks. Not only has she mastered skills that would have once eluded her; she can now tie her own shoelaces, make a fruit salad and even fasten a button, but she has also learnt a whole host of super-cool magic tricks and made an army of friends too.
"The Breathe Magic programme is not just a fun therapy, it's sustainable, effective and truly-life-changing." says Yvonne. And it's true. All you need is a tap and a clap and a wiggle, wiggle, wiggle...and magic happens.
Find out more about Breathe Magic.
Watch the film about this year's camp...
Day 2 and Final Day
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The Paralympic legacy for one little girl with cerebral palsy
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