Written by F.D
Aromatherapy is derived from the word ‘aromatherapie’ by the French chemist Gattefosse in 1928 which means the usage of aromatic plant extracts and essential oils in therapies. Typically, oils and oil extracts from various parts of plants from their flowers, leaves, stems, barks, roots, and fruits are utilized for aromatherapy which is scientifically proven to be used as antidepressants, stress reducers, sedatives, pain relievers, anti-bacterials and can also facilitate relaxation, stimulate sensory awareness, promote alertness, reduce challenging behaviours, promote sleep, and encourage interaction and communication. In this article, we will explore the benefits of aromatherapy in helping special needs children, how to introduce the usage of aromatherapy as well as precautions for using aromatherapy.
Part 1: Benefits of Aromatherapy
Improve Social Relationships
Research has concluded that the use of aromatherapy in children with special needs has helped them to come out of their shell and encouraged the development of interactions and relationships with others. Aromatherapy relaxes the children’s brains during a conversation, thus enabling their brains to control their whole body more efficiently to react to someone’s questions. Furthermore, children are able to interpret languages better during the conversations. For example, special needs children could understand basic questions like ‘How are you today?’ and ‘What are you eating today?’ after they have their aromatherapy sessions.
Interactive aromatherapy can help special needs children to trust, share, initiate and reciprocate interactions with others. The sessions also teach non-verbal communication methods in which children are able to develop positive interactions in a non-verbal, safe way, helping them to become aware of not just themselves but also others. According to a research by Ellwood (2001), lavender oil in particular made the autistic children appear more settled.
In terms of the relationship between special needs children and their parents, a gentle massage using aromatherapy helps in decreasing tactile defensiveness and improve trust building towards adults (in this case, the parents). Furthermore, the children are more calm when communicating with their parents when they are given aromatherapy.
Similar ideas can be seen in another research with the use of aromatherapy massage to develop reciprocal interaction. Reciprocal interaction is a type of exchange in which individuals exhibit similar behavior either at the same time or in a back-and-forth manner which requires both parties to interact with each other to produce a desired income.
Reduce Sleep Difficulties
Aromatherapy has the capability to reduce sleep difficulties as it promotes calmness and comfort for the children. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulties setting up their regular diurnal pattern and remaining asleep through the night. What this means is that children with ASD in particular could not follow the regular sleep pattern and this may cause an unbalanced level of arousal. Aromatherapy is helpful in getting the arousal level closer to the optimal level, making sleep easier to achieve and maintain.
Furthermore, aromatherapy also has the ability to reduce anxiousness within special needs children. According to a research, smell can be associated with emotions. In reference to that research, aromatherapy has the ability to alter emotions positively as it is capable of making the children feel relaxed and thus, able to control themselves from overreaction. Anxiousness can also be reduced for the special needs children when facing specific situations and environments. Furthermore, aromatherapy has been used successfully with those with epilepsy to control the frequency of their seizures.
One research showed that aromatherapy helps in developing the children’s shared attention skills. Shared attention skills is when one individual alerts another to an object by means of verbal or non-verbal indications. Aromatherapy provides soothing and calming effects on the child’s central nervous system thus improving attention span. The child also tends to react positively to sharing activities and materials with adults.
Part 2: Ways to Introduce Aromatherapy to Special Needs Children
Aromatherapy has shown to provide useful benefits for special needs children in terms of their overall mental and emotional development. However, trying to introduce aromatherapy to special needs children can become a challenge as they tend to struggle in adapting to something new.
Here are some suggestions to introduce aromatherapy to special needs children. First, parents and therapists need to agree on what type of aromatherapy oils they can use. Several types of therapy oils are usually preferred by therapists which are both safe and effective for use with children over the age of 5 which include lavender, peppermint, orange and ginger. According to Vanessa Battista, RN, MS, CPNP, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), lavender is the most beneficial and effective therapy oil for the children over the age of 5. She stated that most children prefer the smell of lavender and lavender is generally effective to combat anxiousness within children. Meanwhile, the scent of orange has a mood lifting effect that can help special needs children reduce stress. Parents and therapists therefore are recommended to try different types of aromatherapy oils to discover which oils best suit their child’s preferences.The right mix of scents is helpful to ensure optimal effectiveness as the children like smells that they find calming and uplifting.
Personal inhalers that are compact and can fit into the children’s pockets are recommended in cases where the children need to calm themselves quickly. Parents can also make aromatherapy fun by encouraging their children to make their own scent. For example, parents can guide their children to make their own alternative aromatherapy crafts such as aromatherapy pouches using flowers and herbs or DIY aromatherapy playdough.
Cautions Using Aromatherapy Oils
When it comes to utilizing aromatherapy oils for special needs children, there are several precautions that parents and therapists should take to ensure a safe experience. The most important factor to look at is the aromatherapy oil used. Aromatherapy oils that are labelled as ‘essential’ means that the oil is extracted from the essence of a plant’s fragrance. The undiluted essential oils may cause irritation if exposed to the skin. Furthermore, essential oils are flammable so any exposure to excessive heat or fire can cause the oils to be combustible. As such, parents should avoid undiluted essential oils as these types of oils are usually toxic when consumed. Diluted essential oils with a carrier oil or lotion usually remove the toxins and any corrosive elements within the oil making the aromatherapy oil safer.
Children may be allergic to some aromatherapy oils. Therefore, proper initial testing for the oil needs to be done for at least 24 hours so parents can observe any allergic reactions their children face during the testing period before finalizing the oil selection.
Also, special needs children require supervision from their parents when using aromatherapy. Children may be attracted to the sweet scent of the aromatherapy oils which may cause them to consume the oils. Parents should also plan to store the aromatherapy oils in a safe place away from the children.
In summary, aromatherapy has a number of benefits for special needs children such as helping the children feel more relaxed and calm which can help them in controlling their temper and emotions. Parents should look into introducing aromatherapy gradually to their children. To ensure a safe experience, parents need to take precaution when using aromatherapy for their children.
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