Guest Post: Rebecca Avern on "Children and Fright"
Introductory Note by Sabine Wilms:
Rebecca Avern is the founder of and clinician at The Panda Clinic, an acupuncture centre for the treatment of babies and young people in Oxford, UK. She is a senior lecturer and clinical supervisor at the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine. She lectures widely on paediatrics and is the author of Acupuncture for Babies, Children and Teenagers, published by Singing Dragon. Her website is www.rebeccaavern.com and the link to her book at the US Singing Dragon site is https://singingdragon.com/usa/acupuncture-for-babies-children-and-teenagers-1.html/?___store=sdusa&___from_store=sduk. We exchanged some emails on pediatrics years ago and I am delighted to see her using some of the information from my translation of Sun Simiao’s writings on pediatrics in her busy clinical practice and also in her newly published book. Here is a little taste of what she has to offer…
Children and Fright
The profound effect of shock (jing) is described in Chapter 39 of the Su Wen:
Fright causes the heart to have nothing to lean on, the shén to have nothing to return home to, and deliberation to have nothing to fasten. Thus we say ‘disordering of qì.’ (unpublished translation by Sabine Wilms)
Shock or fright has an even greater effect on a child, whose shen is not yet securely rooted. Sun Simiao describes a category of seizures which he termed ‘fright seizures’. His suggested treatment at the outset of fright seizures was to ‘hold [the baby] in a tight grip and do not let them be frightened again.’ (Wilms S, 2013, Venerating the Root: Part 1. Corbett, Oregon: Happy Goat Productions, p. 119)
Sun wrote about unfamiliar people coming into the home and the sound of thunder having the potential to cause fright in a baby or young child. But what constitutes ‘fright’ in today’s world? And how do we see its consequences manifested in the clinic?
I have seen cases where a fright leads directly to the onset of seizures in a young child. One example is a three-year old boy who was suffering from severe, frequent seizures. The seizures began when he was six months old. When I asked his mother if she was aware of anything that had triggered them, she said that her mother (the child’s grandmother) had died suddenly of a heart attack in front of her baby just before the seizures started. At six months old, the mother and the baby are one unit and I suspected that the baby was also affected by his mother’s distress. A baby may not cognitively understand what is going on around them, but this case shows how very sensitive they are to their external environment and how strongly they may be impacted by it.
However, more commonly I see children whose symptoms are not as extreme as seizures but which, nevertheless, have been triggered by fright. For example, a 7-year old boy developed a blinking tic within two days of being in a minor car crash. Every child reacts to trauma in their own unique way. This child had a deficient Heart pulse (often a sign of shock) and a wiry Liver pulse. Addressing these imbalances with acupuncture meant that his tic subsided and then went away altogether. It was interesting to note that his three siblings had been in the car with him, and none of them suffered a shock in the way that he did. Symptoms of fright arise because of the individual child’s response to an event, rather than because of the external event itself.
These two examples are one-off events that have caused fright. Sometimes, however, I see children in the clinic whose shen has been disturbed by a situation that is ongoing. Yet the cause is still resonant with fright and the child’s qi is scattered. For example, I once treated a four-year old girl who had stopped speaking a year previously. Her mother told me that when her daughter was two, she discovered her husband had been having an affair. Since this discovery, she and her husband had been having violent rows most days. Over the course of a year, this had disturbed the shen of the girl so profoundly that she had become entirely mute.
Sometimes a circumstance that most adults would not consider traumatic causes fright in a child. One child who came to the clinic had begun having enormous tantrums and banging his head against the wall after starting school. The teachers said that he spent most of his day sitting in the corner, often covering his ears. With help, he was able to articulate that he found being in a class with 30 children ‘so noisy that it hurts and I feel all jumpy and jumbled up inside.’ His parents decided to move him to a smaller school where many of the lessons took place outside, and he reverted to being the calm, happy child he had previously been.
I consider fright to be at least a part of the aetiology in a high proportion of the children who come to my clinic for treatment. In the developed world in the 21st century, many of us have become disconnected from Sun’s wisdom concerning the nature of babies and young children. Consequently, we often expose them to, and expect them to thrive in, environments which are entirely unsuitable for their delicate natures. Acupuncture is such a wonderful way of nurturing a child who is suffering from the effects of fright. My deepest wish is that more and more parents will become aware of this.