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Bangkok Faces: Donna Murphy, OT & Facilitator of Sensory Integration Classes for Mums and Babies

Donna Murphy playing with young kids

Your Name: Donna Murphy
Job Title: Facilitator of Enhanced Development and Sensory Integration Classes for Mums and Babies

What is your nationality and background?

Raised and educated in Florida but also a naturalized Australian. Lucky to have previously lived and worked in USA, Kenya, South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, Australia and Singapore.

What is your profession?

I am a Paediatric Occupational Therapist with advanced certification in Sensory Integration.

What are the key skills and responsibilities of this role?

In these classes for mums and babies, I use my extensive knowledge of early childhood development to demonstrate and coach mums to extend on what they know and introduce aspects they are often less familiar with such as sensory processing, symmetry of postural skills, important integration of early reflexes, midline play, visual skills and bilateral integration of brain and body. Slight adjustments in play and interaction with babies can encompass all of these important areas. These classes are totally hands-on with mums handling their babies throughout. Classes are fun for babies and mums!

How did you get involved in your profession?

For years I have worked (as an occupational therapist) with kids in top mainstream schools who experienced various challenges or difficulties. On first meeting their parents I always ask about things that their child did or did not do in their very early development. Many of the early activities/experiences that occur in the first year of life, can affect later academic, cognitive or motor skills. Many parents responded with, ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me these things?’ So in 2011, I decided I would offer classes where I would….. ‘Tell mums these things’ as a front-end strategy to give their babies the best possible start which would pay dividends later in school and life.

How does your role enhance the wellbeing or experience of children?

I could fill two pages here but will use only one example: If I try to ensure that each baby I see crawls long and strong in typical fashion, I could be helping to ensure that child has good: bilateral motor skills; writing ability; balance; arches of the hand and manual dexterity; body awareness; 2-D to 3-D perception and less motor restlessness (therefore better attention). School (and life!) these days moves at a fast pace and high processing level, requiring good cognitive, perceptual and motor skills so if early development is smooth, sequential and strong it is like ‘fine-tuning’ a child to be the best they can be. So much crucial development occurs in that important first 12 months of life therefore classes are for 4-12 month old babies.

What challenges do your face in this role?

Like everywhere I have lived, it is vital for me to listen and adapt or accept certain cultural differences in child rearing and parenting. For example, some Hong Kong mums never put their child on any floor their first year, so it is unlikely they will crawl, which is important. Some Thai nannies pick up a baby the second they cry so this might delay a child learning to self-calm or sooth themselves. Some Indian mums put so many clothes on the baby, that they have less chance of experiencing much tactile stimulation naturally. Mums from Western countries these days seem to be on a developmental derby with their babies and often feel guilty or stressed if they are not doing everything they read on Google. Within these differences to my cultural or professional background, I can explain developmental benefits that might prompt some changes, but I have learned to be flexible and not judgmental. This was much harder when I worked in Botswana and tried to convince Herero mums to not let their toddlers cling to their large skirts while they cooked over open fires, as I continued to deal with toddlers with significant burns!

What do you hope to achieve within your industry?

Besides the mums I interact directly with in my classes, I would so hope there is a ‘ripple effect’ from them to other mothers. I do know there has been from hearing from past mums who have already shared to other newer mums. A vital part of child rearing through the ages has always been where women pass information and experiences to others.

Who or what inspires you?

In regard to these classes it would be Anne Knecht-Boyer (author of Baby Fun) who runs PeKip classes for babies and mums in Hong Kong. I was in awe when I watched her effortlessly run back-to-back classes with eight babies per class all day long. She said she learned so much from me about sensory processing when her own son was a client of mine, and then really encouraged me to run my Enhanced Development and Sensory Integration Classes in Bangkok. She kept at me for four years and I am glad she did!

Only a Bangkok local would know…

That a Western mum would think nothing of saying: ‘The grandparents tend to spoil our kids when we go on holiday with toys and snacks’. Then they return home and back to routine or different rules with perhaps less rewards.  I learned from a lovely Thai mum that the word ‘spoil or spoiled’ if used in relation to a Thai child means it is a non-reversible thing, like a spoiled piece of fruit is non-reversible.

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