Photos Brittany Boudreau.
My Magic Hands: Magic and rehab help transform kids with disabilities
Holland Bloorview hospital program provides one-on-one instruction with children in treatment.
Presto! Change-o! Magic is all about transformation.
We are mesmerized by what we cannot explain, enthralled when hands deceive our eyes.
So it was on a recent afternoon in a compact auditorium that’s part of Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and was filled with an audience of 50 facility staff, clients, friends and family of the small performers who individually sat in front of the proverbial magician’s table with black cloth and fringe.
While fingers snapped, hands waved, and age-old incantations involving “hocus pocus’’ and “abracadabra’’ were employed with powerful persuasion, balls of different sorts appeared and disappeared. Cards were shuffled, picked by audience members and put back into a deck – and then pulled out with a flourish by the magician. “Wow! How did he do that?”, someone gasped. Ropes were flung and retrieved visible knots which somehow – and no one watching could figure it out – were here one minute and gone the next. Small, nimble fingers performed gyrations with colourful elasticized bands that were mind-boggling.
All eyes were on their hands, all ears attuned to the descriptions of what we were about to see. While magic took centre stage, the wheelchairs, the tubes, the bandages all faded away. Nine magicians —The Great Macsini, Blooronix, Magnificent Manushari, Sensational Salman, Just Jobelle, Abracadabra Sheldon, Mazin the Magician, The Amazing, Magical Aliyah and Magic Lucine — ages 6 to 16, remained. That’s transformation.
And that’s the whole point of a program called My Magic Hands, run by professional magician Julie Eng in collaboration with occupational therapists and speech therapists at Holland Bloorview. It’s the largest centre of its kind in Canada providing treatment for children with a wide range of disabilities including acquired brain injury, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and more.
The My Magic Hands program, now in its 10th year and sponsored wholly by the Slaight Family Foundation, runs in various formats throughout the year and provides one-on-one instruction with a child who’s getting treatment.
The idea, says Eng, who’s executive director of the registered charity and arts organization Magicana , is “to use our performing arts program” to help children reach their therapeutic goals – and also “get to have fun and be a child. Children are naturally drawn to magic.”
There’s an added incentive to doing motor skill exercises, for instance, if it involves shuffling and handling cards for a magic trick.
Lindsay Wright, an occupational therapy assistant at Holland Bloorview, who’s worked, one on one, with many of the children in the Magic Hands program, has seen many improvements in hand motor skills from children who become very motivated to learn and perfect a magic trick.
“I’ve had kids who weren’t speaking at the beginning (of the sessions), start to speak. They want to learn. It also helps with memory. One of our kids, who’d been really shy, developed a script. He had to memorize and sequence what he was doing, so he had that practice with memory and recall,’’ she said. Learning the magic tricks targets a lot of different mental and physical rehab areas.
Caitlin Allain, another OTA who has been a coach in Magic Hands classes, marveled at the memory improvements and confidence of one young girl as she progressed from learning one trick to mastering it. In another case, a young teen who’d been very rebellious and uninterested in doing her exercises, get caught up with learning magic. “By the end she was just shining, she was so confident. She wanted to learn, to perform and she didn’t feel limited by her disability.’’
Eng demonstrates the various tricks and works with the children in small groups during the six to eight sessions in the program, along with their OTAs or other hospital staff who provide one-on-one assistance. Eng has a special perspective on children and magic as her dad, Tony Eng, was a professional magician and she became entranced with it at a very early age and worked with him as a child in his act.
The end goal of her program at the hospital is the “big show,” the culmination in the auditorium where friends and family and supporters can watch and marvel.
“I guarantee to each child, that when they go up for the show, that it will go well – their trick will work,” says Eng.
“It’s always emotional, for me, for their family…for everyone. You see these amazing transformations. There was one boy, he wouldn’t even speak that first day. He was just in a shell, like an armadillo.” But when the big show came, the boy was so confident, he had developed his own script and was even ad-libbing.’’
Presto! Change-o! That’s the power of magic.
Originally Posted The Toronto Star Dec 31, 2013