My name’s Norman

Norman, a forty eight year old man with learning disabilities, was also blind.  He was small in stature and looked permanently worried. I was told that his vision had been severely impaired after he had sustained a detached retina in both eyes at the age of 43. Unfortunately, he had refused to stay in bed after the operation and as a result his vision had not returned.  Norman had been incarcerated in a large asylum hospital from the age of six.  He was eventually discharged from the hospital in the late 1980s. When we met he had moved to a small group home in the community with two other men, where he received 24 hour monitoring and assistance.

His care staff requested my help because they were concerned. Norman was becoming increasingly disinterested in walking and was in danger of losing his mobility. The staff team were also worried about Norman’s behaviour because although he enjoyed being outside on a summer’s day and would stand at the garden fence in the sunshine, his mood would change suddenly if he was disturbed . When this happened, he would lose his temper, kick over garden pots and pull up flowers.

Norman’s communication was made up of familiar but negative phrases, that he had heard repeatedly in the past e.g. ‘Stop it’ and ‘You’ll cop it’, ‘Naughty boy Norman’.  He had difficulty sleeping and got out of his bed several times in the night to wake up the member of staff on duty by crawling along the hallway to their bedroom and kicking the door.  If  this didn’t work, he would sit in the corridor and shout until there was a response.  Norman self-abused by hitting himself with his fist around the face and ears until he bled and when uncertain, anxious or annoyed, he curled himself into the foetal position on the floor and moaned.  He screamed if staff tried to move him.

Light and sound are both manifestations of vibration and specific colours and sounds resonate at their own vibratory frequency.  At an energetic level, we are able to feel vibration .  Colour which resonates at a specific frequency on the rainbow spectrum , can therefore be felt as well as seen.  With this in mind, I was not surprised that Norman was reluctant to spend time in his room, where the wallpaper  was in bold, gaudy colours of acid yellow, lime green and hot orange with patterned bed linen and curtains in similar shades.  .  Each colour correlates with a specific frequency on the rainbow spectrum.    Hot orange, acid yellow and lime green are not conducive to the colours required to create a peaceful sanctuary.  The vibration of these colours, chosen by his care staff, would have had an impact on Norman because he would feel their vibration even though he couldn’t see the colours.  However, to encourage him to spend time in his room,  he required to be surrounded by softer pastel shades of his own choosing.

There was constant background noise because the television in the main living room was permanently on, even when no one was in the room. Norman owned a CD player but was unable to use it and the music played in the house was dependent on the choice of the member of staff on duty. On the plus side, however, the chair by his bedroom window overlooked a passageway behind the house where bushes and trees provided shelter for birds, bees and butterflies.

Physical contact was either demanded or totally rejected. Norman would either cling to a member of staff by linking his arm through theirs or avoided physical contact altogether. Relationships were for him uncertain and guarded.  When he was not in his own room, the foetal position of lying on his side with knees drawn up to his chest, was his position of choice, providing him with comfort and giving me clues to his behaviour.

To gain Norman’s confidence and trust, it was important not to invade his space. Not wanting to startle him, I wore soft pastel shades, acknowledging that he could feel the softer, lighter resonances of colour even though he couldn’t see me.  I modulated my voice, keeping it soft and low and did not approach him but waited to see if he would come to me.  It was important to respond positively to any of his attempts to communicate with me and to reciprocate any gentle physical interaction.

On my weekly visits, I gradually introduced a wide variety of music, pop and classical, vocal and instrumental to gauge Norman’s response. This part was easy, if he did not like my choice he voted with his feet and immediately left the room.  I discovered that his favourite composer was Mozart played on the flute by Sir James Galway. As soon as he heard it he smiled and settled back into the arm chair. A friend made some tapes of the music for me so that Norman could listen in the garden, the kitchen or his bedroom. Care staff  were instructed to play his music in his bedroom when he was getting ready for bed and if he woke in the night to soothe him back to sleep.

Gentle singing and toning (vocal sound vibration) of specific chakra tones, soothed him. Norman particularly liked to hear the heart tone /HA/ and the throat tone /OO/ .  He smiled with eyes half closed as he visibly relaxed. If Norman was distressed when I visited, I softly toned the throat tone to the melody of Brahms Lullaby. This calmed him and he made soft ingressive noises as he listened.  To encourage Norman to reach out and touch,  a plate of rose petals, fur or soft fabrics were placed close to his hands as he lay on the floor.

Staff were encouraged to allow Norman to choose his own colours for his bedroom. I explained that although his sight was severely impaired, Norman could feel the vibration of the sharp citrus colours around him, which would act as a stimulant rather than radiating calm. I hoped to encourage him to use his bedroom as a sanctuary in times of stress. At the time of my visits, Norman only used his bedroom for sleeping.  He was given colour samples to choose from. Clear colours from the rainbow spectrum were suggested rather than murky or over patterned material. Norman was encouraged to feel and smell the samples and his care staff were instructed to note his preferences.  Having felt each swatch of colour, he focused on a soft pale green.  Appropriate bed linen with a design of small flowers on a pale green background was found and the walls of the his bedroom were painted in a soft pastel green in keeping with his choice.  Fresh flowers in the house were encouraged to replace dried ones, which collect dust and have no fragrant healing energy.  As a consequence, Norman chose to spend more and more time in his room, listening to music rather than being alone infront of the television.

Some weeks later, I attended a review meeting with Norman present and I was having great difficulty persuading the more sceptical members of staff that music really did make a difference to him. Suddenly as though on cue, Norman got up from his seat and pulled on the arm of the staff member sitting next to him and led her into his room. She returned five minutes later alone. He had taken her to his CD player and had given her his tape and when the music began playing, had sat in his chair by the window smiling with eyes closed. He had made his point on my behalf and I did not need to convince them further.

I suggested that the window in his bedroom be opened on fine days so that he could sit in his chair and hear the wind in the trees, feel the breeze on his face and listen to the bird song and the hum of bees. One sunny afternoon, I found him by his open window smiling and listening to the song of a black bird perched on a nearby branch.

As time went by, Norman was more peaceful and he made other improvements too.  One memorable day I was greeted with great excitement by a member of staff, who had been having lunch with Norman and three of her colleagues, when he surprised them all by suddenly interrupting their conversation to say ‘My name’s Norman’. They stopped and looked at him in amazement. From that time on, he became more communicative with those around him, spontaneously using appropriate single words and phrases of his own.

Reduced medication, improved mobility, reduced emotional outbursts, improved sleep and bowel function had brought Norman to the attention of the mental health team who were intrigued by his progress and started to explore more holistic choices for him.

One student had chosen Norman as the subject of her thesis. This would hopefully bring Norman to the attention of those who could improve funding opportunities for him and many others like him. I was happy to leave him in safe hands and his support staff, encouraged by the progress he had made, were taking advantage of training opportunities in vocal toning, massage and aromatherapy.

Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.  Teaching manuals are available as free downloads for those who are interested in this way of working.