Smile Bexx

Raising money for Brain Injury

Jennifer Berry

Go to you bosom: Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know.

William Shakespeare.

I began working with Bexx several years ago providing her with traumatic brain injury rehabilitation (tbi).  During rehabilitation I developed a song writing workshop to address cognitive (process of thought) difficulties she was experiencing. My work was carried out within an educational, social and family environment.

It was noted at school that Bexx’s was struggling to write descriptive essays which became more apparent as she grew older, especially as more demands were made on her academically.  Bexx was very aware of her thoughts, she used to say, “I can see exactly what I am thinking but I just can’t write them down”.     It was not due to a lack of ideas or thoughts, which made this hard for her, Bexx is a very bright and articulate girl, it was more down to the fact that the damage caused to her brain after her accident, affected her ability to express, transfer and process.

When I work with children I like to stand back and let the child show me who they really are.  Many children need to be encouraged to stop thinking, as they are always taught to think.  Over thinking can block a child’s creative instinct and act as a barrier, rather than promote creative development.  It is important to help children to see instinctively what works or what is flowing from within them.  This is something you cannot explain to children, instead you have to guide them to let go of what they believe is expected from them and experiment through active imagination, games and creative play.

The first two years of a child’s life are spent in the creation of a child’s first “sense of self”.  Sadly, much of this “sense of self” gets lost along the route of maturation.  When I work with children I work with the inner child, the child who wants to play, the child who reacts spontaneously, the child who is.  Using active imagination, story, dance, movement, singing, miming, acting, playing, I integrate the underpinning theories of my work, yet at the same time allowing and encouraging the child to explore and discover their own unique way of learning and being.

So the creation of “Smile” began after Bexx agreed to have a go at writing a song.   I decided to use a song writing workshop to tackle Bexx’s difficulties, it was Bexx in fact who showed me that this was a good way to work with her.  She didn’t of course come up with the concept but she did show me the way by singing every day, albeit quietly to herself.  If I would turn and smile at her, she would quickly become embarrassed and stop singing, but her confidence grew and I would sing together with her and she would feel comfortable and sing along with me.

Bexx’s love of music and pop songs occupied her every spare moment and I’d noticed how she selected songs to express how she felt.   Songs were a very expressive medium for her to really let you know what she was thinking.  I remember wondering to myself, how could she remember so many lyrics, learning new songs every few days when she would forget so many other tasks?

This struck a chord (excuse the pun) but I knew that music and singing played a huge role in her life,  and it still does!   Of course I knew that learning to sing her favorite pop songs in a copy cat style was very different from trying to write an essay.  We are all familiar with the apprehension when it comes to essay writing.  For most of us a blank piece of paper stares back, sometimes indefinitely and we all know that feeling of frustration and helplessness but for someone with a brain injury this is a colossal task, expressing thought and idea does not come easy at all! There is a bigger block and a bigger frustration for people with tbi.  Those children at school, who struggle with tbi or any other learning difficulty for that matter, are experiencing a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety, which is an awful state for them to be in.

And so one day, after I had given a song writing workshop much thought I decided to approach Bexx with the idea! Of course she instantly said NO!  So we played and talked and sang and sang and sang until eventually, she said, she was prepaid to have a go and sing together.

The day came when I introduced Bexx to some of my musician friends who I thought would be most appropriate and best suited to work with her. It took Bexx a little while to let down her guard and play creatively, experimenting and learning to relax.  The first workshop was mostly centered on word play, use of imagination, learning not to worry about thoughts and words, which did not necessarily make sense to her at the time.  Also, to help her extract whatever was in her mind and write down everything and anything,  no matter what it was about.  This led her to writing down words to express her feelings and also to have fun with nonsense rhymes.

Bexx’s would keep on writing until she’d exhausted all the versions of a word. None of the words made sense but that was exactly the point.  It wasn’t all that long before the foundation of her song Smile was written and not long after that, she had a complete her song.

Bexx was still under my guidance throughout the many months it took to work and record Smile.  Working within a multi disciplinary team of expert, occupation therapists I was granted my creative freedom to deliver rehabilitation that focused on both her physical & mental development. So much of Bexx’s many needs were integrated into the song writing workshop and I am pleased to say that the advancements she made in her physical and mental development exceeded our expectations.

None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for the amazing team I was fortunate to have worked with. I would like to say a special thanks here to Lisa for teaching me to leave no stone unturned, when it came down to meeting the needs of a client during rehabilitation.  Lisa taught me to assess and analyze client needs in such a critical manner that a positive outcome was always achievable, and she was right!   I would also like to say thanks to Emma for her exceptional knowledge in sensory integrations programms.  I learnt so much from Emma and found her fascinating to learn from.  Her clinical knowledge and approach were of very high standards.  I always found her fascinating to listen to,  always grateful for her advise.  Emma taught me the necessary skills to improve brain processing function through the integration of motor skill activities and balance at the brain’s most foundational level.  I am very grateful for all the time she spent, sharing her expertise and knowledge to help me deliver rehabilitation at such a high level.  Thank you ladies!

It was wonderful to see Bexx grow in so many ways.  Her confidence ever blossoming! Singing helped her speak up, sing louder and be more confident. Much of the work carried out in this work shop paved the way in helping Bexx organize herself, she had much to do and a lot to remember, a great motivation for her to address many aspects of tbi through creative rehabilitation.

Breathing exercises helped her breath in a more controlled way, she became less excitable when challenged to try something new. With increased self belief Bexx was not afraid to stand in front of a crowd of several hundred people at a Christmas school concert and sing her song. Because she was inspired by something she loved, the remainder of her rehabilitation was mostly delivered in a creative way, which meant that she was on board, willing, wanting and able to do!

The aim of this workshop was to find a way to help Bexx transfer her thoughts so that she could write and express what she was thinking.  Can she do that now?  Yes she can!  Bexx has learned not to panic when it comes to writing and not to stress.  She knows she can write an adequate piece of writing, enough to get her through her exams.  Bexx’s thoughts are all very much there in her mind, just like everyone else, she can now look at them and not let them scare her.  One by one she can pick out those images and write one key word to identify the image. Building up on those key words Bexx can now build up her story structure until she has enough words to say what it is she needs to express.

My journey with Bexx has been one which has been full of joy and personal reward.  I have loved working with her.  She is funny, very smart, challenging from time to time but I like that.  Above all, she is a wonderful person, incredibly caring and someone we can all be very proud of.  Bexx deserves our care as well as all our love.

I believe with all my heart that no matter how difficult  the odds seem in the beginning, no matter who you are, where you come from, your back ground, language, disability or inhibitions, all of those things are just like coats we wear to keep us warm.  The person wearing that coat houses a phenomenal treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge, we are everything great and everything powerful and we are all capable of fulfilling our potential to the very best of our abilities.

If we can draw our attention to the instinctive creativity of what lies within, our expression of our self can reveal such wonders.  It is all there within each and every one of us just waiting to come out. Some of us just need a little assistance, some more than others and a bit of a helping hand along the way.

On a final note I would just like to say a very big thank you to all the wonderful people involved in Smile.  Thank you everyone for all your hard work, commitment and generosity in donating hundreds of hours of work for charity.  You have been amazing and I am so very grateful.  This has been a very gratifying experience and I feel very humbled to have worked with you all.


“If you dominate a child, compel him to fit into a pattern, however idealistic,
will he be free at the end of it”?

Jiddu Krishnamurti.