(First published in the December 5, 2019 issue of City Pages)
The Head Start preschool in Wausau offers an in-house chiropractor for kids. Some are skeptics, but the staff say it has made a difference, especially in behavior.
Teacher Heather Frenzel says she was skeptical, but has seen a big difference. It’s a moment of peace, Frenzel says, and the kids adore “Dr. Lexy.”
Kris Lemke, Community Outreach Specialist/Family Case Manager at Head Start, has long sought chiropractic care. So she was already pretty convinced about the effectiveness of chiropractic care when Dr. Alexis Bautch approached her with a flier.
The flier listed ten reasons why parents take their children to a chiropractor. They include a number of claims, including helping with bed-wetting, digestion, asthma and allergies.
The two met when Bautch gave a talk about mom ergonomics (posture), and Lemke learned that Bautch works with children at Bautch Chiropractic. Lemke asked if she ever thought about working on children at school.
She first did spinal checks in 2018 and since March comes in every Thursday to the Head Start office on Grant Street, setting up in a small room off of the gym-cafeteria; the room is decorated like an underwater scene with fish and turtles surrounded by aqua blue.
Since that time, teachers have noticed something. Kids getting chiropractic care seem different. Teachers remark that they’re better behaved, more calm. From Bautch, they’ve learned about nutrition and how to develop better posture.
Chiropractic care is still a source of debate in the medical community. Research papers have cited the lack of double blind clinical trials in some of the claims made by chiropractors, as well as the potential from injury in spinal manipulations. In British Columbia, Canada, some chiropractors were ordered by the provincial government to take down claims from their websites.
But many who receive chiropractic treatment swear by it, and many treatments are covered by insurance.
Meeting Bautch quickly makes it apparent why the kids take to her. She seems genuinely excited to be there, and greets me with great enthusiasm as I meet her at the Head Start building. She smiles warmly at students on the way to her under-the-sea-decorated office.
Bautch comes on Thursdays, her day off from Bautch Chiropractic, to give adjustments to children. It’s different than with adults, she says — it’s very gentle.
She also teaches kids posture. Cell phone neck isn’t just a problem adults suffer from, she says. And heavy backpacks can lead to bad posture. “Before the age of 12, a lot of your health habits are set,” Bautch says. “I’m trying to teach the kids before that.”
She does postural assessments with all the kids twice per year, and she does sensory and nutrition workshops with the children, which parents are invited to participate in as well. As anyone might guess, kids who eat healthier are going to be better behaved, Bautch says.
Chiropractic care can be a controversial topic, depending on who you talk to. Journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of American Medical Association have published reviews casting doubt on the practice and some of its claims. And medical professionals contacted by City Pages, speaking on background, said they doubted the efficacy of chiropractic care and questioned its use with children.
But some research argues for the efficacy of chiropractic care, and the field is generally accepted health treatment. Areas where chiropractic care prove to be particularly effective is in reducing lower back pain. According to one study, nearly all chiropractors surveyed referred patients to other health care providers, and the Veterans’ Health Administration, Defense Department and many hospitals now include chiropractic care as part of their offerings.
The number of children receiving chiropractic care in the U.S. is growing. In 2000 there were about 30 million pediatric visits to chiropractors; that figure has risen to 68 million in the most recent count, more than double.
Figures from the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners in 2010 found that 17% of patients were under 18 years of age — 7.7% were five years or younger and 9.4% were between ages six and 17. That’s up from 9.7% of patients in 1991.
According to Jennifer Brocker, DC, writing in an article for the American Chiropractor Association, chiropractic care is safe when the practitioner knows what they’re doing; but it can be dangerous if they don’t. That’s confirmed by the journal Pediatrics, a journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which showed adverse affects when not applied correctly.
Could it work in other schools? City Pages reached out to Wausau School District Superintendent Keith Hilts about the potential for chiropractic care in Wausau districts. Hilts says it’s not something the district has looked into and said he could offer no insight.
Kristine Gilmore, superintendent of the D.C. Everest School District, says she also hasn’t heard of the idea. “We have not considered it and I don’t see it being a conversation in the near future,” Gilmore says.
The kids love her
Dr. Alexis Bautch in the room she treats young patients once a week at Head Start preschool, on Grant Street in Wausau.
Bautch comes to Head Start every Thursday to do adjustments on about 20-25 students, whose parents signed them up, says Nicole Guthrie, Director of Education at Head Start. Bautch has performed scoliosis assessments on all 187 of Head Start students at its three schools in Marathon County, Guthrie says.
Bautch is not paid through Head Start. She operates just like a clinic would, and generally insurance covers the treatments. Many of the students at Head Start are covered by the publicly subsidized program Badger Care, staff told City Pages. If she notices something beyond the scope of chiropractic care, she will refer them to a physician, Guthrie says.
Guthrie says the school has seen results. Many getting the adjustments are calmer and better behaved, she says, and one child who was having trouble with constipation seemed to be helped.
Could some of that be Bautch’s personality? Or maybe just some quiet time in the room? “She is amazingly positive,” Guthrie says. “She has such a passion for what she does, it’s contagious. She loves being here, she’s so happy about what she does. She’s a phenomenal resource.”
The children seem to really look forward to their adjustments, in the room with the colorful underwater scene and stuffed animals such as a large sea turtle. “The children really adore going with her,” Guthrie says. “It’s a wonderful resource for us teachers too.”
Head Start teacher Heather Frenzel told City Pages she was skeptical at first. She has a minor in special education and subbed in school districts and hadn’t heard of chiropractic care being offered to small children. But she decided to remain optimistic. “To me any chance to give a kid the ability to succeed in life, we should try anything,” Frenzel says.
It turns out, she’s seen a pretty big difference. Seven of the 18 students in her classroom are receiving the adjustments, and she has seen a big difference in those students. “I’m noticing fewer outbursts and a little more calmness in their life,” Frenzel says. She’s also observed that children seeing Bautch seem to recover from illness faster.
Why does it work? It’s a moment of peace, Frenzel says, and the kids adore “Dr. Lexy,” as she is referred to by the students. Her positive attitude helps even the teachers, Frenzel says. And, it gives them a chance to calm down in a quiet, fun room. “Dr. Lexy does her magic and they’re kind of a different kid for a while,” Frenzel says.
Would she like to see all of her students getting the adjustments? Frenzel says she’d be really curious to see the impacts. “I’d like to see what difference it makes,” Frenzel says.
Parents are present for the first visit, and then the children see Bautch regularly after that, Bautch says.
One of the changes Bautch says she’s seen is in kids coming out of their shell. “In the beginning a lot of the kids don’t want to interact,” Bautch says. But over time and several treatments, “they get excited interacting.”
Bautch uses those interactions to instill healthy habits. She asks them what vegetables they’re eating, and checks on their posture. Setting those habits at an earlier age is important, Bautch says. “Early childhood development is one of the most important ages to learn health habits.”
Whatever your views on chiropractic medicine, Dr. Lexy, as they call her at the school, is having a positive impact, Guthrie says. “We think the world of her.”