Are you a parent to a child with special needs? Have you been trying to help your child do something he or she can’t do, or corrected them over and over again to end up with little or no progress, both you and your child experiencing ample stress in the process? When that happens your child isn’t learning what you’re trying to teach them and most likely they are learning what you do not want them to learn – the patterns that lead them to failure.
One of the most important discoveries of the past 30 years of my work with children who have special needs—working with everything from autism to genetic disorders—is the amazingly positive results that become possible when we shift our attention from the child’s limitations to the child’s brain and from trying to get the child to do what it can’t do, what it “should” be doing, to helping that child’s brain get the information it requires to be able to do new things. To clarify what I mean by this, think of your brain as the CEO of you. It manages all that you do—physically, emotionally and intellectually. For the healthy child, as well as the child with special challenges, the information his or her “CEO” brain needs in order to learn something new does not come from directly trying to perform and practice what it doesn’t yet have the ability to perform. When I tell that to parents, they often ask me with bewilderment in their voice: “but if I’m not going to put my child sitting, standing, or keep repeating words they’re unable to speak, how are they ever going to learn to do these things”? My answer to them is that children begin learning to sit, stand, or talk long before they can perform these skills. The necessary information for skills to form comes to the brain from many small and varied movements and experiences that may seem completely unrelated to the final accomplishment. With the healthy child these movements are always within the range of what he or she can already do at the time. The brain of the child with special challenges requires the same process to be able to learn and thrive!
Here’s what we need to realize: for the brain to get all the information it requires to successfully learn how to organize movement, thought, emotions and feelings depends on all of the child’s functions and capabilities working well to begin with. That includes the muscles, the bones, the joints, and of course the brain itself. So, for example, if the arm of an infant is not doing the typical random movements it normally would because of an injury to the nerves of that arm, the brain will not get the information it requires in order to learn to control that arm well, if at all. (You can watch a video of an 8 week old learning to move her paralyzed arm for the first time: http://youtu.be/V7t_DqrsIcE)
What is everyone’s natural and intuitive urge to do at such time? I’m sure you have the answer: to try and “fix” that arm. To try and make it do what it is not doing ¾ stretch, stimulate and exercise that arm with the hope that it will “learn” to do those movements on their own. Will imposing these movements on her arm result in her brain getting the information it requires to move that arm well on her own? Will trying to get her to do what she cannot do provide her brain with the missing information? As counter intuitive as it may appear, the answer in most cases is that it won’t. It is way too limited! The healthy infant does thousands upon thousands of small, highly varied movements that are not the final skill, such as holding a toy in their hands, before they get there. It is this flood of seemingly irrelevant information that the child with special challenges also needs.
The same is true for behavioral and cognitive challenges that often children diagnosed with ADHD or Autism have. Trying to impose the final “correct” behavior will usually deny the brain the rich and varied information it needs in order to evolve the missing skills.
How can we provide the child’s brain with this flood of necessary information? First we need to back off from trying to “fix” the child and instead focus on connecting with him or her. The Anat Baniel Method, which evolved from a lifetime of hands-on work with thousands of children with special needs, provides the tools that help parents and caregivers connect with the child and at the same time wake up the child’s brain and flood it with information it has to have for that child to be able to successfully move from the impossible to the possible. This is not some kind of magic or esoteric system but is founded on scientific principles that have been demonstrated over and over again by leading researchers the world over. Science has shown how the brain possesses a remarkable ability to create alternative solutions to physical and mental disabilities when given the information to work with. Through the spontaneous process of differentiation (discerning increasingly finer differences), the brain creates billions upon billions of new neural connections; these are the very connections that every child’s brain needs to figure out how to stand, walk, talk, think, and do everything he or she will ever learn to do.
The heart of the Anat Baniel Method is the Nine Essentials. Each Essential provides powerful tools for connecting with the child and helping that child’s brain transform limitation into new possibilities.
The first Essential is Movement With Attention. Movement is the language of the brain; it helps the brain grow and form. But movement alone, that is, passive or automatic movement, is not enough. It’s vital that the child pay attention to what he or she is feeling as they move. Movement without attention to the self only “grooves in” more deeply the already existing patterns, which often includes the patterns of the child’s limitations. When the child brings attention to what they’re doing and feeling as they move, something very different occurs: This is when their brain wakes up and begins forming new connections at a staggering rate: 1.8 million new connections per second! That is roughly 100 million new connections per minute.
Whether you are the one moving your child, or your child is moving on her or his own, look for ways to have them attend to what they are feeling as they are moving.
Another essential is Slow. Slow gets the brain’s attention. Fast we can only do what we already know. For your child that means being stuck in their limiting patterns. When you slow yourself and your child way down, your child begins to feel what she or he is doing. That floods the brain with information it needs in order to overcome limitation. Make sure that your child moves slowly. This takes some practice but it is surprisingly simple. You’ll be amazed at the spontaneous changes that will occur. We have seen this simple practice produce miraculous breakthroughs thousands and thousands of times with the children we work with. And once your child learns to attend in this way, the process of change and growth tends to become self-perpetuating, just as it does with healthy children.
You can try the first Essential yourself (http://www.abihm.org/hp-offer1 ). Learn more about the Anat Baniel Method for Children with Special Needs (http://www.anatbanielmethod.com/children/children-with-special-needs). You may also want to read what Michael Merzenich, PhD (http://www.abihm.org/hp-offer1 ), leading neuroscientist and Norman Doidge, MD, author of The Brain That Changes Itself, (http://www.abihm.org/hp-offer1 ) have written about the Anat Baniel Method for children. Don’t miss my upcoming book, Kids Beyond Limits (pub date March 27th 2012) (http://www.abihm.org/hp-offer1 ).
Born in Israel and trained by the legendary Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, Anat Baniel has established an international reputation for her work with children with special needs. A clinical psychologist, she has refined her method for more than thirty years, and runs the Anat Baniel Method facility in Marin County, California, which draws students and clients from around the world. She is also the author of the bestselling book Move Into Life. Visit her website at http://www.anatbanielmethod.com/children/kids-beyond-limits